There has been an interesting synchronicity in my life that I didn’t recognize until a couple of days ago. It involves two of my families. One is my school-work family. This school is where I was a student through 8th grade. I returned to the school for my first full-time teaching position, in my early 20s. Leaving to give birth to my first child, I continued to be involved, serving on committees. After the birth of my second child, I spent a few years co-founding a branch of the school, closer to my home. A couple of years after my third child was born, I was offered a position back on the main campus as director of admissions. 15 years later I am still enjoying that position. And my youngest child of three, a high school senior, will be my third child to become an alum of our school. Suffice it to say that this school and community have impacted my life in many ways and been by my side throughout. Something I did not anticipate until recently, is that as my last child graduates, not only will it be the end of an era for our family, it will be the end of an era for the school. Because the school, after more than 50 years, is changing its name this summer.
Initially, I had mixed emotions about the name change. I felt nostalgia and a lost sense of the identity that has been formed by attending this school, by its traditional name, for generations. I also felt gratitude that the school is continuing to move forward from a place of strength.
A few days ago I attended an informational town hall about the change, when our Head of School inadvertently created a personal connection for me that I had not made before. He shared that he had a code name for his unborn child and after his son was actually delivered, it was a little difficult to start calling him by his actual name. I don’t remember having a code name for my developing children, when pregnant. However, I did go through a painstaking process to choose the right, most meaningful name for my second child. I lovingly called this child by this name for 15 years, at which point my child revealed to me that I had mistaken her gender, and that she was changing her name. I then had to commence calling my own child by a completely new name, one that held no meaning for me at all.
This was a shock and I understandably felt a lot of deep emotions. Looking back now, almost six years later, I can identify my greatest fear at the time. I was anguished, thinking that for the past 15 years, I had not known my child at all. I was frightened to be introduced to a new person, one whom I did not feel connected to, one who I didn’t yet know. I truly did not know how to make sense of the fact that my child, whom I had felt so close to, would now be a stranger to me. And I did not have clarity about how to move forward.
Fortunately, those fears never became my reality. And I share this with many parents whom I support as their own children transition. My child, who had been called by a different name, and was labelled a different gender after 15 years, is the same child I reared. She has the same likes and dislikes. She has the same sense of humor. She is talented in the same ways and still loves guitar, singing and programming computers. She is a whiz at starting bonfires and taking things apart to create innovative items from the disassembled pieces. She is silly and serious. She is loving and always stays true to her values. She has the same memories and the same family traditions. She knows my favorite songs, favorite experiences, and how to show me she loves me. She is a nurturer and takes care of others. I did not lose my child at all. What changed is that I now have a child who is able to define herself according to who she really is – not what others assumed of her as she was labelled by people other than herself. She is unequivocally and authentically herself, at all times, in every situation. And that is what her name has come to represent. Her new name, almost six years later, is very meaningful to me now. She is the one who gave it meaning.
As I make the connection between these two name-change experiences, I realize that compared to having to call your 15-year-old a new name that you have not chosen, my alma mater’s name-change seems like a breeze. I already know that people’s fears that the school might become a school they don’t recognize, will be unfounded. I already know that the memories and traditions that the alumni and current families have had at the school, will be continued. Future generations of the school’s students share those same traditions, no matter what the sign above the door says.
What the new name is giving the school now is a chance to redefine itself to a community that may have been making some assumptions, based on other schools with the same name or on experiences from decades ago. This name-change is not to be feared. It creates an opportunity for others to ask, “Who are you? What does your new name represent?” And we, the school community, can respond by naming every wonderful thing that the school has stood for traditionally, in addition to the newer innovations and forward-thinking initiatives that set the school apart. We can reassure our community that not only do our sacred values remain strong but that now we have in place daily, tangible ways for our students to find their own meanings and to connect strongly to each one of these values.
As our school gets ready to change names, the motto to inform and reassure our community is New Name, Same Heart. As I get ready to support a struggling parent who reached out to me this morning from a facebook group for Parents of LGBTQ Kids , I will remember this motto as I reassure her that although her child will have a new name, they will have the same heart. She has not lost her child.
New Name, Same Heart. It’s just a name.