More Than A Name

Photo by Neil Su on Unsplash

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

William Shakespeare

You’re likely familiar with the line above from Romeo and Juliet, spoken by Romeo about the fact that Juliet is a Capulet, his family’s sworn enemy. His words speak to the frustration he feels that her last name has the power to keep them apart, to create a division between them. And while the premise is obviously fiction, there’s an important truth buried within as well.

Names have power.

Names are words, after all, so this should make sense that they hold power. Think about someone you know that means a lot to you. Maybe it’s your mom or dad. Maybe it’s your sister or your aunt. Perhaps your grandmother, or your best friend since you were a toddler, or your favorite high school teacher. It doesn’t matter what role they play in your life, just that they are important to you. Think about why they are so important to you and allow all your positive feelings to seep in. You’re likely wearing a smile at this point.

Now think about the last time you met or heard about someone with the same name. Can you picture it? When you met that person, what were your thoughts? Your feelings? Were you immediately drawn to them in some way?

While that person may have simply been a naturally charismatic person, you likely felt a connection to them anyway.

This is because of the positive association we tend to attach to the names of people who are important to us, which carries over to new people we meet simply as a result of their shared name. We give them an instant advantage in our perception of them for no reason other than their name. Even if we’re conscious of this bias, it’s likely to happen anyway. Because that name has power to us.

This in and of itself isn’t a good thing or a bad thing; it just is. And as long as it doesn’t encourage us to ignore red flags about someone, I’m inclined to think it’s more on the positive side of things—there’s enough negative judgment in the world. I’m fully supportive of a more positive skew to how we judge and interact with others.

But there is a down side.

My kids (4 and 5 1/2) love to help my husband and me do adult things. It likely won’t last much longer, but right now they want to help with everything. Cleaning the litter box, vacuuming, watering plants (indoors and out), doing laundry, and the list goes on. One of those things used to be unloading the dishwasher.

Yes, I said “used to be” because about ten months ago, as we were running the first load of dishes in the dishwasher as a few guests lingered from our joint fall shindig and oldest daughter’s 5th birthday party, it was brought to my attention that there was a growing lake on my kitchen floor. It seemed the kids had—in their infinite excitement to help—jumped onto the dishwasher door one too many times and it was no longer watertight.

I was a bit aggravated, of course—the dishwasher was pretty new—but it wasn’t a huge deal for our family. My husband and I both grew up without using dishwashers and had only started using them once we had our second child. We would just go back to washing dishes by hand like we always had.

There was a bit of an adjustment period, but we quickly got used to not having a functional dishwasher, mild irritation only creeping in around holidays or when we had a houseful of guests to clean up after. However, when schools closed due to COVID-19 and we suddenly had the entire family home all day, every day, the volume of dirty dishes skyrocketed.

After about two months of shelter-in-place, I decided I needed to get serious about finding someone who could help us figure out which pieces needed replacing so our dishwasher no longer leaked. I reached out to someone in the neighborhood for a recommendation and she quickly responded by forwarding me contact information for the handyman their family uses. I saw the letter E for the contact box pop up on my message preview and felt some relief that she knew someone who could help with our dishwasher.

A while later, I grabbed my phone and headed into my office, intending to place the call to the handyman while I got myself set up to work for the afternoon. I punched in my phone password, pulled up my text messages and looked down at the handyman’s contact information just as I was shutting my office door behind me.

I froze, my hand still resting on the door handle, and couldn’t breathe for a moment. A wave of nausea passed through me as my eyes were glued—unblinking—to my screen. I couldn’t move as everything in my peripheral faded into blackness until I couldn’t even see the outer edges of my phone. All I could see was the name on the screen.

After a moment, the screen dimmed and I wasn’t sure if it was the phone or my vision that was responsible—they seemed equally likely scenarios. It turns out it was the phone; the screen went black a few seconds later. I shook my head, feeling as if I was coming out of a trance, and noticed that my eyes were about to overflow with moisture.

Anger and frustration began to well inside as I stepped back out of my office to the bathroom in the hall and splashed cold water over my face until I felt the danger of crying had passed, then headed back into my office to work.

A messy business

As I’m writing this, it’s been about a month since I received that handyman’s contact information, and I haven’t been any more able to call the number than I have been able to stop thinking about that name.

You see, that name is the same as one of my childhood molesters.

As the days began stacking up with my inability to call the number, my anger and frustration grew. It’s just a damn name! I thought I was past this… just call the number and get your dishwasher fixed. Don’t project your shit onto this guy just because of his name; that’s not fair to him.

But then I remembered something:  healing is so far from linear. You may think you are over something and you are reminded of it unexpectedly and you’re suddenly in the thick of it again. That’s all part of processing past trauma. Here’s the thing, though.

THAT’S OKAY.

It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. And it doesn’t mean you’re failing.

There’s no rule that says once you’ve started to heal that you can never have a setback, never again feel gutted by those things that happened to you. There’s no rule that says you can’t be viscerally impacted as an adult for something that happened to you nearly thirty years before. There’s no rule that says just because you’ve talked about it in therapy, you can’t still be triggered and find yourself emotionally at battle all over again.

Healing is messy and painful enough as it is without us judging ourselves harshly. As much as we need to show compassion for others in this world, we also need to show some compassion and gentleness toward ourselves. We need to remember that what we accept and understand for others—that healing is a lifelong process—also applies to us. 

