My novel Curva Peligrosa opens with a tornado that sweeps through the fictional town of Weed, Alberta, and drops a purple outhouse into its center. Drowsing and dreaming inside that structure is its owner, Curva Peligrosa—a curiosity and a marvel, a source of light and heat, a magnet. Adventurous, amorous, fecund, and over six feet tall, she possesses magical powers. She also has the greenest of thumbs, creating a tropical habitat in an arctic clime, and she possesses a wicked trigger finger.
I’ve been thinking today about names and how they inform our lives. When we’re born, our parents select a name for us that starts us on our journey. It might have some mythical weight to it, like Adam or Naomi. In that case, we’re already embedded in an archetypal story. The Biblical Adam makes me think of a male archetype, one who is grounded in masculine stereotypes of responsibility and obedience. With Naomi, there is another Biblical connection. A woman whose life is filled with strife, she is fortified by Ruth her daughter-in-law.
It’s never clear how much or how little our names influence our future or the story of our lives, but in my case, I was named after my mother (my first name). My second name Iona is an island off the coast of Scotland that has mystical connotations. It also was the name of a woman one of my uncles was dating when I was born who also had dark eyes and dark hair. Did this stranger have an impact on the person I am today?
Since I don’t know the stranger, I only have the island to speculate on. After hearing Carl Jung speak of our number one and number two personalities, the number one being the persona we show to the world, the number two expressing our more invisible inner self, I have considered Lily to be my number one personality and Iona my number two. But what does that mean? My number one helps me to interact socially. It’s the extroverted self I use when teaching or conducting union business or even interacting with friends. But my number two, Iona, is the self I write from. It’s the part that embraces certain aspects of a more spiritual life, though not in the organized religion sense. I meditate most days from that dimension. I also embrace my dreams as Iona. And it’s why I insist on using my full name, Lily Iona MacKenzie, rather than just Lily MacKenzie. I am all of the above.
But by having Lily for my first name, I was immediately in competition with the original Lily, not a comfortable position for a daughter. Luckily, my mother chose to be called by her second name, Barbara, reducing some of the conflict. Still, I knew that my name wasn’t really my own. I was sharing it with another family member. Yet at times I didn’t want to be identified with the person I was sharing it with. It meant I wasn’t setting off on my own path, as Joseph Campbell might say. Rather, I was picking up on my mother’s, a crooked road that already had footprints on it. I wanted my own.
Eventually, I found it. But I still stumble onto my mother’s at times. When I notice myself having difficulty following directions, I’m wearing my mother’s shoes. When I feel fogged up and unable to follow logical reasoning, I’m inhabiting her world. There are many other instances as well, too many to innumerate here, the point being that names have meaning, whether they’re our own names or our characters. And it’s important to be conscious of the impact they have.