What’s in a name?

by May 15, 2020

Today’s post is inspired by the daily prompt from The Isolation Journals, a creative writing project with daily prompts from Suleika Jaouad.

(description from the website)
A Daily Creativity Project to help make sense of challenging times.
This spring, Suleika will be serving up daily journaling prompts from some of the most inspiring writers, artists, musicians and unsung heroes she knows. We hope this creativity project sparks your imagination and helps us all process and stay connected during these difficult times.

This is a 100-day project, but you can jump in at any time. Sign up here, and we’ll email you daily prompts through the first week of July.

I joined the project late after hearing a mention of it on a video. I am loving the prompts and enjoying the writing challenges. If you want to develop your writing skills, this is a great way to do it. Daily e-mails include prompts and examples from Suleia and guests. All prompts are available on social media (@suleikajaouard) but Suleika encourages people to join in real time for the power of shared journalling.

Here is my short response to today’s prompt:
Write an ode to your name. Reflect on how it sounds and makes you feel. What it means, where it came from and if there’s a story behind how you got it. How has it informed who you’ve become?

For most of my life I have found my name to be a burden because of its length. I go by Mary Elizabeth. Both names. No abbreviations.

I am named after both grandmothers but it is definitely a mouthful to use both as a first name. My mother decided that using both would ensure that I would not be mistaken for someone else in her large family. She was the youngest of 16 and most of her siblings had 5+ children by the time that I was born.

From the time I was very young, Mom would forcefully correct anyone who referred to me with If it was on the phone, she would promptly hang up on the caller. She would not tolerate any abbreviations. Although my family called me Mary Liz and I don’t remember when that started. For about 10 years, others used that as well after hearing a family member refer to be that way. I never liked it but of course, if I said that to my brothers, it just ensured that would be my name. When I moved away from home – and across several provinces – I always used the full name.

Well into my 30s I would usually follow-up an introduction with an apology for the length of my name. But that did not stop me from automatically correcting anyone who called me Mary – and, in fact, I still don’t really hear if someone calls me Mary since I just assume that they are speaking to someone else.

I could have changed my name but didn’t have a burning desire to be something else and remain proud to carry family names. I have always hating introducing myself and still have to grit my teeth but no longer apologize for a long name; I simply explain its origins.

In recent years, it has occurred to me that my name is one of the reasons that I hate meeting new people and prefer anonymity and am much better at spontaneous conversations with strangers than small talk with acquaintances.

It is amazing what an impact a name can have, even at a subconscious level.

What is the story of your name?

  • Why or how did your parents select your name?
  • Did you choose to change your name or use a variation? Why/Why not?
  • Do you have any nicknames? How did they evolve?
  • How do you feel about your name?
  • Has the way you feel about your name changed? Why/ Why not?
Mary Elizabeth O'Toole

Mary Elizabeth O'Toole

Educator, Artist, Storyteller


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