Who We Decide We Are Steers Our Lives
I didn’t like my name. School teachers and classmates misspelled and mispronounced it. Others expected me to be a boy, to be Tony. Not Toni. But I’ve long since gotten over that, and even love my name now. I’ve never met nor discovered through Google another Toni Lepeska. It’s unique.
Maybe you’ve struggled with your name. Maybe it means you’ve struggled with your identity. If so, I’m right with you.
Every first full week in March is Celebrate Your Name Week. It offers us an opportunity to reflect on who gave us our names and on the joy with which we entered the world. Maybe we can recapture that joy. Maybe we can celebrate ourselves in the way we were celebrated at birth.
I’ve always known I was named for my two grandmothers. My mother’s mother was Ellen. My father’s mother was Antoinette, but she was known as Toni. My parents elected to call me Toni. And thus, I became Toni Lepeska, though it’s not the name on my birth certificate.
Years before my father died, I announced that I would forever write under that name, even after I someday married. I did not expect this reaction. Tears pooled in his eyes.
Years later, on the ninth anniversary of his death, I was going through my parents’ belongings and found a letter our aunt wrote. Aunt Ella was Antoinette’s, or Toni’s, sister.
“Needless to say that I am thrilled with your choice of her name,” my Aunt Ella wrote, “and I am sure she will love to be called Toni Lepeska as she grows up. It sounds good – it makes me think that she’ll be a girl bubbling with happiness and joy.”
She also wrote, “God bless you for it.”
My aunt adored Toni, probably more so because she lost her too early in life. Toni was only 42 when she died, and my father was just a boy. No wonder Aunt Ella liked the name choice. It was a way for her sister to live on. To live on in me.
Finding my aunt’s letter, I was transported to a moment of joy and love. I had been at the center of something special and meaningful. I was part of a family, a heritage. I never knew my grandparents. My own parents were dead and so was my aunt. However, I felt like an important part of a whole, though I had been adopted into the Lepeska family, not born.
I do not know if I had another name at birth that my “natural” mother called me, however, I like the one I got a few months later.
I was a teenager when I learned Toni means “priceless one.” I needed to know I was valued. I latched onto the label like a life preserver. It seemed to fit the message I got when I looked into the night sky and into the glory of God. I didn’t feel small. I felt like a valued part of an ancient story, and yet I was not lost in the bigness of it all. The Creator knew me, and my tiny contribution mattered. How fortunate was I!
We all are priceless. No matter what our names are, whether we share it with one relative or a hundred other people, we are each one of a kind.
Who our parents tell us we are sticks with us, and who we decide we are steers our lives. But, my friend, the greatest impact is in remembering there’s a God who values your contribution – and who knows your name.
What does your name mean to you? Has its value to you evolved over time?
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