T.S. Eliot, in his poem, “The Naming of Cats,” declares that every cat has three names: an everyday name that everyone uses, a particular name that reflects its individual nature and best traits, and a secret name that illuminates its soul. Doesn’t that sound like a neat idea? I always liked that.
So I have three names. In addition to my everyday name that is now google-able and blossoming over the internet, the one my mother gave me that she found somewhere in the New York City 1950s media, I have my particular second name. It is not very elegant. It is not necessarily peculiar as T.S. Eliot dictates a second name should be. But I like it. Ages ago, at the beginning of a weeklong Girl Scout camp one summer, Marika and I were asked to give our nicknames. If we didn’t already have a nickname we would be assigned one. So I quickly chose the name Rabbit, our favorite animal, when Marika did not adopt that name for her own. Twelve years later, the unreserved leader of my Sunday Morning Hiking Group asked me for my nickname. So now, under the weekly-posted Who Hiked Today mugshot, it says “Rabbit.” Short and simple, it makes me feel light and limber.
My third name, as in T.S. Eliot’s cats’ third names, is too sacred to be uttered. Long ago, I gave myself an “inscrutable” and “ineffable” third name. To me, it is the most beautiful and powerful name in the world next to the name I gave my daughter. It is the name I remind myself of when the sky chips and crumbles around me, when my world seems stuck under a boulder. This name got me through the bleak weeks after my daughter died. At the calling hours, facing my sad and shocked community, I contemplated my third name to keep myself open and brave. To kick myself out of the house the months after, I invoked the song of my sweet secret name. When people are less than warm and welcoming, I remind myself of this name, of who I really am, and then I can let whatever coldness, indifference and rejection I am served slide off somewhere beyond me.
Someday I will share my third name. It may need to be changed one day; I could fall into or grow into another name. Then, I will give it away like I give away my used clothes. Maybe I will name a new pet or a new book with this magical name that keeps me compassionate but mortars my resilience. Or maybe I will take my third name to my grave. I cannot share it with you now. But I can tell you my fourth name. It is Marika’s Mom. And it’s a keeper.
Do you keep a third name or a fourth name for yourself?