In the UK, there’s been an amusing piece of news referred to as “the caterpillar wars”. This relates to one premium brand store suing a budget brand store for producing a similar caterpillar birthday cake to their own. The premium brand store’s product is known as Colin, whereas the budget brand store named their offering Cuthbert. I read and commented about this story on a blog, stating I was confused that the names appeared to be the wrong way round – an ordinary name for the premium brand and a posh name for the budget. The blog’s American author responded by asking how on earth she – and others non-Brits – could understand the nuances around the UK’s class status of names… and she made a very good point. It’s not one I’m going to delve into today, but it did make me wonder… what’s in a name?
My given name is Debra – a derivation of the Hebrew Devorah meaning Bee. Both the Hebrew faith and Christianity focus on the bee’s symbolism for busyness, for order, on the importance of work and diligence and how those qualities contribute to the community as a whole. From animal symbolism, while the bee stands for a strong work ethic, it is also about knowing the importance of stopping and smelling the flowers, about finding the delicate balance between the two. One further aspect I especially liked is that, from an aerodynamic perspective, bees should not be able to fly… yet they do. Thus they act as a reminder that, despite having limitations, we can move past them successfully. On a final note, there’s also mention of bee charms being good luck for attracting wealth.
The wealth attraction aside, all of the above resonates with me and how I view myself, as does the Hindi meaning of my name which is “to speak kind words” – something I try to do as much as possible.
That leads me onto the second half of the question I wanted to ask – does the choice of name matter?
I never liked my formal name and for most of my life, it’s only been used by school teachers or when I’m in trouble with my parents. Although my family called me Debs, I was known as Debbie for the greater part of my life. Until I had my mid-life crisis that is (shortly after my 50th birthday), when it felt important to be called Debs. To me Debbie was that worker bee – all organising and industry, entirely lacking in joy and freedom, something I wanted more of (a lot more of) in my life. I was interested to note another friend recently using a new derivative of her name following her divorce, so I’m clearly not alone in making a link. As a result of this name to-ing and fro-ing, I’m now called a mix of names, so that any attempt at leaving a voicemail message using my name(s) results in disaster, as I end up sounding utterly demented or like someone with a multiple personality disorder.
The funny thing is that I’m coming to terms with the versions of my name I’d previously discarded. For some reason, Debra seemed the right choice for my copyright – something about it being formal, legal and serious probably – and I’m growing to like it more & more. Debbie is still probably my least favourite option, or it was until my granddaughter discarded “Grandma”, preferring to just yell “Debbie!” at me. Himself has a pet name for me – the first relationship ever when this has been the case – but introduces me as Deb. Debs or Deb remain my preferred options, but I’ve come to the conclusion that the choice of derivative doesn’t really matter much at all. In terms of the meaning of my name, the derivatives have the same meaning as the full name, and the derivative used probably relates to how you know me or when you met me, rather than anything more weighty. What really matters is how I feel about myself, and if choosing one form of my name over another helped me make a positive change, then it’s been a useful tool.
I’ll happily answer to any form of my name now. There’s no tightening of shoulders, no worry about being in trouble, no feeling dragged down by some requirement of living up to my busy bee name. There’s clearly some benefits to getting older and while I’ll not claim wisdom in many things, I’m grateful there has been some progress.
Do you know the meaning of your name? Is there a story behind its choice? Does it form part of how you view yourself?
© Debra Carey, 2021