What is in a name?
Everything . . . but not all things.
I recently came upon a Facebook post stating that a person’s name is God-given and very important, creating their identity. This got under my skin, and I almost kept scrolling. For nearly my entire life, I have hated my name, not because of the sound of it (although I never cared much for that, either) but because of its meaning.
When I was seven-years-old, my mom had a baby name book she was looking through to decide the name of my youngest sister. Being curious, I looked up Melanie. The book defined it as, “Dark, from the darkness.” I tearfully approached my mom about the terrible name she had given me. She assured me my name was beautiful, and that it was special because I had been named after my grandma, Melba (who insisted on not sticking that outdated name to her granddaughter.)
Maybe it wouldn’t have affected me so much if I hadn’t already felt different. Here I was, the only one in the family with brown eyes; hence, dark. Both my sisters had blue eyes. I would come to find out the reason my sisters’ coloring was so different from mine was that our gene pool wasn’t exactly the same. I had a different, and completely absent, father.
Different. Dark. To me, both were synonymous to bad, even evil.
As silly as it may sound, I carried that branding of who I was with me through my childhood and into adulthood. Every time I faced a trauma, a little voice inside my head would confirm it was my lot due to who I was: darkness. Good things happen in the light, not in the dark.
When it came time to name my own children, I chose names with good, purposeful, meanings. Hope. Christmas. Princess. My daughters would carry light in their names. They would have names that pointed back to God. As for me, I shrugged off my name and disconnected myself from it. Or, at least, I tried.
So when I read that Facebook post, I really wanted to keep scrolling, but something in me challenged me to look up my name again. No baby name books are needed in the age of Google. When I put my name in the search bar, the same definition came up: Dark. But it didn’t stop there. The definition went on to note, “This was the name of a Roman saint who gave all her wealth to charity in the 5th century. Her grandmother was also a saint with the same name.”
A Roman saint named Melanie? Who was named after her grandmother of the same name? But saints are . . . good. They are holy, from God.
The Facebook post encouraged people to look up both their first and middle names. I had never looked up my middle name (which was also my grandma’s.) I typed “Jean meaning” into Google and the results brought tears to my eyes.
Jean was a Hebrew baby name meaning Gift from God.
Melanie Jean = A Philanthropist Saint, Gift from God.
That’s a long way from dark.
It’s such a little thing, the definition of a name, and yet it can mean so much. It got me thinking about identity, and how we define ourselves. The most powerful lies we believe are the ones that are born from a kernel of truth. Yes, Melanie means dark, but it has a history greater and more beautiful than simple darkness. And believing that Melanie was bad, I had never looked up my middle name, never even thought about it.
A kernel of truth had entwined with the circumstances of my life to create a lie about myself that I believed: I was darkness, different, and somehow “bad” or unworthy no matter how much I did “right.”
Why do we accept something ugly, that doesn’t feel right, as truth, without digging deeper?
Even as Christians, when we know God loves us, and has redeemed us, why do we still put labels on ourselves and on others that don’t reflect who God is? What if we broke open all those boxes we have put each other in, and dug for the truth, instead of accepting the lies?
Darkness just might become light, and then we could see the gifts inside.