The “Traditional” Indian Re-Naming Ceremony

Part of me wants to thank my parents for their positive outlook on change, because as a result I have no fear of the unknown and often seek out change, any kind of change. But this attitude also came with it’s downsides; I went to one ballet class, I took diving lessons for a year, I’ve taken piano, gymnastics, hip hop dance lessons, and once I decided it wasn’t for me, I was allowed to give up without hesitation. Granted, I was an active child, but nothing consistent was enforced. I became accustomed to this self indulgent lifestyle, and once that new smell had worn off, I could exchange one thing for something newer and shinier.

The first signs of this familial behavior occurred early on in my parents marriage. Soon after my mother divorced her first husband and married my father, it was clear there would be some changes. My mother and James Ray (as he was always referred to, never just James), had thoughtfully named their two boys Shay and Stacey. I’m not certain where the inspiration came from for their first names, but my father found them too effeminate. Within the first year of their marriage, my father insisted their names be legally changed to better suit their gender. My mother reluctantly went along, attracted to my fathers convincing arguments. The couple sought a way to explain it to her two young boys of just four and two, knowing their names but still malleable.

After some planning, my mother set the scene as my father prepared “God’s” response. My 96-pound red-headed mother scattered candles across the house; down the stairway, by the front door, and finally meeting in a circular formation in the living room. She then brought the boys to the top of the stairs and handed each of them a small burning candle. As my father led the way down the steps, my brothers looked anxiously through the small flame. They silently proceeded to the circle of candles and sat down Indian style.

My father began, “In the Indian culture, young boys are welcomed into the world with a little boy name, such as ‘Little Running Bear,’ as they get older, they are given a name to reflect these changes, such as ‘Big Running Bear.'” My brothers stared in wonder at my father who, even seated, towered over their porcelain figures. “It is time for you, Shay, to receive your big boy name.” At this moment, my father opened his hand to reveal a piece of paper resting in his palm. Upon the paper was his name, ‘Shay.’ He took this paper and gently hovered it above the candles flame until it caught fire. As the paper burned, my father explained, “You now have no name.” My brother stared mystified into the candle’s flame and repeated my fathers statement with a soft and confused whisper, “I have no name.”

My mother sat in silence across from my father as he continued, “Now, let us find what will be your new name.” At this moment, my father reached up half of his expansive reach into the sky and held his position. For a silent moment, everyone stared at my fathers hand lingering over their small circle until he pulled his arm back down. Magically, a new piece of paper had appeared in his hand, “You’re new name…,” my father read, “is Peter.”

My brother repeated his name trying to comprehend what had just happened. “Let’s celebrate,” my mother chimed in. My fair skinned, red-headed mother stood up and began to dance, the rest of this newly formed family followed. They pranced around in a circle celebrating “Peter”. My mother hooted and my brothers hollered, and my brothers new name was sealed (also with the legal document my father had previously secured). As they finished their ceremonial dance, my other brother sat down with an empty glare upon his face. “I want a big boy name,” Stacey pouted. My mother and father exchanged looks, this was going to be easier than they thought. Their nodded in agreement, and they repeated their faux Indian ceremony to rename my brother “Patrick.”

Unfortunately, once set in motion, this rolling stone wasn’t going to stop. When my eldest brother was a freshman in college, he looked through a book that defined what your personality should be based on your name. Peter didn’t seem to match who he saw himself to be, and he unofficially changed his name to “Warren.” I tried to adapt the new name into my vocabulary, but it just couldn’t stick.

Ten years later I received an email from Shay/Peter/Warren, and flippantly signed at the bottom was:

“Love, Shane (catchy, right?)”