That it’s OKAY if a name is so much more than a name.


Katherine Turner is the author of Finding Annie, a contemporary romantic women’s fiction novel that explores the power of love and human resilience in the wake of trauma and abuse. She blogs about mental health, trauma, and ways we can be more compassionate as a society. Sign up for her newsletter to stay up to date and get the first five chapters of her novel Finding Annie free!

8 thoughts on “More Than A Name

  1. So sorry a name that was recommended as help rather caused you to go through negative past emotions again. Maybe that’s how he’s helping though, for you to realize you’ve not fully dealt with the past and to help you now through it once and for all. Maybe sometime soon you’d conquer this by going ahead to call this handyman. Sending you love and hugs 🥰❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have an inkling of how this would feel, Katherine. I had an uncle who picked on me, stared at me etc, and who I felt was a bit of a pervert. My parents never told him to F*Off. For many years I couldn’t stand saying his name or hearing it. Many years later, my aunt died, (the aunt by blood who was married to the uncle) and I got to go through her box of records/letters/business strife, after having being estranged from her – I came across stuff which shed the uncle in a slightly different light, which was interesting! But I digress. Names have this kind of power for good and for ill, for negative stuff and a host of other associations, as well as for goodness and light. Good luck with your journey to help the handyman name become just a name. Big hug :>)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sorry, Katherine, me again: You are so right here:

    ”There’s no rule that says once you’ve started to heal that you can never have a setback, never again feel gutted by those things that happened to you. There’s no rule that says you can’t be viscerally impacted as an adult for something that happened to you nearly thirty years before. There’s no rule that says just because you’ve talked about it in therapy, you can’t still be triggered and find yourself emotionally at battle all over again.”

    And to correct myself from above, You are right, a name may remain much more than a name and to strive to change this can result in us being far too hard on ourselves. Warm wishes :>)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ll reply to both messages here. 🙂 Thank you for sharing about your past (and you’ve piqued my curiosity, I confess, with your mention of casting your uncle in a different light). I find it interesting how our psyches work and that something as seemingly innocuous as a name can have such a powerful impact on us. At least for me, and I think for many, the initial reaction to that realization is shame and embarrassment; it’s easy to feel like you’re weak or ridiculous for being upset by a name. But there really isn’t anything to be ashamed or embarrassed of, and there’s nothing weak about having a reaction to something that reminds you of a past trauma. I think striving to change the power something like that has over us can be a noble effort and certainly isn’t easy, but we need to remember to be kind to ourselves in the process.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks, Katherine. Okay, here is more of the story. The snippets I found were from when their marriage was breaking up. They always treated me like I was ‘too sensitive’, that’s both the uncle and the aunt, but I discovered that the uncle had been unable to cope when their farm was being taken away from them (they bought it expecting to receive a big inheritance which never fully materialised) , and that he thought my aunt was having an affair with their accountant, which might have been true. Anyway, he buckled under the strain, unlike my aunt who was made of very stern stuff, and he ended up having to go into a psychiatric hospital for a stay. There were notes written by him to her when he was at his lowest ebb and they were quite tragic – he needed her, and she found it difficult to respond emotionally. So I suppose karma may have been at work, but I decided to burn the notes.

    I also discovered that they had written me off, after I dropped all contact with them – they had drafted their wills to leave everything they had left to my sister. I’ve not told her this. When my aunt eventually died, living divorced on her own (my uncle died many years before she did), she was living in poverty, but had some moderate savings. She was ‘generous’ enough to leave two thirds to my sister and one third to me. All out lives my mother treated us equally in this regard, my sister took my aunt at her word so I got a third – sooo I’m not telling my sister that at one time she was the sole beneficiary ;>) I was the oldest, and got most of the bad attention, my sister got off lightly. So A long story, but all over now. The whole story was left in a box of files, bcause my aunt thought it would make a good novel one day, so I went through all the files and decided that it might make a good biographical memoir – but then i’d be writing the story from my point of view, and do i want to have it in my head? Probably not!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s fascinating! And intense! I agree with making a good autobiographical memoir, but only if you feel the desire to do it. I also find it interesting that you burned the notes. You could also take this and weave fiction in around the autobiographical content for a novel, taking liberties to make it less… dark? a story than it actually is.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I know, it’s so tempting! I burned the notes out of respect I suppose. They looked like they’d been written by a dying man (in the handwriting) – very desperate looking. They made me so uncomfortable. I thought a memoir because I could write it from my point of view, using my own memories of many visits in my teenage years to their farm cottage in earlier years, then the documentary evidence of the battle to keep hold of the new farm and the disputes with the tenants and new owners of their outbuildings. There was a massive amount of paranoia on my aunts part, she thought there was a plot against her and uncle…long story, all written up and dated by her.

    I’ve never discussed this writing feasibility with another writer, so I’m pleased I’m passing it by you. I know I can write it fairly quickly as a memoir from my point of view, but not sure about the novel idea. My hubby feels there isn’t enough drama in it, not enough interest for either form, so if I go down the novel route with a weaving in of fiction, I’d presumed I’d have to go darker!! Thanks for discussing it with me, Katherine, very happy to know your thoughts!

    Liked by 1 person

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