Friday, June 17, 2011

What’s Your Name?

Valley Jane Cecelia Yane (Yanpolski) Smith Haggard

1- A baby conceived in the Shenandoah Valley in a tent on her mother’s birthday
2- A name signifying every woman. Jane Doe. Plain Jane.
3- Maternal great grandmother.
4- Mother’s maiden name before and after her father changed it during the Red Scare.
5- Father’s mountain people
6- The name her bridesmaids convinced her to take the night before the wedding

Valley of Death
Back Alley Valley
Valley of the Dolls
Valley Dale Sausage/Valley Dale Weiners

The only other Valley—spelled the same way---- that I’ve heard of living in this town was an African girl working at Hooters.

When I was a little white Jewish girl at an all black elementary school in the east end of Richmond there was one teacher who made me feel completely happy and safe and loved--- my SPACE teacher, John Hunter. He wore a green and yellow crotchet knit cap over his big afro and twirled the fuzz of his beard between his fingers while telling us stories about kids hunting rainbows. He staged a naming ceremony for us in the basement of the school that also served as a gymnasium, a cafeteria and was, we all believed, haunted by the ghost of a dead slave girl. The name he gave me was: Laughing Rainbow. John Hunter has gone on to change the world, give TED talks and inspire kids and teachers all over the country. I understand why. The name he gave me is the one I think of as my real underneath the surface of everything true name to this day.

During the first hour of the first day of most of the creative writing camps I teach I ask the children to write the story of their name. Then, I ask them to create an alter ego or super hero for themselves, writing each name on one side of a folded piece of card stock. The name they turn to face out that day is the name you have to call them.

We didn’t settle on my son’s name until we were checking out of the hospital and his birth certificate was due. I had so many names for him in my mind, having to choose one seemed impossible, limiting. Cosmo, Sterling, Elijah, Jackson, Raymond, Henry. In the end we went with the last, the name of the paternal grandfather who had died the year before, the only grandparent our baby would never get to meet. Although you can’t step into a play area or a library or a school without hearing “HENRY!” from any of the four directions (turns out lots of other grandfather’s were named Henry, too) I’m glad our son carries part of his dad’s dad into his life every single day.

What does your name mean to you?


  1. Yet again...well, you know. :)
    At the beginning of every school year the third graders are asked to research the history of their name for homework. On the second day of school every hears the story of how names have been passed down over the generations. (My first name is my grandmother's; my second my great grandmother's.) I LOVE the idea of writing an alter ego or super hero for themselves after we share. :) Thank for the inspiration.

  2. love this! and my grandpa was named henry too! haha

  3. Ms. Levin----YAY! I so love hearing this. Your students are so lucky to have you, girl.

    Meadow: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Our parents AND grandparents were on the same page in the naming department!

  4. Julia Addy Jane Joseph
    1. The girl on Zoom that my brother (4 years old at the time) had a crush on. (Thank you, brother!)
    2. My mom's choice, no reason. But better than her other choices (Buffy, Violet)
    3. My Dad's choice. Plain Jane...he felt that a plain name would keep from influencing my personality. "But DAD! I could have ended up being plain!"
    4. My father's surname

    My name is my secret deck of cards. The cards I've been dealt. Cards that I like. Cards that I want to get full use out of. Forgotten cards, sitting in a lost corner somewhere getting dusty!

    I've always felt that I MUST get more and better use out of my middle name: Addy's like a whole other person, a whole other life just there for the taking.

    What is that life, other than one involving well worn cowboy boots and someone who maybe doesn't give a frig? Someone who, unlike the desperately romantic and always-in-love Julia, can just brush off any old thing and dive back in for more. Lord, Julia could really use a strong dose of some good old Addy Jane!

    Thanks for the reminder Valley!

  5. I was born Mary Rose Jones, named after my Great Grandma, Mary Livingston Rose, who got married and then was Mary Rose Jones. Although I loved my Grandma with all my heart (I was the only one who didn't have to eat haggis at her house!), I always hated my name because I thought I may as well be named "Jane Doe", as Mary Jones, and because to this day, folks get discombobulated and call me Rose, Rosie, Marie Rose, Rose Mary [none of which is correct!]. My Mama named me Mary Rose because she was so sure she was gonna have a boy.I was a month early and she didn't have a girl's name picked for me and Retreat Hosp. wouldn't release me, unnamed. I kept my married name, although divorced, because I thought Mary Carter was a little better than Mary Jones. I have in recent years found out there is a Mary Rose Carter, who is a photographer down in the Delta (I would love to be that!) and that Henry VIII, named one of his flagships, The Mary Rose. My name is from my Daddy's side, the Welsh gypsies, via England, I'm related to William the Conquerer and Emily Post - a Warrior with good manners...c'est moi!

  6. I'm enjoying learning about your name and thinking about mine. Did you really only decide to take a married name the night before your wedding? What was the convincing argument? I kept my maiden name but occasionally wonder if life would be easier if my boys and I shared the same last name.

    My middle name is Sunshine. Child of quasi-hippies, the consummation of their desire to have a child and fear that they wouldn't ever succeed in that effort. I love it and hate it simultaneously, for oh so many reasons.

  7. Addy Jane! Marie Rosie Rose! Sunshine! I'm delighted with these names and stories. They are so promising and packed!

    And yes, I did decide to take the name Haggard the night before my wedding. Changing my name actually seemed like a bigger deal than getting married! Convincing argument: What's one more gonna hurt? Until it became my own, I hated it. Now I can't imagine anything else!