There are many names by which someone is known. I have my personal favourites of how I am called. This year on my birthday, my one true love created a collage of many of the names I’m known by and presented it to me.
Dear Hildegard while you were never wife or lover, I am sure you too were known by many of the same names – sister, daughter, aunt and mother too. You were mother to many. And the name I like to give you is: polymath. Polymath is such a great name yet when I went researching polymaths there are no references to women as polymaths, only the Renaissance men like Leonardo di Vinci. I recently learnt more about the 17th century Mexican Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz who is also a polymath! Juana was dedicated to speaking out about the education of women and girls. A nun and reformer like you Hildegard. I am looking forward to learning more about her. Another truly amazing woman in love with her God and insisting on the capabilities of women, writing poetry and letters to change their world and the future to come. Another blog for another day.
How we are called and how we name ourselves provides some insight into how others see us and understand us in their world. Names reveal even the quality of the relationships between one another.
The names we call people can demonise and eulogise, the names can divide and conquer. Names maybe invested with meaning, status, place and power and the investments can add or take away from the person. A royal highness is a long way from a slum dog. Names can poison and names can position.
So when my gift was bestowed on me I looked deeply into al the names that appeared and with each of them comes a set of relationships, meanings, connections, perspectives. Each name has its own story of how it came to be created, how it came to be bestowed upon me. The journey to get that name, the journey to retain or even loose that name and how well the name was worn is unique to each name but not separate from other names.
When I think of your name Hildegard as meaning protective battle-maid. A warrior in the spiritual quest, ready for battle with the demons and the ego was reflected in your own sense of smallness, describing your self as being ‘ just a poor little female’ from the ‘weaker sex’. It is hard to believe you ever attributed these qualities to yourself, except in some self deprecating way; you knew who you were and your opus dei was not that of a shrinking violet! (This led me to wonder about where the term shrinking violet itself comes from and my cursory online search tells me that it was the colour not the flower that violet refers to. According to the 1934 edition of Webster’s Unabridged the colour violet is emblematic of gravity and chastity. We all know violet flowers are small with a delightful, pungent fragrance and that they can easily take over the garden even though they might start in small dark patch in a hidden corner.)
As I come to terms with the names I am given and the names I give myself, I feel there is a lot to live up too. The common titles given like mother, daughter, sister are infused with relationship, responsibility, role. The titles bring on joy, anxiety, delight. And when we have these titles we add to their meaning – especially those titles that are a part of the collective consciousness. The damage that has been done to some naming like politician – using this name conjures up travel rorts, untrustworthiness, populist images. And who would want to be named Christian Brother or Catholic priest right now?
I want to honour the names I have been given by others and the journey to discover my own name is certainly part of the pilgrimage. Soon I will have two new names – mother-of-the-bride and mother-in-law. These titles herald a new era of family dynamics. They forecast generational change.
My name given to me by my parents and over which I had no say and then the name I took from my husband and all the other names given to me over the years, I do wonder what name I would give myself. I was deeply offended once by a neighbouring co-worker who called me “Earth Mother”. On my side of the building I would get up very early most mornings, travel to the office, bake muffins for everyone as most would arrive without breakfast and we would have long and difficult days managing the affairs of a government minister and as head honcho I want us to be the best team we could be under the circumstances. I saw my breakfast ritual as holding the space and leading powerfully. When I heard “earth mother” from the lips of someone who didn’t value what we were faced with each day, I felt devalued and disrespected for the leadership and appreciated for the nurturing in equal measure. Since then I have been able to hear ‘earth mother’ as strong, resilience, protective, nourishing … and they are all the qualities that were being exhibited day and night in that job.
One of the favourite ways I have been named by others is MoD. This name was given to me by one of my offspring (it harks back to Jennifer Lopez being called J-Lo) and it caught on amongst some of their peers. From time to time I am referred to as MoD at parties where the younger ones gather and when they talk to one another about me – it is a fun way to be called, unique and because it was created just for me I feel quite honoured when I hear it being used.
There are so many names by which we can be called and by which I am known, and I am like you Hildegard, just a little woman … so how many more names are there for the wonder and awe of the One. I heard a hymn some years ago Bring Many Names that skims the possibilities; but is only a glimpse for no single name is possible.
Bring Many Names
Words: Brian Wren
Words © 1989, revised 1994 by Hope Publishing Co., Carol Stream, IL 60188.
Bring many names, beautiful and good,
celebrate, in parable and story,
holiness in glory, living, loving God.
Hail and hosanna! Bring many names!
Strong mother God, working night and day,
planning all the wonders of creation,
setting each equation, genius at play:
Hail and hosanna, strong mother God!
Warm father God, hugging every child,
feeling all the strains of human living,
caring and forgiving till we’re reconciled:
Hail and hosanna, warm father God!
Old, aching God, grey with endless care,
calmly piercing evil’s new disguises,
glad of good surprises, wiser than despair:
Hail and hosanna, old aching God!
Young, growing God, eager, on the move,
saying no to falsehood and unkindness,
crying out for justice, giving all you have:
Hail and hosanna, young, growing God!
Great, living God, never fully known,
joyful darkness far beyond our seeing,
closer yet than breathing, everlasting home:
Hail and hosanna, great, living God!