What’s in a Name?

My father named me Susan, he said, because the Hebrew form of it, Shoshanah, meant the Rose of Sharon.  One of his favorite books in the Old Testament was the Song of Solomon, and he particularly liked the passage, “I am the Rose of Sharon and the Lilly of the Valley.”  I love that my father was so deliberate in choosing my name, and his story about that choice is one I never tired of hearing.

I know it is customary to teach children to address adults with a title, such as Mrs. or Miss, as a sign of respect.  I get that, and I don’t want to go against a parent’s wishes and negate their good and proper training.  However, there is another part of me that wars against this custom because using a title in front of a name, unless it is a familial title such as Aunt or Uncle, puts a formal barrier between the adult and the child that in special cases shouldn’t be there.

For example, the two little girls, C and N, who visit me every Wednesday afternoon, call me Susie. Their mother has repeatedly instructed them to call me Miss Susan, but I refer to myself as Susie when I am with them, and that has, gratefully, stuck.  I love to hear the little one, N, say to me, “Susie, kween me up,” after she has had her fill of peanut butter and crackers.  When you feel free to plunge your thumb into your friend’s brand new jar of peanut butter when her back is turned, you are definitely on a first-name basis.  After I told the girls that it is time for them to go home, C usually says, “Susie, let’s do one more dance.  Isn’t that a good idea?” I get a warm feeling hearing my name and cave in every time.  We end up doing at least one more dance, or one more story, or one more whatever it is that C tells me is a good idea.

You see, these two sweethearts are my friends, and really good friends don’t need titles.  I used to be a teacher and was close to many of my students.  Some of them kept in touch with me through college, and a few even maintained our relationship into their adult lives.  I remember telling one of my students, after she had married and had her first child, “Anna, you can drop the Mrs. now.  Just call me Susan.”  She tried that name on, reluctantly at first, feeling strange because I had been Mrs. O for so many years.  But after a few times, she said, “I like calling you Susan.  It makes me feel like I’m your friend, not just your student.”

The last conversation I had with my mother, a couple of days before she died, revolved around a childhood game she used to play in Sunday School.  She tried to play it with me, but I couldn’t figure out the puzzle.  She started by saying, “I’m going on a trip, and I’m going to take a daffodil.  Now it’s your turn.”  I thought I knew this game.  All I had to do was repeat what she said and add something of my own that I would take.  We’d keep going back and forth, repeating the ever growing list until one of us couldn’t remember anymore.  So I said, “I’m going on a trip, and I’m taking a daffodil and a toothbrush.”    My mother smiled and said, “No you didn’t figure it out.  Now it’s my turn again.  I’m going on a trip and I’m going to take a daffodil and a doily.”  For my turn, thinking the trick was that I needed something that started with a D like her list, I added a doughnut.  She laughed and said, “You still don’t get it.  Your name is Susan, so you have to bring things that start with an S.  My things start with a D because D is for Dorothy, and that’s my name.”

At the end of her life, my mother was not thinking about her life as our mother or as my father’s wife.  She was thinking about her early years, when she was just that young girl with the pretty red hair that used to play the name game with her friends.  Our names hold so much of who we are at the most basic level, who we started out being.  I love to hear someone call me by my name.  S is for Susan, and that’s my name.

About Coming East

I am a writer, wife, mother, and grandmother who thinks you're never too old until you're dead. My inspiration is Grandma Moses who became a successful artist in her late 70's. If I don't do something pretty soon, though, I'll have to find someone older for inspiration.
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12 Responses to What’s in a Name?

  1. judithhb says:

    Thanks Susan. I am really enjoying this blogging world and all the new friends I am making.

  2. smile breathe and go slowly says:

    loved this..made me think so many things..first of all that I was supposed to be Laurie right up until my mom had me..then she said I didn’t look like a Laurie and named me Kim ( not Kimberly..just Kim) 🙂
    Also your story reminded me of a teacher we had in high school..and my best friend and I always called him Uncle Barry..no idea how that started or when..but he attended both our weddings and when my daughter was born, I brought her to meet him. We’ve lost touch over the years, but he will always be someone special to me.

  3. oldereyes says:

    Susan, this is a beautiful post. I loved reading it. My name story is that I was supposed to be named Frank, after my Dad, but he was away in the service when I was born … and the priest told my Mom there was no Saint Frank. I ended up Francis, not he best name to have in the era of Francis the Talking Mule. As a kid, I was Buddy, which I shortened to Bud in college. I began to go by Frank in business. My Dad really liked that, especially when he saw my business card with his name on it (we shared the same middle initial) with a Dr. in front of it. He kept one in his wallet.

    Bud (and I’m going to take a book)

    • comingeast says:

      Good story about your name. My middle name is Frances after my great grandmother, Mary Frances. My mother’s middle name was Frances, too. Love the name Bud. Makes you feel like everybody’s friend! Thanks for your comment, Bud.

  4. mypajamadays says:

    I love hearing stories of Grandma. You gave me a good name too.

    – Emily

  5. judithhb says:

    Thank you for the post. I was called Judith because my mother liked that book in the Bible. She died before I became “the heroic widow”.
    Here in New Zealand life is informal. I found it strange originally to hear my grandsons’ friends calling me Judith but after a while it just seems natural. In the UK we called the doctor Doctor So and So, here I call my specialist David and he calls me Judith. This allows me to feel much closer to him and to know I can ask him anything because we are ‘friends’.
    Looking forward to reading more of your posts.

  6. Val Erde says:

    Lovely post. Good thing, with that name game, that your name isn’t something like Xander or Zoe, as that would surely limit the options!

    Here in the UK there is less emphasis on using Miss or Mr in front of first names, except perhaps in school. Does the American habit of addressing ones father as ‘Sir’ still hold? I always found that overformal and very strange. Here it’s just dad or if formal, father.

    • comingeast says:

      Actually, I love the name Zoe! No, the only time you have to call your father “Sir” in America is when you’re in trouble! Thanks for visiting. Looking forward to visiting your post.

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