My given name is Christina Marie, but for my entire life, my name has been Chris. Virtually everyone I know has called me Chris. Sometimes family members have called me Christina, but never with any regularity. My mother used it when she wanted to get my attention or use her stern voice: “Chris-tin-a.” I never connected with it, I didn’t like it and so I didn’t use it. Period. As is so sadly often the case when we’re young, I didn’t like it because it was different – no one else had that name and while I’ve always wanted to stand out from the crowd and be thought of as someone special, I didn’t want to have a name that wasn’t cool. My name was Chris and that was that. I didn’t give it any further thought.
It’s been all the rage in my generation and the ones after me for people to take on new names – spiritual names, medicine names, sacred names and names which they believe are more reflective of who they are. I’ve never felt so inclined to do that and have even wondered sometimes about the “Sunshine’s” or “Shakti’s” of the world. I wonder about people rejecting their birth names and what could also be the resultant connection to their families and lineage. Maybe it doesn’t reflect this, but I do wonder whether letting go of the name we were given by our families is a way of renunciating something that can’t be renunciated – our connection to our genetics, our history, and our ancestors. In some cultures, this renunciation wouldn’t go over very well at all – names are often painstakingly chosen and are given by a significant member of the family. I think it’s important to pay attention to those kinds of family and cultural values and traditions. I never knew why my mother chose that name for me – it didn’t carry any familial significance and no one else in either side of the extended family shares the name. She liked it and she gave it to me. Even though I didn’t like it; and even though there were many years of estrangement from her and my entire family, I never felt the need to separate myself from them by letting go of my name. I’ve kept my father’s last name, too, and don’t foresee how that would ever change either.
But then something did change. Suddenly there were more and more Christina’s around. There were even some of them in my life. I heard myself saying the name more frequently and I liked it. I heard others using it and I thought, “Hey, I want them to call me that!” It began to take on another quality. I knew I wasn’t just hearing a name I liked, it was my name and a new connection to it was emerging. I liked its multi-syllabic substantial-ness and its almost-musical cadence. Kryssss – teeeen – ahhhhhh and all kinds of variations from there. But still, I didn’t take it on, although I played with it, rolled it across my tongue and imagined being called Christina.
Then came my move to Hawaii. I went to work and there was already a Chris there. For the sake of ease with incoming calls, they asked whether I would be willing to be called something else. Here was the moment. Without a hesitation and with a bit of surprise to myself, I instantly agreed and said, “Yes, call me Christina.” And that’s where it began, my reclaiming my birth name. Initially, it was only in the workplace and it took some adjustment that they were talking to me when they called out the name. Me – Christina. Yes, it took some time. Then, it came into my personal life – since I was in a new place, meeting new people and creating a new social circle, I began to introduce myself with it. “My name is Christina.” Sometimes I would forget, but more and more often, the name came out with no stumbling effort.
I’ve been in Hawaii for almost five years and now without hesitation, Christina is my name. It wouldn’t occur to me to call myself Chris anymore than it would occur to you to call yourself that. Except for one thing: when I come back to my friends and family in California.
They don’t know about this name change and they still call me Chris. There’s something odd when I hear them call me that or hear them talk to someone else about me as Chris. It’s just a short name, Chris, so small, diminutive, petite. Not quite descriptive of me with those kinds of words! A quick little name, Chris. And one that I have barely no connection left to. So I told them – I told them this whole story and that I’d like them to call me Christina. Some of they have tried, some of them have resisted (in a similar way, perhaps, to how I’ve reacted to other friends’ name changes) and all of them continue to call me Chris. What to do? Should I insist? No, that’s silly and unnecessary. It’s a process for them, maybe, just like it was a process for me. Maybe it will happen, maybe it won’t. And either way, I’ve decided it’s okay. I even call myself Chris now with some of them – after all, that’s who they know me to be. And so for now, here in California, I’m Chris with the old-timers, Christina when I meet someone new; and I’ve decided it’s fine. Call me Christina, call me Chris. After all, what’s in a name, anyway?