September 2021 letter to the NPUMC Congregation
Dear NPUMC Family,
I am making a personal change, and I need your help to do it. Don’t worry, it’s good and I’m not going anywhere.
What’s in a name? A great deal. Which is why my eldest and I are changing ours. I’ve thought about it for a long, long time, and the biggest thing that held me back was people thinking it was odd/vain/unnecessary. Solidarity with my kid was the last push I needed. Let me explain.
My name denies my personhood. I know that sounds extreme, but it’s true. Jennifer is from the Welsh/Old English, Gwenhwyfar, which means ‘fair one,’ or ‘white spirit.’ My mom knew this. She named me ‘White,’ ‘Not Black,’ ‘Nope,’ ‘Denial.’ Sure, there might be other explanations, but there aren’t. Not this time. My last name is not my fathers. My mom was married, though separated, from her husband when I was conceived. I have the last name of a white man I never met rather than my father’s name. Anything and everything to separate me from all things non-white about me.
To be clear, my mother’s denial of my mixed heritage was total. As a child I did not leave the house without multiple layers of sunscreen and big floppy hats. I was encouraged to play ‘the shadow game,’ always walking on the shady side of the street. I was raised to ‘not see color’ and to do everything possible to erase my own. Which, of course, erases me.
I’ve always loathed my name, known it did not and could not fit me. But as I have devoted more and more of my personal and professional energies to anti-racism work I have increasingly felt that to keep this name was to participate in an act of violence against me. To accept my own erasure. I tried to find solace in hearing the love that was in the speaking of my name by so many. But there is no loving away a poison pill.
When I had my children I knew I wanted to give them names that would be full of meaning, a testament to their unique personhood. We named our first daughter Moira, which is Mary in Gaelic, but also derives from Mar, the sea, and the Moirai, ancient Greek determiners of destiny. It means ‘womb of the world,’ the feminine force of creation. A lot of name for a baby, when you think of it that way.
About a year ago Moira came out as non-binary and asked to be called Bentley and to use they/them pronouns. A bentley is a secluded glade. A quiet oasis. Calm in an anxious world. And Moira, while lovely, could not be any more feminine. I can’t lie, I was very sad to see a name I gave with such love be rejected. But how selfish of me. Especially me, who knows so well what it means to wear a name that cannot fit.
So, recently Bentley and I filed the paperwork to legally change our names. Once these are finalized and the many documents and IDs are dealt with, we will have shiny new names, also full of meaning.
My name is Limina Grace Harmon. Liminal space is threshold space, the places between that draw others together. Like me, it is permanently, stubbornly, in between, holding the way open. Grace is aspirational as well as Wesleyan. And Harmon was my grandmother’s maiden name. My grandmother, who never asked me to be anything other than myself – good, bad, and in between.
My child is Bentley Bright McNulty, and they are as beautiful and wonderful and full of meaning as ever. I would never ask them to be anything other than themselves – good bad, and in between.
Thank you for supporting us and understanding our somewhat unusual choice to claim the monikers that make meaning in our lives. Names define us, and it is a great feeling to write the definition.