The Names We Take and the Names We Give

I enjoy music, a wide range of music, and so one of my hopes was to take something that strikes me when I am listening to it throughout the week, take the lyrics and their meaning and then see what thoughts it evokes. Just because today’s offering comes from the world of Rock/Metal and it happened to be what got me thinking today…you never know what might provoke thought.

One note before going further, the song, My Name by Shinedown does contain profanity which some people may be offended by. I have removed much of the repetition of chorus and tags in the text of the lyrics. My comments will be below, I also deal with some offensive material in this post due to the nature of the subject.

My Name (Your Wearing Me Out)

My name is worthless like you told me I once was
My name is empty ’cause you drained away the love
My name is searching since you stole my only soul
My name is hatred, and the reasons we both know

Worthless, empty, searching, hatred 
Who am I right now?

You’re fuckin’ wearing me out! 
You’re always dragging me down!
You’re the fake fallen force of nature’s sick mind!
I don’t need a gun to take back what’s mine
It’s over
It’s over now
You’re done wearing me out

My name is screaming like the sound of your heart failing 
My name is loco like the motive that betrayed me
Screaming, loco, don’t say you know who I am right now

You’ll be ancient history 
But who am I right now?

My name is revenge and I’m here to save my name 

I’m sure somebody is thinking, “these are terrible” why would anyone want to focus any time on this, but we all give and take names, some that are honorable and good and some that are horrible. I say to people dealing with the aftermath of verbal and psychological trauma, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will send me to therapy.” Names and words hurt, and even the most resilient person will occasionally take a label that someone else gives them into part of their personality. If you look back at some of the work I discuss from Brené Brown’s work on shame and vulnerability, you can see how powerful this is. Taking a name is a way that shame takes hold of us. In the song the person’s names become: worthless, empty, searching, hatred, screaming, loco, revenge…they may not be the names we want but sometimes they are the words we take and give.

Miroslav Volf in Exclusion and Embrace relates a story from his homeland from the perspective of a Muslim woman:

“I am a Muslim, and I am thirty five years old. To my second son who was just born, I gave the name “Jihad.” So he would not forget the testament of his mother—revenge. The first time I put my baby at the breast I told him, “May this milk choke you if you forget.” So be it. The Serbs taught me to hate. For the last two months there was nothing in me. No pain, no bitterness. Only hatred. I taught these children to love. I did. I am a teacher of literature. I was born in Ilijaś and I almost died there. My student, Zoran, the only son of my neighbor, urinated into my mouth. As the bearded hooligans standing around laughed, he told me: “You are good for nothing else, you stinking Muslim woman…” I do not know whether I first heard the cry of felt the blow. My former colleague, a teacher of physics, was yelling like mad, “Ustasha, ustasha…”And kept hitting me. Wherever he could. I have become insensitive to pain. But my soul it hurts. I taught them to love and all the while they were making preparations to destroy everything that is not of the Orthodox faith. Jihad—war. This is the only way… “(Volf 1996, 111)

Fortunately most of us are not literally named something as horrible as Jihad, although the family dynamics of hatred passed from one generation to another are very real, as does the reality of abuse: physical, psychological or sexual. The natural response for a wounded person is to wound another, if I am insulted the natural response is to bring someone else down to make myself feel better (even though this doesn’t work and only decreases my own self worth). Yet the cycle of naming continues.

How does the cycle end? How do we give new and better names to ourselves and others? It isn’t easy. It starts first with being clear about who we are, and what are the names we are willing to accept for ourselves, and even the type of self-talk we do. No matter how bone-headed some action may have been that doesn’t make a person an idiot-they are simply someone who did something dumb. A child who shoplifts can either take it into their identity that they are a thief or they can be ashamed of the action, I stole something, but that doesn’t change who I am. I’m a person with a fairly strong sense of who I am, but even I have to work at this.

I have a plaque in my office, given to me by Nate Frambach who was my advisor which says: “Neil Eric White you are a baptized child of God. Whatever else you are, remember you are that; for that is the basis of whatever else you are.” I go back to this often. At the root, that is a name I’ve taken that I desire to be the touchstone any other name is judged by. I’m not always there, there are times when another name seems to overwhelm that or any other name, but eventually I come back to this name that I claim this name that isn’t wearing me out. There is much more to say so perhaps I’ll spend some more time here next week.

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