When I was young, I didn’t like my name. There were no other kids in school named Shannon, (or Shanny as I was known in my early years) and some people could not seem to get it right, as I was called Shauna, Sammy and even Shane. I looked up the meaning in a baby book once, hoping it meant graceful or angelic, or something to make me feel that it wasn’t all bad. Instead, I found out it meant “old wise one." Just what every young girl likes to hear. Eventually, I grew to embrace it, and I figured it’s only a name, and what’s in a name? But upon deeper reflection I realize that, sometimes, there can be a lot in a name.
Shakespeare once said, “That which we call a rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet.” This may be true of roses, but roses are not blessed with self awareness or the ability to internalize those “other” names which are capable of changing the sweet to sour.
Many kids in my old neighbourhood had nicknames, and I saw no problem with that, when they were welcomed nicknames. In fact, nicknames can sometimes be empowering, depending upon their meanings. But when they are the other nicknames, the unwelcomed nicknames, the hurtful, crippling name calling that can crush you, that is a huge problem.
I’m no psychologist, nor have I done any studies on bullying, so I can only speak of what I’ve observed over the years.
Contrary to the cliché, sticks and stones are not the only things that can hurt you. Names, the mean-spirited kind, can destroy your self-esteem and change your perception of your place in the world. There are many factors involved in determining to what degree someone internalizes this type of abuse and, of course, a person’s inherent personality is a huge factor. If you have a strong, self-confident, nature you may be able to get quickly past the hurt that these labels create and, perhaps, even fight back. But the quiet, sensitive, non-confrontational victims are easier to intimidate and put down.
Bullies, searching for a way to feel powerful, tend to seek out these less difficult targets, but when that momentary power trip ends, and their own insecurities begin to resurface, the bully needs another fix, and, unfortunately, they return to the tried and true victim and reopen the old wounds. Whether it happens between children or whether the names come from an adult, the aftereffects can last a lifetime and in the most devastating of circumstances, cut a life short.
I realize that bullying comes in many forms, and that physical forms of abuse are more apparent to the outsider. I also know that name calling is something that all kids do at one time or another, even if it’s as simple as calling a sibling dumb or ugly just once. But if you are told something often enough, without someone countering that negativity, you begin to believe it and a broken spirit can be much more painful than a broken bone.
So, what’s in a name? Plenty. But name calling is certainly nothing that is going to go away. There will always be ignorant, hateful, and fearful people who find satisfaction in making someone feel as badly as themselves. But in our own lives, we can help to curtail the propagation of this act by be mindful of what we say and how we label others, and by teaching our children to try to put themselves in the other person’s shoes before they speak. And there are always those empowering names we can use to help to rebuild a child’s’s self-esteem. Who knows, you could end up becoming that child’s hero. Now there’s a welcomed label .
However you feel about you own name, I hope that the next time you write it you think about the power that names possess and the people whose lives you can influence just by the way in which you choose to wield that power.