Posted by: gaylejervis | July 8, 2010


As a young person I would often hear people comment how the Speers’ family was always there for each other and that they would give the shirts off their backs to help others. They would also say, “No one can tell stories better than a Speers and laugh as hard as they do”.   Even though the Speers’ siblings were not above reproach, I aspired to imitate many of their attributes, including their hard working natures, and I was proud that Speers was my surname.

And yet, my identity didn’t seem too affected by my given name.    However, I concede that I  often distinguished the spelling of my name that had  a “y” and that my name had two syllables unlike the name Gail. And I confess I insisted upon the correct spelling of my name.  I’ve recently read that that habit alone suggested that I had more emotional attachment to my name than I actually thought.  The authors of Language of Names suggests my preoccupation with the correct spelling of my name was a result of feeling “diminished, less lovely, unimportant (and) not quite visible” when it was spelled incorrectly! (10)

During my first two years of university I certainly became aware of my name and how its vibrations were unbalanced thus causing a lot of physical, emotional and mental problems!!  For two years every Sunday evening I attended Kabalarian Philosophy classes with a friend and her family who had changed their given and surnames and even their house address to create a better balance in their lives.   I finally decided to pay $125.00 and receive suggested names that would be more balanced than the name Gayle Speers.  I discovered I was unable to make the necessary changes and I had to acknowledge that perhaps I did have more emotional attachment and more identity consciousness wrapped up in my name than I earlier believed.  However my pursuit into this philosophy never completely deserted me as I often sensed that my name lacked power – at least positive power.

My confused perception about my given and surname was further complicated when I decided to assume my husband’s surname.  Shortly after being married, standing in my classroom, my name was spoken on the p.a. system and   I didn’t respond until several of my students brought it to my attention.  I had no identity or connection to my newly acquired surname of Jervis.  Therefore, with the influence of Kabalarian philosophy and with the emotional consequences of replacing the one name that gave me pride and strength, my full name was rendered powerless.    If I had been asked during those years, I would have been in complete agreement with John Stuart Mill, the 19th century British philosopher who believed that names are conventional and arbitrary. He wrote, “A proper name is but an unmeaning mark which we connect in our minds with the idea of the object, in order that whenever the mark meets our eyes or occurs to our thoughts, we may think of that individual object.”

That names are just arbitrary markers is a long ways away from various folk cultures that believe that names have such power some are reluctant to even freely tell another his name!  John O’Donohue in his book Eternal Longing tells of a priest who was appointed to a rural area in Ireland  and after a pleasant conversation with an old man , he asked him his name. “ The old man glowered at him and said, “That is something I never told any one in my life” and went back to dig his garden.”  (126)

I may not be superstitious like that old Irish man, but since I became ill, my name is no longer  just an aribitary means of identifying me. During these past thirteen years, I have discovered that my name has special powers.  For example I learned that when the stairs to our two story house looked particularly steep, I could make it to the top of the landing by saying,  “Gayle, take one step at a time.  Gayle, just hold onto the rail and pull yourself up,  Gayle, you can do this,”   I can’t begin to count the number of times I have spoken my name out loud when I didn’t know if I could go one foot further, but as soon as I said, “Gayle, you can do this, Gayle, just take one step at a time,” some new tenacity swept over me until I began to respect my name’s special powers that can impart courage, perseverance, and mental toughness.

However, I believe I have recently learned one more thing about the power of my name as I listen to my grandson.   My grandson seldom uses the pronoun “I;” rather, he speaks using his given name.  Now I ask you, which has more power and influence, which imparts a clearer understanding of who he is and what he needs? –  I need some juice or Jackson needs some juice?  Which sentence imparts a greater sense of identity and self esteem?  Which sentence conveys a deeper conviction that this person knows what he needs and deserves receiving it?  I am reminded of the impotence of the pronoun “I” when I read in the Language of Names, “Separate a person from her name – as the Nazis did with their concentration camp victims – and you take away what makes her human rather than simply alive.”  I want to embrace my name in the way my grandson does since it will be another indicator that I am not “just present” or “just surviving”, not simply alive.  When I speak my name Gayle and when I hear my name spoken, I want that name to trigger a belief that I have the power to create my own destiny fully aware of my humanness, fully aware of my needs, fully aware of my strengths.

Question:  How do you feel about your name?  Does it have power?



  1. I have never thought of my name as having any real power. I did however know that I preferred the name Kerry (the reason I can’t even recall other than it flowed nicely). When I was in Grade 7 and 8, I referred to myself as Kerry but only to new people I didn’t know. I would often say to those I knew that I really liked the name Kerry but never asked them to call me by it. The first recollection of analyzing my name was when I was told in my late teens that it was Spanish for “beautiful”. I had never really thought of a name having anything more to it than just that – a word, an identifier. People knew me as Linda but Kerry had a ring to it that sounded good to me. However, that did not mean that I wanted to change it or be known by everyone as Kerry. I guess I never really got attached to either one. The adjective ‘beautiful’ though did have some sway within me! It may even have caused me to become too concentrated on trying to ‘BE’ that word; perhaps too focused on the external. As I have become more settled with ‘who I am as a person’ my name has simply tagged along behind. However, now when I really ‘think about my name’ as you have suggested, I attach my life history (my experiences, good and bad, including my relationships) to it and realize the name and the person have now become one … Linda.

  2. The claiming of a name is indeed a powerful thing! I recall a conversation with Greg shortly after meeting you related to the importance your name and its spelling had for you. Interesting to hear your thoughts on it now – and you know how much I love the subject of names and power!

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