Monday, 25 February 2013

Musings on Storytelling Sunday and my name

Storytelling Sundays mask
Last weekend, I went to the first Storytelling Sunday, a series of workshops led by Sally-Shakti Willow. I didn’t really know what to expect from the session, but I like stories and hoped there might be some good advice I could use to improve my writing. As someone who usually stays on the perimeter at these kinds of things, I certainly did not expect to get as involved as I did or to have such an emotional reaction to the work. Just over a week later and, like an excellent play that stays with you after the curtain has fallen, the workshop is still very much in my thoughts. I keep being drawn back to mull over the issues that affected me so strongly.

Sally-Shakti is a lovely woman, warm and kind, and the atmosphere she created for the workshop was like a supportive bubble with only the group inside. Sounds odd, I know, but it really worked and I believe feeling so safe was the catalyst for allowing myself to open up. The workshop explored our names, how we feel about them and how well we relate to them. I don’t like my name. It doesn’t fit me. I tend to use the abbreviated ‘Steph’ but, as this is such a short sound, I have learned I need to say the long ‘Stephanie’ when I first meet new people, otherwise they mishear and I end up embarrassed, repeating myself. So as we zoomed round the group, I said ‘Stephanie’, the word left hanging awkwardly in the air. It’s my name, but it’s not me.

I was surprised that a good half of us felt disconnected from our names so my quandary is not so unusual! We looked up the words in baby name books to see if an ancient meaning might provide a connection. Stephanie means ‘garlanded’ or ‘wreathed’ or ‘crowned’. I’ve never been a woman who particularly decorates herself and the thought of being crowned? Well, that’s really not me either. A new friend, Suesie suggested hidden depths, perhaps I haven’t yet found my ‘thing’, the talent that will earn my wreath. This did resonate quietly at the time although I didn’t consciously pick up on it until several mulls later. I spoke about my Mum, relating her explanation of why my sister and I have unusual names (hey, I was storytelling!). Mum was a teacher and didn’t want to be reminded of previous students when she spoke about her own children. She ignored the names of children she had taught and, in the 1970s, Stephanie was much more unusual than it is now. She was aware that I might not like it though, so my middle name was ‘plain’ Jane in case I wanted something simple instead. However, using a different name to your given one is difficult to enforce and requires a strength of character that little me didn’t have. You have to repeatedly correct people and I wasn’t comfortable with that level of attention. Stephanie stayed.

I talked over the workshop with my partner, Dave. Interestingly, he’s fine with his first name, but has issues with his surname, which has a silent ‘e’ on the end. He believes he should keep the ‘e’ as it was important enough to his ancestors that they kept it, but he finds endlessly repeating ‘with-an-e-on-the-end’ to be wearying and is also uncomfortable with the extra attention it brings. At Dave’s suggestion, we tried an exercise of using our middle names and found it a fun but weird experience. Ourselves as Dave & Steph are very different to how we imagined Hugh and Jane would be. Try it yourself!

It was thinking about my Mum spending ages poring over names for her baby that choked me up at the workshop – and is doing so again now as I relive the experience by writing about it. I know she put a lot of effort into trying to get our childhoods right and effectively complaining makes me feel ungrateful. At least my name is generally pronounced correctly. My sister is Adrienne - that’s with an Ay (for ‘orses) sound at the beginning, not an Add, and hit the last syllable, not the first. Yes, this could be a lot more difficult.

I have started to understand that perhaps it is not my name that’s really causing the problem here, but the person I think of when that label is used. I recoil because I don’t like who I used to be and I still see her. I need to start seeing the person I am now instead – the one who is becoming confident, who has medals for running, who is discovering art and jazz and shoe shopping! I think as I become happier with myself, I’m probably going to find that my name is more relevant to who I am now. So, at the end of this long, self-indulgent essay, we have the reason for this blog’s title, Stephanie Jane. It’s my name and I am going to find a way to marry the two of us – that name to this woman and this woman to that name.

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