You may recognize the title of this post as similar to title of the book-turned-movie, Call Me By Your Name. The book, in my opinion, is a heart-wrenching reflection on love and human connection.
- Yes, it is also a gay coming of age novel.
- Yes, it also gives voice to the obsessive/impulsive love I would wager we’ve all experienced at least once.
- AND – Yes, it beautifully narrates the complexity of human emotion.
However, my biggest take-away from reading the book came months after I put the novel down. It took a while for the full weight of the title, and what power a name has, to smack me in the face. So, bear with me as I work through this concept of names…
Again, I’ve always known that a name, or to give something a name, is power(full). I will never forget reading, in some long forgotten text on Native American tribes, that if you give something a name then you give it power. The text said that the tribal belief was that you did not give a name to what you fear because that meant you gave it the ability to overcome you. Now THAT stuck with me as a kid. I’ve carried it with me into adulthood as I studied myth and literature. I’ve read other books and articles, fiction and non-fiction, that have stated similar things. There is power in a name.
So, this brings me to another book and a sidebar story about my own name.
First, the sidebar: Recently, I was with a group professionals just hanging out after a long day on the job. I’m on fairly casual terms with this group and so I didn’t feel the need to be too guarded. Now, I forget how the conversation started but somehow the topic of middle names came up. Now, I am a little embarrassed by my middle name, but not so embarrassed that I refuse sharing.
So, this time when asked, I deflected. Somewhere inside me there was a barrier being drawn up and I was preparing to find a way to leave. I was already weighing the conversation and wondered if the mixed company I was with would make some remark. Yet, the companion to my left took the deflection in stride and then offered their full name. In that moment, it was the willingness to share that made me relax again. It was, to me, a willingness to be vulnerable. When I was asked again I did not hesitate to share my name. I can appreciate that kind of openness and the genuine interest that led the conversation from that point on. Yes, I still had to explain my middle name a bit, but I didn’t mind as much. I felt that the exchange of names, the exchange of power, changed how I spoke from that point forward.
Now, on to the book. As an extension of that conversation, I was recommended the book A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin. I decided to give this book a shot on Audible since I had a long road trip coming up. Now, this adds an interesting layer in terms of how I process the story. Listening, as opposed to reading, engages a different part of your brain as you take in information. I was passively following the book when there came a part in the story where one character gives the other his “true name”, thus acknowledging a deep sense trust between the two. The narrator/writer goes on to explain this “true name” concept and it was then that it hit me…
“call me by your name…”
It sounds absolutely ridiculous, but I was just dumbstruck. I felt tears prick at the corner of my eyes. Names are an extension of our power and vulnerability.
In Call Me By Your Name, it is certainly the vulnerable aspect that is most present. What he main character shares of his intimate moments, the highs and lows, and the parallel life he leads after that summer – there is an abundance of raw emotion in some of those passages in the book that never translate to screen. The fact that I felt my heart tense up and my vision blur as I reflected on my own most raw moments says enough about how much it moved me.
In A Wizard of Earthsea there is this theme of power and pride, and how the dynamics of both can shape your life. I can’t help but think about what I’ve done for pride and for power, as I navigate my personal and professional goals. I then connected the raw vulnerability of sharing my name and how I’ve manipulated my own name to be sure that I’m addressed appropriately as a professional. I realized that though I may be just a “name” to some people, those who know my full name do hold some power over me, especially in a more intimate setting. The Gods know the name of my heart but there are a few humans who know my true name. There is a careful trust in those that I share my full name with.
So, I had to pause the book, playing through my car radio, and just think through my feelings for a long while. It occurred to me that this why I originally crafted a “nom de plume” for my writing. I chose a pen-name to protect myself and to write without repercussion. Yet, as I found out much later, this alternate name also served to further fracture my ego. If you wanted to be a part of my inner world then you would have to make it past her first. I’m in a much better place now, and I am much closer to being whole, so I don’t use a false identity to write any longer. Yet, because I removed THAT barrier, it doesn’t mean that others don’t exist. I still squirm when there is talk of names and heritage/ancestry.
Naturally, the idea that giving away ones name(s) is equal to giving up power over oneself, is a very conflicting notion for me. I am uncomfortable sharing my full name, I flip-flop on changing my last name, I get very aggressive if I think someone has something “over” me. Yet, I have given in to the very human need for connection by sharing my full name with those I trust. What touched me from both books that I’ve introduced here, was this intimate sharing, this humbling of the self for another. Is this something we all struggle for? To maintain our identity and power but connect with others so that we’re not in isolation? To be both powerful and vulnerable in the same measure? Is this more or less intimate then sharing of your physical body? Or is that just the manifestation of the sharing of a name?
Think about this – who knows your true name? And why?
Writer, Wannabe Artist, Overthinker, List-Maker, Photographer, Chronic Under-Salter