“Sue-jerner?” “No.” “Sigourney? Like the actress from Aliens?” “No.”
I grew up with a large and inaccurate variety of names. It was inevitable that during the course of a day, I would have to correct its pronunciation at least five times.
As a child I wanted nothing more than to blend in seamlessly. In kindergarten I wore the requisite pigtails tied with pink bows. In first grade I took ballet and tap classes, pirouetting and shuffle ball changing my way to popularity. In second grade I read the Ramona Quimby books just like my peers and chatted with them endlessly about the indignities of being seven in a world designed for thirteen year olds. My attempts to blend continued for years, yet despite my efforts to glide peacefully through my early life, my name was always there to trip me up.
I cursed my parents for not giving me a good sensible name like Jennifer or Samantha. Jennifer and Samantha were my favorite names. All of my dolls (and I had quite an extensive collection) had Jennifer or Samantha as either a first or middle name. I had no choice but to live vicariously through them.
It’s uncanny how our names, long or short, complicated or easy to pronounce define us. Like mantras repeated several times a day, we become subtly attuned to the vibration of our sound.
My parents decided to name me Sojourner. This was my father’s idea actually and I wonder if he thought it through.
A history professor, I know where he was trying to go with my name. From those who could actually place where my name was derived, I often heard “Sojourner! As in Sojourner Truth? What great shoes you have to fill.” These people almost always pronounced my name correctly and were rewarded almost always with a relieved smile.
Names like people evolve. Somewhere around my sophomore year of high school, I began to appreciate the unique sound of my name and the meaning behind its soft j and staccato o.
Sojourner Truth, was a lovely and accomplished woman, however, I saw myself in my name in a different way. I saw the romance of a canoe trip down the Nile. I saw the brilliance of the sunset across the Serengeti. I was called to the cobblestone narrow streets of Montmartre.
Sojourner, taken from the French word sojourn meaning to travel for a brief period was how I identified with my name. Having volunteered, worked and journeyed my way across 21 countries and counting, I am in every sense of the word Sojourner. My name has grown with me over the years, guiding, me, giving me permission to grow and evolve. My name allowed me to see the beauty in being different.
I chuckle now when I hear the familiar “Honey, where are you going now? Why can’t you just stay put?”
“Dad, you named me Sojourner, now let me sojourn.”
A name is always chosen for you, but you choose which aspect of that name defines you. I choose to sojourn, to be a sojourner.