Do you know what your name means?

Type the Sky. Lisa Rienermann, illustrator. 
She uses the silhouettes of buildings as seen from below to create a photographic alphabet. Our names are a collection of letters that form words with meaning.

I was not born with the middle name Michael. I chose that name. My middle name was Lee.

I first experimented with a name change in third grade. I told my teacher that my name was not Susan or Sue. I said, “Call me Suey. My parents want this.” (A lie. They had no idea.) So my teacher wrote a note home to verify this request. 

I recall my Mom’s response: “Suey? Is that a good idea? That’s the word they use to call the pigs in when it’s time to eat.” She had a point.

Not that I don’t like pigs. I love them.

It’s common for kids to experiment with new names. I taught my daughter Erin for three years. During that time, I remember she asked me to call her Lesa for a few months.

And then I asked a group of preschool-aged kids this, "If you could have picked your own name what would it be?"

Some kids respond immediately. Some want to think about it. 

Elijah chooses Mr. William; Skylar - SpongeBob; Peyton - Tinkerbell; Ansel - Iceman; Mason - Bob. Maggie says she'll call herself Let Her Shine. She adds, “Where ever I look, flowers will grow.”

(I let out the biggest ohmygosh amazement sigh.)

When I chose my new middle name, I didn’t know that Susan means “lily.” 

My idea of a name change arose first while I was in college and more seriously about 17 years ago after I’d gone through some life changes. 

I changed my name in celebration of my new self.

I liked the name Michael and even gave it to my son. I chose it because it was the name of a woman I knew of (though not personally) who I saw as generously philanthropic, confident, independent, and caring. It was a perception of her and a view of myself I wanted to embrace.

I didn’t look up the meaning of Michael, which I now know means, “who is closest to God” and “who is like God”—which I take to be a rhetorical question, not a definitive description. Michael is called the patron saint of soldiers. I choose to interpret soldiers as spiritual warriors. I like thinking of my name as a reminder of staying connected to a greater something.

I acted on my name change after I saw an image of St. Michael while visiting The Los Angeles County Museum of Art with Terry. Terry’s middle name is also Michael so I thought it was time.

Cheryl Strayed, author of Dear Sugar and Wild, reveals that Strayed is not her given name. In Wild she writes about her name change process:
I [could not] go back to having the name I had in high school…Nothing fit until one day when the word strayed came into my mind. Immediately I looked it up in the dictionary and knew it was mine. Its layered definitions spoke directly to my life and also struck a poetic chord: to wander from the proper path, to deviate from the direct course, to be lost, to become wild, to be without a mother or father, to be without a home, to move about aimlessly in search of something, to diverge or digress. I had diverged, digressed, wandered and become wild…I had strayed and that I was a stray and that from the wild places my straying had brought me. I knew things I couldn’t have known before.
Today I wonder if I’d choose a different name. I like Michael. Still. I also like the Cherokee name, “Ahyoka” which means, “She brought happiness.” I'd like to live with that aspiration. Or maybe I’d choose Sky. That would work: Susan Sky.