This post is dedicated to those of you who were given the same first name as a parent.  Identifying the “ME” in you, a sometimes difficult process anyway, may be more difficult if you have the same first name as your parent.  Following is my own recent experience related to this issue.  If anything I say is helpful to you, then I’m well rewarded.  If you don’t care to write to me about this, then please send a message to the Universe and let me know I helped.

Baby Jean (Little Jean), Mother Jean (Big Jean), Grandmother Margaret, 1939

 

My name is Jean, my mother’s name was Jean, and her grandmother’s name was Jean.  My maternal grandmother’s name was Margaret.  Thus, the name Jean skipped a generation on my mother’s side of my family, as was common in the Scottish naming tradition.  However, the passing of a name to the next generation, especially in the case of males, was also common.  This fact was brought home to me the year I attended my first and only Fairgrieve family reunion.  Somebody would yell “Bill!” over the din of conversation and card games, and four generations of heads would bob up. 

I’ve concluded that the hard-scrabbling Scots in the old country were not given to whimsy and imagination in the naming of their children—they were so busy surviving, trying to eke out a living in the hostile climate and the sometimes unfruitful soil that they had no time for trivialities such as coming up with imaginative names for their children.  After all, any folk who can steam oats, fat, and tidbits of entrails in a sheep’s stomach, call the result “haggis,” and regard it as a delicacy is pretty down-to-earth in my estimation.  I can well imagine that there is a more historically correct reason for the naming tradition, but I am not sure what it is.  However, for my purposes, knowing the origin of the tradition is not terribly important.

What is important to me is the effect of the tradition upon me and upon others who were gifted with their parents’ names.  Until recently, I had no idea that the naming practice presented a problem for me. When I was a small child of three or four years, I took literally what my mother and family friends told me:  I was called Jeanie, meaning “little Jean,” and my mother was called Jean because I was little and my mother was big.  At the age of three, I was very literal in my thinking, and I believed that I was the same as my mother except for my size.  In other words, my mother and I were the same person, but she was big and I was small.  The concept of my mother and I being one and the same was reinforced in my child mind by people who said, “Oh, she looks just like her mother!” 

My mother reinforced the concept by affirming me only in those aspects of my being that were like she was.  For example, if I didn’t like the same style of clothing that she liked, then my choices were wrong and hers were right.  If my demeanor was not like hers, then I was wrong and she was right.  In fact, when I cried during my father’s memorial service, she—who sat rigid and poker-faced through the service—poked me in the side and said, “Jeanie, stop making a spectacle of yourself!”  Evidently, the idea that my child self and my mother’s adult self were one and the same became firmly rooted within my young psyche at about the same time my parents were having me photographed in the nude while their friends watched and at about the same time the neighbor woman sexually assaulted me.  All this had its impact upon me from the time I was about three until I was ready for kindergarten at age five-and-a-half. 

Only last week, when my therapist told me that I needed to form a compassionate alliance with my child self before I could really begin to prepare for EMDR, did I begin to be aware of the huge role my name played in preventing this alliance between my child and adult selves.  What did I do to begin the process of comprehending this matter?  I suggested to my therapist that I do a dialogue with my nondominant hand.  This is a very simple technique that I have found to be extremely useful in accessing material stored in the right side of my brain, the side where my trauma material, emotional memories, and preverbal memories exist.

I arrived at my therapist’s office last Thursday knowing that somehow my name was blocking the establishment of any alliance between my adult and child selves, but I was not sure of the reason for this problem.  My therapist got out colored pencils and paper for me, and I began.  However, rather than use two colors and two hands, I simply divided my paper by drawing a line down the middle and using a blue pencil in my right hand.  Maybe because I’m a writer and have had a lot of practice switching from left to right sides of my brain, I could get by without actually writing with my left hand to access my right brain.  Writing with my left hand slows me down, and in my therapist’s office, I am well aware of my session ticking by.  I wanted to do as much as possible in as little time as necessary.

After fifteen or twenty minutes of writing, I was done.  I could write no more because I was mired in the mud of confusion, major confusion!  I had not realized how confused I was as a child!  First, I was told that I was “little Jean,” the same person as my mother but smaller.  That was my understanding at ages three, four, and five.  But then I went to kindergarten, and she didn’t.  She stayed home.  I never did understand that, but there were a lot of things I didn’t understand.  I didn’t understand why the neighbor woman, who I thought loved me, sexually assaulted me.  I didn’t understand why my mother, who told me repeatedly not to let my panties show when I wore a dress, got angry with me when I tried to cover myself during the nude photo sessions. 

Nothing in my life made sense.  I tried so hard when I was little to make sense of my life, and sometimes I thought my head would burst because I made it work so hard.  I remember that when I started kindergarten, I felt relief because kindergarten was predictable.  I didn’t have to think my way through confusion. All I had to do was do what the teacher told me to do, stay in line when we lined up for recess and to go home, and color inside the lines when we were given coloring sheets.  If I did those things, nobody got mad at me, and I didn’t have to worry about anything—at least not on the surface of life.

But back to the session on Thursday:  After writing for about fifteen minutes, I was so confused that I could go no further.  When I look back now on my childhood, I can remember the confusion and the chaos in my mind.  With the chaos came anxiety.  In fact, my kindergarten teacher made a note on one of my report cards that I seemed exceptionally nervous.  She blamed the nervousness on my rapid growth, but I know now why I was nervous.  I was living in internal chaos.  And one of the contributors to that chaos was the fact that I had my mother’s name and my mother’s identity.  Or so I thought.

After my work with the dialogue on Thursday, I realized that stuck in my child psyche were the two Jeans, my mother and my child self.  But in that child psyche, the adult Jean who I am now does not exist.  I, the I that exists now in my 73-year-old body, is not present in my child self.  So now I feel trapped between my child self and my mother, the Jean who died in 1995.  Where do I, the child self grown to adulthood, fit??  Thursday I couldn’t answer that question.  I still can’t answer it two days later.  But I will be able to answer the question soon!  I just need to keep working on it.  When I find the answer, I’ll let you know.

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