True Names

By Edna Peirce Dixon

When I was growing up, I thought my name, Edna, was the ugliest name in the world. I wondered why my parents couldn’t have given me a pretty name. It sounds so harsh at best, and with me being me, from the tone frequently heard, Edna rang in my young ears like a “four-letter” word. Still today I wince a little when someone calls me by my name.

I liked my middle name well enough, Catharine, a tribute to my grandmother. Over the years I had seen enough of the “Edna-mother-in-law” jokes and cartoons and thought about making a switch. But somehow I never mustered the will to start introducing myself as Catharine and no nickname for it worked for me either.

By the time my mid-40s rolled around I had enrolled in college, and here, rather late in the game, I discovered a love of language and creative writing. At some point I had already read the works of Edna Ferber and Edna St. Vincent Millay and wondered how they felt about their names. Only when I began thinking of myself as a potential writer did I begin to realize that just maybe my name might be seen from a different point of view, as a strong woman’s name, perhaps. It would take some time for me to actually feel confidence enough to emotionally claim the power in my name, but it was a start.

As I would later learn, in Native American traditions, names also hold power and meaning. Throughout a person’s life, as they grow from a child, through adulthood, and on to become a mature elder, there may be several name changes which reflect the growth and attributes of the individual. Most special of all are names gifted to honor earned positions of valor, good deeds, or wisdom of individuals within the community.

In my late 50s, when I first started working with my friend, Bearheart, founder of the Perdido Bay Tribe. I knew nothing about Native naming practices when he gave me the name, “Wordweaver.” I liked that it reflected the work I did in service to helping him build his dream. The people I met in the Creek Indian community came to know me as Wordweaver. After some ten years I asked Bearheart for a name that spoke more to who I was as a person, rather than the work I did.

He said he would think about it. Months passed; I thought he had forgotten. Then one day his answer came in an email. “Sings Many Songs” was the name Bearheart gave me. He said the name was to honor the prayers (as in songs) I had lived out in my dedication to his people who were not my people by heritage. His mission was to help all people better appreciate Southeastern Creek history and culture and the name he gave me honored my part in the many educational projects I worked on.

Living at a distance, there was never an opportunity for a formal naming ceremony. No introductions of any kind were made and I truly didn’t know what to do with this name so filled with beauty and meaning. To the people I knew I would always be Wordweaver so I gently packed the name away and waited. In fact after Bearheart crossed over and I retired, I packed both names away thinking that era of my life was over.

Wasn’t long though before fate brought me in contact with Ghost Dancer and life took a new direction and new purpose. This would be a spiritual journey – a time of learning, reaching for deeper knowledge, venturing into strange new territory on a warrior’s path headed toward controversy, activism and action. Only then did the new name start making sense but this was not the time for such concerns. My voice would need to be as strong as possible; I needed my power name, Edna.

A few years later, Ghost introduced me to another warrior fighting his own battles, Steven Walks On The Grass. His friends all call him “Walks.” The purpose of the introduction was the discovery that Walks’ late mother and I happened to share the same maiden name. A little genealogy research proved we are indeed distant cousins through our shared Pennsylvania Quaker Pierce/Peirce family ancestry. Walks and I hit it off from the start and somehow I just knew the time was right, so I told him my gifted Native name was Sings Many Songs. In my mind at least, I hoped he might let me stand in for the mother he so loved and lost; maybe fill that hole a little bit. Walks immediately responded by calling me “Sings.” Together we have been walking a path of trust, friendship and kinship ever since, and every time I hear Walks speak my name I feel honored.

Lessons Learned:

The power of a strong name is the challenge to become stronger as you strive to live up to it. I am grateful my parents gave me a strong name.

The joy of holding a gifted Native name is in knowing it’s a sacred honor with deeply personal meaning. It isn’t meant for everyone to know or speak. Hearing such a name spoken with loving kindness by one who understands makes the old heart sing.

The important thing is, whatever name or names we have been given, it is incumbent upon all of us to give that name meaning and to bring honor to those who gave it to us. It is for us to learn who we are and honor our journey by telling our stories with truth and loving kindness.

Edna Sings Many Songs

Published by Sings Many Songs

I'm an 80-something child of the great depression and WWII. Throughout my life I have been a seeker, an outsider, never quite belonging anywhere, still always looking through cracks in the fences of life, questioning, challenging, learning, trying to make sense of the world and its conventions. A lifelong student with many interests and a love of writing and editing, my elder's path led to encouraging and assisting some remarkable people to write out their amazing stories. This calling became the magic elixir that keeps me growing, keeps me alive.

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