“From our ancestors come our names, but from our virtues, our honors.” ~Proverb
Life meanders. We take so many paths and roads, and I have often wondered how much importance our given name has. When I was preparing for each child I carried within me, I took a long time choosing a name for them. As I look at my children today, each one looks like their name. Some parents give their children the names of great kings or queens. Do these children feel an onus to live up to that name? Alexander and Victoria, for example, are regal names. My own first name had been a bane for me until I went to college.
My parents named me Cheryl, nothing regal or melodic about that, and even worse when people did not pronounce it correctly. It came out sounding like “Shirl.” My own father called me “Shirl!” But there I was, stuck with it. I was a shy child who grew into a shy teenager and even as a college freshman, I was shy. To some extent, and only in looking back now, my name probably had a lot to do with that, at least in my mind. Fortunately college changed my fate for a while.
As a freshman, I was put into a dorm room with a total stranger named Carol. She was gregarious, ebullient, and she hated my name! She had known a “Cheryl” in high school and never liked her. So she told me the first day we met in the dorm that my name would be Cheri, and since she seemed to know many people on campus, she introduced me to them all as Cheri. Within a relatively short time, that was quickly shortened by others to the name Cher. And I was so passive, I allowed it to happen. Actually, I welcomed it. Never again, unless in the presence of my father, would I be called “Shirl.” Life was getting good. I was nominated for Homecoming Queen; I had several leads in theatre productions, and had my own radio show at the campus station. “What’s in a name?” Perception, that’s what. And in the years since college, everyone has known me as Cher, except for one dear friend from high school who still calls me “Shirl.” I love her, so I forgive her.
Little did I know that the name Cheryl (or Shirl) was not my name at all, at least it was not my first name. I go back to those meandering roads and truly believe that every road has its purpose. Recently, I needed a copy of my Certificate of Baptism in the Roman Catholic Church I had grown up in. While I knew I had been baptized, I had never seen that certificate. Since both my parents are deceased, I began the process of obtaining that certificate through proper channels.
Yesterday it arrived. I first looked at the seal to make certain it had been authenticated, and then I almost put it back in the envelope. Turning it over, I saw the name “Julia Cheryl.” Hah! My name is Julia, not Cheryl, and certainly not “Shirl.” I was, I am, and have been all along, Julia, which was my grandmother’s name. Julie, everyone called her Julie and I had adored her. I gasped aloud when I saw this. Why did my parents never tell me? Why did they drop my real first name? I had to tell my kids. Family identity crisis here! So at 1:00 a.m. this morning I was texting them, in part, because through the years when they wanted to rile me, they would call me “Shirl.” No more of that.
One of my kids texted back, said that was a “lovely name,” and sent me a link to the Beatles song, “Julia.” My kids grew up listening to the Beatles, especially to Abbey Road. This is one song I had never heard, though judging from the number of hits it has received on You Tube, I must be one of the few who didn’t know it. All this time I should have known that John Lennon knew my name, even if my parents didn’t.
So you can call me Cher. You cannot call me Shirl. You may call me Julia, but I might not turn in recognition yet. Please give your child a name they will like. I miss John Lennon still after all these years, and now I feel a true connection to him. Julia. We both loved that name. From an ancestor came my name. From a man of peace and some virtue, came honor. Today is John Lennon’s birthday. I celebrate him for many reasons.