Friday, March 28, 2014


What is your name?
This is the most common question we ask when we meet new people.
Como se llama?  How are you called?  These were among the first words I learned in Spanish.

Naming is how we define, remember and come to know.
What's in your name?
What power and pain are connected to the words that names you?

My name is Robin.

Although I answer to that name and have never considered changing it, growing up I had mixed feelings about my name.

Rocking Robin,  Robin Hood... and  the one I hated the most--just hear the elementary-kid giggles-- Robin Red-Breast.

I grew up in an era when there was plenty of ammunition to tease a person wearing my name.

In addition to the teasing, I also felt it was a boy's name.
There were twin boys in my kindergarten class- Robin and Reuben. There was Robin Hood, Robin from Winnie-the-Pooh..and Robin  from  Batman comic books.

As a middle-schooler--that time when we set out to be like everyone else, yet distinguish ourselves in unique ways-- I thought it would be the epitome of cool, if only my name were spelled with a y--Robyn.

That small difference, in my preteen estimation, would have elevated my name to stellar status, and although is would still sound the same,  just the sheer visual power of the y would have surmounted all teasing.

My dad's name was Robert.  I  learned later in life that Robin is a diminutive of Robert.
So I am named for him--- a Robert Jr. of sorts.

Wikepedia has an entry that sheds some light on my name:

Robin was originally a diminutive given name of Robert, derived from the prefix Rob- (hrodOld Germanic, meaning "fame"), and the suffix -in (Old French diminutive). More recently, it is used as an independent name. The name Robin is uncommon (but not unique) in being a masculine given name, feminine given name, and a surname. In Europe, although it is sometimes regarded as a female name, it is generally given to males. In North America, it is more popular as a female name - during the 1990s, for example, it was the 325th most popular girl's name and the 693rd most popular boy's name. There are several common variations, including RobynRobbinRobineRobyneRobynne, and Robbyn.[2] Robine is a female version of the name Robin. In some cultures Robyn is strictly female. It has its origin in France and is also a very common surname in France. Robin is occasionally found as a surname in English language-speaking countries. Common nicknames are Rob, Robbie or Bobby.[1]
What do you know about your name?

After my sisters were born, my name became part of our R theme--Robin, Rhonda, Renee.  My husband, Ralph adopted the same theme for my stepsons--Regence and Robby.

Roy Feinson has conducted research related to components letter and sounds of names and found that people with similar sounding names often have similar characteristics and  interests. His book, The Secret Universe of Names: The Dynamic Interplay of Names and Destiny, provides fascinating perspectives on the names to which we and our friends and family answer.

Considering  his work, I wonder about the number of folks in my family whose names start with Rob- (Robert, Robby- two of them etc.) 

We hear our names called numerous times a day.  How do we feel about  our names?  How did we get them? What do they reveal about us?

And what happens to us and our identities when our names are changed, either by choice or by force?

In the opening chapters of When My Name Was Keoko, the Korean brother and sister protagonists are discussing how they will be forced to change their names now that the Japanese are in power.  My students were astounded at the idea that someone could take your name from you and make you use some other name.  They were too young to remember the famous scene in Roots when Kunta Kinte is beaten unmercifully until he finally acknowledges the slave name Toby.

Many times my English Language Learners faced name changes-- not violent changes like Kunta Kinte, but forced changes, never the less.   The names are too hard pronounce said some students and even teachers.

I counter that they are no more difficult any other names.

Our names are important.   And it is out of respect that we wrap our tongues and minds around each person's name.

In  both The Name Jar and My Name Is Yoon , little girls who have moved to America from Korea, face the difficult decision of taking a new name...or not.

What is your name?
What is the power and pain of your name?

Every reader of fantasy knows that names in such stories are chosen carefully,  often kept secret, and determine destinies.  I think immediately of A Wizard of Earthsea  where names play such an important role in the narrative.

Often in fantasy stories, characters are renamed as they advance in knowledge or quests or levels of testing.  In many stories, knowing your name gives power over you to the one holding that knowledge.

Many cultures have naming ceremonies with accompanying celebrations; this may be a community affair or a religious rite--based on  the day of birth, family names, desired characteristics or event surrounding the birth.

This is a fascinating area to explore in writing. There are many emotional, social, and historical responses possible as we explore the origins and meanings, the good, bad and ugly of the experience of being called by a particular name.

In researching an item for this post, I learned that Siri  Apple's voice assistant on iPhone and iPad) now has an Android Siri challenger-- Robin.  So I guess many people will soon be calling my name, many times a day.

I now embrace my name:  Robin, like the bird, I say when asked to repeat my name.  I sign most unofficial handwritten correspondence with a bird symbol I have developed over the last 40 years. For those who know me, the scribbled bird has become part of my signature.

What is your name?
How are you called?

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

What is your name?
Research the origin of your name.
Reflect on  how your feel about your name.

If you could change your name, what would your new name be?

Write a poem, essay or narrative about your name, how and why you received  it and how it has served you-- in power or pain.


  1. This is really neat, Robin! (I think it's so cool that you have a symbol for your name!) I love the 2 picture books you shared, and "When My Name Was Keoko" is now on my (ever-growing) to-read list! Stella wrote about ELL students' names here: I feel so bad when teachers continually mispronounce my students' names... it's like saying you don't honor them as people.

  2. Jennifer, thanks for your kind words and for sharing Stella's insightful piece. Not caring enough to get the names right is one of my pet peeves.I watched students allow themselves to be called a variety of not-my-names, because they got weary of correcting people, and it was just easier.