By Any Other Name…

I’m throwing myself headlong into social calamity right now. I’ve begun the daunting task of reclaiming my maiden name, Chernak. Being bad at matrimony, I’ve done this a few times in my life but this time is different. For one thing, I have somehow managed to become old, and remembering and logging all the many, many places where my Knilans suffix resides feels as impossible as stumbling around trying to net flies. Knilans flits here, there, pops out of my computer, my bank accounts, and buzzes in my face.

For another thing, I was never as anxious to discard a name as I am with this one. I’ve been a Poulsen and a McElroy, and reverted back to Chernak because it was simply common sense at the time. But this time around, purging myself of my suffix is one more task of reclaiming another bit of healing. My body and soul cannot stomach carrying this suffix for another minute. It is bitter on my tongue. I wear it like a mantle of thorns, and I bleed. Forest walks help settle me.

Dog. Carter. Brother.

A tree in the forest sent me this message about renaming just yesterday. She was a lovely old being, twisted and gnarly from years lived, much like me. I stopped to explore a deep gap in her bark, and found myself looking into a hollow that ascended several feet up and down into her trunk.

Tree. Mother. Guardian. Stands Tall person.

My phone was playing Gordon Lightfoot ballads in my pocket, so I pulled it out and snapped some photos. I thought, I’ll send these to my readers. But then my inner critic hissed, it’s only a picture of a hole. Boring much?

Only a hole. The notion of renaming struck me like a flashbulb going off in my face. Is this “just a hole?” And I immediately started recalling all the many names I knew so well for “hole,” because holes were never just holes to me. I’d been sticking my head and fingers into holes all my life: Portal. Gateway. Hollow. Abyss. Entry point. Secret keeper. Beckoner. Nest. Cavern. Wonder.

Hollow? Hmmmm. Let’s see…

Gordon sings on: “Heaven can be yours/just for now…”

Curiosity overtakes me. For a moment, nothing else exists but me, a dark portal, and endless possibilities.

Vesica piscis? Void? Nest? Hidden treasures? 

In indigenous cultures, naming is a sacred thing. Children may be allowed to name themselves, or select a new name at puberty. Names were given to attract helpful spirits, to honor ancestors and the elements. Names carry certain energy, certain heft, perhaps even certain responsibilities. My spiritual teacher David used to conduct ceremonies to grant people spirit names. He meditated long on this and said he never selected the name. It was given to him from spirit. Mine was Medicine Wolf. He also told us to gift ourselves with a sacred, secret name. And I did. When I feel low, if I remember apply these names to myself, I feel them working in my in my shoulders and breath, like alchemy turning my heart from lead to gold.

Changing a name or making a name is no small thing. It ushers in a change in perspective, a shift in the body and mind. Nicknames do the same. Bestowing the Chernak mantle back to myself brings along with it feelings of grounding, pride, rightness, and memories of my beloved father. It is a good, strong Czech name, and my father, Julius, was a good, strong Czech man. 

Looking up and down inside. No one I can see living here. But did they? Will they? If so, who?

It is a quest, this undertaking, this journey back to my birth name, and perhaps utterly appropriate that it is not easy and is fraught with confusion. Quests always carry challenge, or at least they should.

Let this small musing invite you to consider the names you use for things, the words you apply to things including yourself. Names—words—carry weight, promise. They can uplift or degrade. In the beginning was the Word.

Weeds and dirt? Nah! A sunny corridor to my way home.

Discover more from Susan Chernak

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.

Similar Posts