There is a vignette in Sandra Cisneros' House on Mango Street called "My Name." I use it as a piece to teach denotation and connotation in my freshmen classroom.
Denotation: literal, dictionary definition. A house is a dwelling. Four walls, roof, sometimes a white picket fence.
Connotation: emotional meaning. The way I feel about my house, the first I've ever purchased, the way I think of sleeping next to my husband at night, the little bits of gray fence that have been chipped away by my dogs' eager heaving.
I look up each of my students' names on a baby name website. Molly means bitter. Ryan means little king. I joke about how I don't often feel bitter, but Molly is often taken as a nickname for Mary, and this is what it means, most of the time, depending on the source. I am stuck with "bitter" as an identifying marker.
I ask them to talk to their parents about the story of their name. My own simply appealed to my parents, and I was grateful it wasn't Lacey, which was also on their list. My maiden name is a town in England and a town in Ireland. I tout a "good Irish name," or claim it anyway. My new married last name is German, and means either a type of tree (this from our German exchange student Marie) or a logger, a killer of trees (this from Ryan himself).
I thought I'd named my sister, Chelsea. I had a classmate of the same name, which perhaps explained my encouragement of the name; my parents say they picked the name after a news reporter.
People often tell me they once had dogs named Molly when growing up. I try not to take it personally.
I could tell my students too about the struggle I had in my mosaic of names--what I go by as a teacher (Mrs. K) or when I publish (MSK) or when I sign my name on a document. I could talk about the discussions Ryan and I had sitting across from each other at restaurants, our beer mugs slick, our tempers quiet. How he wanted me to have his last name exclusively, how I wanted him to take mine. (Why must we always be so patriarchal?) We talked of tradition, of family pride, of rejection and acceptance of becoming a part in a new clan. A compromise, though I still don't entirely think it even, fair, but I love him and his family, so I accept, step back. Still, he should be a Sutton too.
There is the fact that I don't often write out my name on this blog, even though I know students have found it. I'd rather avoid a blatant existence.
There is the trickery of names--Nohbdy.
There is the power of names--Rumpelstiltskin.
There is the heritage of names. "Traver" is the family name passed about--my grandfather was Traver Kille (went by Lad, Kille was his mother's maiden name), his father was Traver [something], my uncle is Traver Michael (goes by Mike), and my cousin is a Traver too. His first son--Traver Jacob, goes by Jake. My sister-in-law named her son James, after my father-in-law. Ryan calls his nephew "little James;" he's also called "Jimmy," but never Jamie. My cousin, Traver's brother, was Jamie when he was growing up, but now he is James, though I often forget. His middle name is Brian, the same as my father. James also happens to be the name of my maternal grandfather and an uncle on my mother's side as well.
Do you see how it all loops? How tangled we become in our own naming, how incestuous it can be.
On The Gilmore Girls (a guilty pleasure) the mother, Lorelei has named her daughter after herself (goes by Rory). She continually has to explain this oddity, this fit of drug induced decision making. If Rory were a boy named for a father, strangers would not give that raise of the eyebrow. Rory wouldn't joke about epidural induced narcissism.
There is a list of names I could never foist upon an innocent child--names of students who have frustrated me, names which can only come from my mouth in exasperation. Most are boy names, though there are some girls too. Hopes that my children will never become the painful shapes of indifferent, rude, hyperactive kids in my everyday. The name grows with each new class list.
In contrast, there are names of students that I will always think of fondly, or ways in which "bad" names get canceled out--the frustrating X from student teaching becomes the endearing X from last semester, the one I would say, "If only I could be so lucky as to have a respectful son / daughter like that." Of course, I couldn't name a child for a student; this would seem incredibly strange.
An author or a character from a book. A good Irish name. These are connotations I like the most.
Names have been rolling around in my head since Kelly announced the gender of her growing baby. A boy. I teasingly call it Iago, my favorite Shakespeare villain, while she considers true names--something plain, but something that will fit. Something that will cling to his flesh as he slips into the world, something that makes sense when she looks into his eyes. The denotation and connotation must be essay worthy. He may one day be my student, after all.
life, week 16
14 hours ago