A Name Is Powerful

A long time ago, my mom put together an 8×10 shadow box which held little mementos of my childhood. Things like a charm bracelet, my cheerleader patch, and various bits of baby and toddler jewelry. My amazing friend, Jenny, is recreating it for me because over the decades, it became raggedy and beat up. While we were discussing the idea, she asked me to find a few more items that reminded me of my mom or dad, and she’d add those to the shadow box as well, or more likely, she’d create more shadow boxes to hold it all. And that’s where this story begins.

Since I just recently rented a room in Jenny’s house a few months ago, I still have all the memorabilia handy in a box. So I took a trip down memory lane, and dug through the photos, knicknacks, and other bits and pieces of my history, all to find a few more important items to add to the shadow box collection.

While looking for new items to include, I took a sharp turn off the path to finally put all the hundreds of old photos into actual photo albums. They’d just been scattered loosely in a container. Some had yellowed with age, some shot in black and white before color was an option, and many were Polaroids. Almost all of them are blurry, grainy, or off-kilter. My mom was notorious for taking photos of people and once they were developed a week or two later, we’d discover their heads were cut off. All she usually managed to catch was the neck down in a photo. Gotta love her, though!

Anyway, after meandering down the side path to reminisce, I set the photo albums aside and returned to my original mission. Find more memories to add to the shadow box project! What did I choose?

  • A piece of cloth and some decorative patches from the jacket my Mom wore for years.
  • A photo of Mom holding me as a newborn.
  • A copy of my baby footprints.
  • And several other bits of the past were set aside.

Among all the odds and ends, my name showed up numerous times in newspaper articles, medical records, school report cards, etc.

As far as I know, only my parents knew my real name then. Maybe they told a few people, but I don’t think any of them even remembered what it was. That’s because right after I was born, my parents decided to give me a nickname. (Try not to laugh too hard; it’s so embarrassing).

They decided to call me … Pixie.

This was back in the days when Tinkerbell was so popular. Just six years before I was born, Walt Disney’s Peter Pan movie was released. And they decided I was just so cute and petite that I looked like a pixie.

As a child, that was my only name as far as I knew. It’s the only thing anyone ever called me, so I didn’t think much of it. I was a kid. I didn’t ponder my name, in general, nor did I wonder why mine was so odd. My name was Pixie, and that was that.

One of the items as you can see in the photo above is my baby name bracelet from the hospital where I was born. Fancy, right? (My wrist today is next to it to indicate relative size). Do you notice what the first name’s initial is? That’s right. It’s a P for Pixie, not a D for Donna. Obviously, it was decided upon right away.

So Pixie it was, all through elementary and junior high school. But then I “grew up”. When I started high school, which back then was 9th through 12th grade, I was at that young teenage rebel age of 14. And I wanted to be a whole new person when I went to that whole new BIG high school. So, I informed mom that I was going to drop my nickname from then on. (I’d figured out I had another “real name” sometime before that. I’m not sure exactly when, but I wasn’t too young).

Mom agreed and from that day forward, a few days before I first stepped into high school, I was no longer Pixie. I was Donna.

Fast forward to the present day, about 50 years later. Most people call me Donna but there are still some relatives and folks from my childhood who can’t seem to adapt. They still call me Pixie. I kinda hate when that happens. I understand and don’t get upset with them, but inside my head, I still rebel against it.

I want to scream, “I’m not Pixie! I haven’t been that person in 50 years! The little girl you remember is a completely different being than the one you see before you right now!”

Those people, back in the day, had a particular notion of who I was back then. I was that cute little imp who was super smart, and I was involved in everything from being a cheerleader (I started cheering in second grade) to being very active in Brownies, Girl Scouts, and more. I think a big part of the perception people had of me was precisely because of my name. It seemed like “everyone” knew who I was, and I attribute that to the unique name of Pixie.

  • But that little imp with the unique name isn’t the person who went to high school and then college, came out of the closet in her senior year at LSU, at a time when cops were happy to arrest gays, just because being gay was illegal.
  • That little imp didn’t survive gang rape, and she didn’t escape the deep south to live freely as a lesbian in San Francisco.
  • That little imp didn’t get her heart broken, attempt to commit suicide, or live most of her life poor and searching for the person she needed to love.
  • That little imp didn’t make wrong choices so many times.
  • Donna did all those things.
  • Donna learned to be strong and resilient.
  • Donna became a champion for those who couldn’t protect themselves.
  • Donna traveled the world to find answers to the questions that she never found here.
  • Donna loved and lost, both partners and children (step-children), time and time again.
  • Donna formed her world view of what the meaning of life is.

Pixie doesn’t exist.

Pixie. Donna. Who cares, right? It’s just a name. But it’s so much more than simply an identifier of an object. A person’s name holds an infinite number of experiences, feelings, decisions, and moral and spiritual wisdom within it.

That’s why I try hard to honor people’s wishes when they tell me what name they prefer to be called. I’m bad with names anyway, so if I have to remember a name, it may as well be the one that the person chooses to use. If I slip up, I’ll apologize and try harder next time. I don’t expect the folks who only knew me as Pixie to let go of the name, but it always strikes me that the person they are speaking to is someone who no longer exists. Weird.

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