What's in a Name?

As I sat in stillness this morning, my name popped into my mind. I journeyed for a time with it. My name tells a story. My given name was Laurel Wiljanen. Accent on the first syllable of the last name. I have one clear memory of a teacher in elementary school pronouncing my name correctly on the first try. Otherwise, it became a lifetime of correcting others. I knew how to say it properly, but still it was difficult to say clearly. Exact pronunciation of this name requires confidence and excellent elocution, the lack of the former in me causing an inability to develop the latter. I have been called Laura, Lauren, and Laurie by others; sometimes I correct. Sometimes I don't' bother because it's tiresome to me. When people mispronounced my last name, same deal. Sometimes I repeated it correctly depending on my interest and mood. Try saying Laurel Wiljanen out loud - it's a mouthful.

Shortly after I turned twenty-two I married for the first time. My name became Laurel Neece. Last name - short and sweet. I experienced great happiness in changing my name, especially to a name that sounded French (but was an Americanized version of a Polish name) and was easy to say. Neece is rarely mispronounced by others. Deep in my sub-conscious, it is conceivable that some of my motivation to marry could have been to take that sweet little last name, releasing the one I had grown to loathe for its inconvenience and awkwardness. At twenty-two years of age, I was separating from my family of origin and aware of the reasons I wanted to be different from them. Changing my name brought positive feelings for me.

During my adulthood, I have grown to love my first name, Laurel. I continue to correct others (most of the time) when they call me Lauren or Laura, but it doesn't make me weary like it did when I was younger. I enjoy saying, "No, it's Laurel - like the flower." Associating myself with a flower feels just for me. A crown of laurel, the beautiful evergreen leaves, entwine to represent honor. My adulthood has been a journey to embody honor, to become an individual of integrity and respect. Humanity is a gift to me, packed with wondrous surprises as I explore its depths. The work I do with others is a full of honor, the honor of walking intimately with others in their world. To be given the gift of knowing another's inner world is, truly, an honor to me. Laurel, honor, that feels good.

In my forty-third year of living, I became a divorced woman. What an inner struggle; the divorce process forced me to redefine myself. Early on, when I had inklings that my marriage may not be well-suited to me, the inner, unspoken rule that kept surfacing was that divorce was for others, but not for me. I was married to a kind and good-natured man, we didn't argue, we were wonderful parents together. How could I end the marriage? That is not a story for this day, but it was a journey into my integrity, into having my life be harmonious on the inside and my outer life become congruent with my deepest feelings. I developed honor and integrity. I would say my ex-husband and I both grew our integrity and inner honor through handling the end of our marriage in the kindest way we possibly could. I am proud of both of us for this.

When I became divorced, I continued to use the name Laurel Neece because the obvious return to Laurel Wiljanen was out of the question. I cared about sharing the same name with my children. My children were ages 16, 14 and 9. At some point though, the desire to no longer share my ex-husband's name surfaced. When eventually I raised the topic of changing my name, I got push back from my children, particularly my younger daughter. Not wanting to hurt them any more than I feared I did through the divorce, I let it be. But the urge was there to no longer be called Laurel Neece.

A few years passed and I began toying with the idea of name change again. This time I approached it more seriously, I considered specific names. Returning to Laurel Wiljanen was off the table. Never once did I imagine going back "there". Instead, I began making lists of names I liked. The process was fairly random. My thinking was - if I was going to change my name, yet again - why not to something I really liked, personally chosen by Me? The choice would be a fairly common name because I didn't want to go down the path of having to spell my name constantly, or repeat it, or correct others for it to be understood readily. As I mentally played with names, I also shared my name change plan with my sisters, asking for feedback. My youngest sister, always full of great ideas, sent back a long list of family names from both sides of my parents family tree.

When it came down to making a lasting decision, the more traditional part of me emerged. I wanted a family name; I wanted my name to have ties to my heritage. With that inner awareness, the choice was simple - Laurel Holland. I would take my mother's mother's maiden name. Not only did I love the name, it met my simple criteria. And I loved my grandmother whole-heartedly. It was if I was honoring her by taking this name. As I was growing in my womanhood, I felt like I was a Holland woman - strong, kind, direct, independent, and quietly loving. Both my grandmother and her sister could be described this way. The shoe fit.

The story still is not complete. To my surprise, the desire to be married again appeared after I fell in love with the man who is now my husband. He was the first to raise the topic of name change, saying he would encourage anyone not to purposefully take the last name Hajek. A difficult name for a variety of reasons, only one of which is it needs to be spelled. But just as wanting another attempt at the art of marriage, I surprised myself by wanting to take this difficult name. I wanted to share a name with my husband, to be known together in this way. It seemed symbolic of our union and commitment. Keeping my chosen name of Holland as a middle name was the answer for me. So I find myself with, yet again, another name experience.

Today I use both Laurel Holland and Laurel Hajek. I am Laurel Holland in my work life. My married and legal name is Laurel Holland Hajek. I suppose this accurately reflects the truth that we play a variety of roles in life. Though not proposing that we all use different names in the many areas of our life, an awareness of how the name is a symbol of "me", and that "me" is being expressed through what I do in the world, is ever-present to me.

This morning I was deeply in touch with the sacred act of sitting in stillness. Perhaps it was a sense of the holy, that brought me into my name story. I like to imagine my name as "holy land" - Holland - a variation of that message. Indeed when I took this name I entered holy territory. I was committing to a life of honoring my inner world. That truth has expanded into a commitment to honor everyone's inner world. That is the honor in my name today, Laurel Holland. I welcome others to open their inner doors, to put aside any fear for a moment or two, and step through that threshold together. What resides deep within each of us is holy land, a terrain of deepest truth and understanding, of intimate knowledge of love and universal truth about our humanity. Sacred space is right here within. Ah, that I could open that door for everyone. The key belongs to each of us individually though; the door must be opened by Self.

So, what's in a name? I can only answer for me. My name represents the journey of my life, so far. It represents my deepest desire to continue to evolve, to know myself ever more deeply, and to serve others as they also enter the sacred space within.