When I was 23 years old I fell in love with Gabriel. He was tall, fine, and dreadlocked. The first time I looked into his face I saw a lion! He had skin the sun-ripened color of golden delicious apples. He was brilliant, and had traveled the world. He called me his queen. Together we would change the world. He would take me home to Africa.
There's this segment in Ntozake Shange play, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Not Enuff, where one of the ladies says, "Somebody walked away with all of my stuff." That's what Gabriel did. He walked away with all of my stuff. He walked away with my name.
He didn't like Claudia. He didn't care for the meaning (It means lame, but intelligent), and it was a "slave name". But as far as he was concerned, I had not shown myself worthy of a new name. So, he simply stripped me of the old one, and called me "C."
I was C. until I met Joy. I remember how I met her. Gabriel and I were vendors, selling African and Asian Artifacts at craft fairs and festivals. I saw her artwork and fell in love with her. We became fierce friends, and I'd told her some things about how difficult Gabriel was. I don't think I told her how abusive he was, but she could tell. One night, we had a secret ceremony in the way that women somehow scrape up all the magic they can muster and give it as gifts to one another. I don't know what magic I gave Joy, but she gave me hers. One night, we stole away, and I dressed in all white and wore my hair in this big wavy afro. We had a ceremony and she gave me an African name under a moonlit Maryland sky. In those days, I wanted to connect with my African heritage. Many people I knew had taken on African names. Gabriel didn't think I was worthy of one, so Joy gave me one without his permission. She crafted me an amazing ceramic plate. Oh, it was so beautiful. She captured me in the image of the woman centered around lotus flowers. She named me Seshine, "The Lotus Flower". A flower that can bloom in anything. Even shit. That was me, alright. Let me tell you that was one beautiful plate. But Gabriel found out and raged at me, and may have beat me up. I don't remember anything but that I fought with him, and like all fights he won. I remember I smashed that plate to pieces that night. I threw away all the poems I'd written.
And I had to be C. because he wouldn't let me be anything else.
Later, after I'd worked like a dog for him, he decided I could have a name. I picked "Kai," because it means lovable. I named myself lovable because I was a constant object of his hate, and I'd hope if I called myself lovable he would catch on and love me himself. But he did not, and it was only when I realized he was going to beat me to my death that I left him.
I came home, and reclaimed Seshine, but it was never the same. I distanced myself from Kai, too. I didn't want an African name anymore. I just wanted to be me. But because I didn't know quite who I was anymore, I just went back to being Claudia.
Six years later, when I had my worst bipolar episode, I became Indigo Blue. I didn't know how to deal with being crazy. I needed a safe place to record my journey and I did it here:
Indigo gave me courage to face a disease that nearly took my life, and after a year I was stronger, so I tucked her inside my heart and moved on.
Later I was ragamuffin diva. I started off anonymous, until it became necessary to reveal who I was. Being ragamuffin diva did for me spiritually, what Indigo did for me emotionally. She gave me courage, and a safe place to stumble, and love God anyway. But more than a name, ragamuffin diva is a state of being. It is being always poor. It is always being completely dependant on God. It's having nothing so God can give you everything. And diva is being always part divine. How easily we forget that we are made in the image of God. How hard it is to do the "greater things than these" that Jesus said we'd do. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
On a brilliant spring moring, I became Claudia Mary. This name was given to me by a priest, and I came right back here and told you all about it. Everytime I take communion I do so with this name. I use the Welsh version of Mary now, Mair, because it's beautiful, and I love it.
But few people call me by that name. Besides the obvious confusion about how to say it, people just don't understand why I took it. For an Orthodox Christian, taking a saints name is a continual affirmation. On being called by your saint's name, one writer has said:
"When we are addressed by others with this name, whether they are Orthodox or not, they show honor to the Saint and invoke his or her blessing. We also directly show pious honor to Christ Himself, when we accept and use a Saint’s name, since Saints are precisely those who have been joined to Christ, "small Jesus Christs within Jesus Christ."
So, here I am, with this shiny new name, and a saint in heaven who has given me her blessings. And it makes me feel so bad when people don't acknowledge it. I guess some people think it's a phase like the others, but it's not. When I stood in that church and made solemn vows to God, I became someone else. In fact, I'm still becoming. I am becoming a new Claudia, because I was given that name right back, but I am also becoming Mair, and that means everything to me.
Only God knows how much becoming Mair has cost me, and will cost me in the future. You have big shoes to fill when you are named after a woman who spent 47 years in the desert repenting. I've only begun to turn from my many sins, but every single day that I live I hope, like St. Mary of Egypt, to turn away from my sins, to battle the desert within, and to live for one thing, that taste of His Body and His Blood--that taste that will change me from within. But you can help me if you do me one favor.
Call me by my name. Not just Claudia.