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Evolution of a Name

February 5, 2002

In the beginning, my name was Michael Joseph P_____, given to me by a mother who was so certain that I was going to be a boy that she didn't even bother to think of any names for a girl.

But then I was born and I guess I wasn't the kind of boy my parents were expecting.

After two days, when the nurses said I couldn't go home from the hospital without a name on my birth certificate, my father named me Karen, after an aunt I'd always wonder about but never meet until I was 16, only to find out we were nothing alike.

As a child, my father called me KP and Rinny, you know, after Rin Tin Tin, K9 Cop. I loved it, just like I loved when he called me his little buddy when I went with him on weekend jobs laying carpet in rich couple's vacation homes.

To my sister, I was KPscapes, a nickname she gave me one Sunday afternoon while we were watching a real estate program on local TV called Cape Escapes. I'd forgotten about that name until years later when I left for college and she sent me some mail addressed that way.

On and off over the years my mother jokingly called me Larry, a name that just came out of her mouth one day while we were bowling with my sister and cousin. At the time I thought it was strange but funny, and inside I was disappointed when the guidance counselor she was friends with at school cautioned her to stop calling me that because it would give me an identity crisis.

In my head, I was Jake, a boy who grew up on a farm like my father had. I imagined myself driving plow trucks and showing dairy cows in the 4H fairs.

To the boys in 6th grade gym class I was called Truck, because that's what they said I looked like when I ran. I was the little girl they saw to be a little too masculine for her own good. It was those same boys who just a few years later would be the first ones to label me "butch".

At 16, when I was confirmed, my chosen name was Francis, after St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals and ecology. It took weeks of fighting the church before I was allowed to choose a male name.

On the softball field my teammates called me P____, a name I'd tried to get my friends to use, unsuccessfully, for years. My coach was the first person other than my father to call me KP, and it felt like home to me.

Before I left for college, my nephew was just beginning to speak his first words and I became simply "Aunt" to him and most of the rest of my family. I wonder now if and how that will change.

At the start of my junior year of college, it was time to claim a name for myself. There were many names I'd considered, none of them feeling quite right, until one jumped out and I knew it was mine. [first name], meaning "mighty warrior".

I am about to become K___ Thomas P_____. Thomas, after my father who named me 21 years ago. I will keep that piece of him proudly with me forever, whether or not he always feels pride in me as his child.

Tomorrow morning I will stand before a judge and legally shed the name that carried me through my first 19 happy years. It marks the closing of one chapter, but not the end of the novel, simply the beginning of the next chapter of my life.

Tonight I'll send myself off to sleep with this song, which seems more than fitting for the occasion:

There ain't never been a lullaby sound so sweet to me
There ain't never been a song I sung so easily
Well goodbye my life.
Well goodbye my life.
And goodnight I sing to me.

There ain't never been a song for your soul with such sweet, sweet refrain.
Well do you hear it now?
It's the sound of your life waking new life to verse again.
Well goodbye my life.
Well goodbye my life,
and a goodnight I sing to me.

Oh well don't you now weep for the life
that you left, left behind.
It sleeps quietly now
safe in this evening time.
You're full and warm again
with the love you had long, long ago.
So close your eyes.
You won't wake to anything that you didn't know.

But may that night, may it be long.
May that night, may it be long,
and in the morning you'll wake to you.

-lyrics by Erin McKeown, "Lullaby in 3/4"

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