What’s the story of your name?

I recently read about an activity in the book Creative Acts for Curious People by Sarah Stein Greenberg called Favorite Warm Up Sequence. Part one (of three) of the activity — “the story of your name” — captured my attention. I sent it to Seb so we could give our personal takes on the purposely lose prompt. This is what we came up with.

My name is Garett. It means Mighty with Spear. It is also spelled uniquely. Thanks mom. I have spent my life saying “1 R 2 Ts” to people when asked for my name. For a long time, my name was not commonly heard. I was often the only Garett I knew. This gave me a sense of pride. It made me feel as if I was in a special club.

Having a unique name can also lead to some confusion. When hearing my name, some people would hear “Gary”. Being called Gary is such a weird trigger for me. I would tell people NO it’s not Gary, it’s Garett. One time a person asked if they could call me “Gary” for short. This resulted in a rather ridiculously serious diatribe about my perceived rules for name shortening. To this day, I would rather be mistakenly called a completely different name rather than being called “Gary”.

The spelling of my name has also increased my attentiveness to the way others spell their name. My wife’s name is Gena (pronounced jee-na) with an E not an I. I get especially curious when I run into a Jon, Elisabeth, Marya (pronounced ma-ree-a), or Seana (pronounced shaw-na). This fascination lead me to a desire to spell my own children’s name differently. I lobbied my wife when my son was born. She disagreed. I convinced her to let me spell our daughter’s name. 21 years later, she likes to call me from college to “thank me” for being the one who made her life difficult by ensuring she would always have to say “2 Ss and 2 Ls” when giving her name to people. Some day she will appreciate the “gift” I have bestowed onto her.

My name is Seb, short for Sebastian.

Legally, I’m Sebastian Swann but I used to be Sebastian Wocial.

Over the years I’ve gone by Seb, Sebastian, Cbass, Seabass, Bass, Cbear, Sebby, Sebbles, Web Social, Seb Wocial, and others. I would always introduce myself as Sebastian and would let the nicknames and iterations take a life of their own. When I moved from Chicago to New York, I stopped going by my full name and started going by Seb. It’s fewer syllables, punchier, and pithier. Seb feels right even though I can’t really articulate why.

After eloping I changed Wocial to Swann. My wife’s last name has always been important to her and is an integral part of her identity. Plus, I think it sounds cool. Wocial, which is Polish, is hard to pronounce (for example, the W is pronounced like a V sound) so I’ve always been more of a Sebastian than a Sebastian Wocial. And, I’ve been called Web Social way more than I was ever called Seb Wocial.

There’s been a lot of change in my life over the past couple years. And coincidentally, my name has changed with too. I’ve become a new person with a new name to match.

This is Garett again. I found this assignment wonderfully challenging and personally insightful. I enjoyed exploring my name from another perspective. After doing this assignment, I felt more connected to my name. I recognized how deeply proud I am of its unique qualities. My name is a much bigger character in the story of my life than I realized.

Names are more than labels. Names are a story onto themselves. The history, meaning, spelling, and the stories that surround our names create openings for introspection and understanding and others. The next time you are in a gathering, we encourage you to give your participants a little time to share their names and the stories behind them.

Curiously yours, Garett and Seb

P.S. We’d love to hear the story of your name!

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