When a chair becomes a throne

This semester, I’m taking Religion & Science with Dr. Jeri Wieringa (yes, she’s stuck with me again, bless her). Our first reading was one familiar to me: “What’s in a Name?” from Russell McCutcheon’s Studying Religion: An Introduction. This chapter gives excellent examples for the argument that naming a thing says more about the namer than the actual name. One of my classmates gave a useful example of this: Our own names.

Most parents plan their child’s name long before birth. It’s more about the parents and their experiences in the moment of naming than it is about the infant being named. I, for example, am named after both of my grandmothers. On my father’s side, I shared the name Frances with my grandmother. On my mother’s side, I have shared the name Sadie with my grandmother, great-grandmother, several dogs, and even a horse. Ironically, both of these women despised their first names and opted for middle names and nicknames to identify themselves instead. Eileen and Fanny begged my parents not to name me after them. The names were too old-fashioned they argued; I would hate being called Sadie-Frances . . . which, naturally, has made me love my names all the more. But, naming me after these women was not up to me. It was entirely up to my parents. Something that seems so central to my identity — my name — was not in my power to influence (nor my concerned grandmothers, as it turned out).

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