What’s Your Name?

What’s your name?


An easy enough question we’ve been asked countless times. For most, there’s an automatic answer.


Not for me.


I look around. Remind myself who I’m with. And then I answer.


Sounds duplicitous, doesn’t it?


I’m not a double agent. The truth is I have two names.


I’m not talking about a first and middle name. Or a full name and a derivative. I wish it were that easy. I’m talking about having one name that my family calls me, and another name for everyone else.


Things get sticky when family and friends commingle.


Whenever I’m in the company of both, no one knows how to refer to me in conversation. It’s awkward for everyone around me and for that I feel bad.


But I’m getting ahead of myself.


So how did this mess begin? It started with a disagreement and two strong-willed parents.


My father was eighth of eleven children, practically raised by his adored older sister Gina. My mother wanted me named after her.


My father, although touched by the gesture I’m sure, wanted me named after my mother, Jo-Ann.


Relegated to the waiting room as was typical for the time, and with my mother in recovery after a difficult delivery, Dad went ahead and signed the birth certificate, sealing my legal first name with his choice.


Mom wasn’t too happy about it when she woke up. But she conceded. Sort of.


“Fine. Her name is Jo-Ann. But I’m going to call her Gina.”


And so it began.


Eventually, my father came around but no one bothered to change the birth certificate.


This means all legal documents list me as Jo-Ann. In every roll call through many years of school, whenever I said, “here” I was essentially confirming that identity.


So now, whenever I introduce myself, I say Gina if I’m with family, and Jo-Ann if I’m not.


What’s your name?


Start a conversation about names and watch it take off. Everyone has something to contribute. There is so much to say about names and their significance. But for now, let’s focus on how you got your name, and what it means to you.


Are you named after someone? If so, how do you feel about that? Do you have a family legacy behind your name and if so, do you aspire to uphold it? Or do you resent the pressure and expectation that accompanies a name that spans generations?


When I was very young, I was thrilled to share my mother’s name. Then, in the tumultuous teenage years, I resented it. Now that she’s gone, however, and realizing the strong woman she was, I’m honored to sign my name and see hers live on.


What’s your name?


Names have meaning. Anyone who has named a child or a pet may have scoured the books that tell you the origin and meaning for any name.


Gina is most commonly derived from Regina, which means queen. When I think about who Gina is, meaning the person I am in my family, it’s somewhat appropriate.


My family would describe me as serious, and I don’t know any comedic queens, so the name fits. Queens delegate, and when I was younger, my family referred to me as bossy. My nickname (as if I needed another) was The Little General. In retrospect, The Little Queen would have been more fitting.


Jo-Ann is hard to find in baby books. It’s as if someone made it up, especially spelled with a hyphen. Actually my mother did. Her given name was Josephine Ann, which she hated. According to my aunt, she was always called Jo-Ann at home and Josephine in school. Later, she legally changed her name to Jo-Ann. But the seeds of a name dichotomy were clearly established in her life, so she had no qualms about passing one along to me.


The name was legitimized for me the day I saw it in a plain but bold font announcing Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft store. But then I researched the company name to see if it belonged to a real person only to find the store was named after the daughters of the two founding families; Joan and Jacqueline. So yes, it’s a made up name.


Let me also go on record as saying that technology isn’t as advanced as we think because computer programs still won’t recognize the hyphen. I continue to get mail as JoAnn, Jo Ann or Jo A.


My legal first name comes from Joanna, or Johanna, a derivative of John which means “God is gracious.” Yes, He is. Since I’m in full agreement, I suppose I’m worthy of the name.


Do you know what your name means? Does the meaning of your name reflect your personality? Do you find it strange if it does, and momentarily concerned if it doesn’t?


What’s your name?


I’m sometimes asked if I think of myself as Gina or Jo-Ann. I am both. And neither. Since I’ve been called two different names my entire life, I don’t feel particularly attached or identified with either.


I’m sure a therapist would have a field day with that statement.


But my name predicament begs an important question.


According to the bible, God’s people are written in the book of life. I can’t help but wonder, which name is in that book?


However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.

Luke 10:20


Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Philippians 4:3


The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.

Revelation 3:5


Maybe God will recognize my soul as one of his own and my name will be irrelevant. Finally! After all, a father doesn’t need to say his child’s name to know her.


I hope so. Because I’ll never stop being Gina and I’ll never stop being Jo-Ann.


And I’m counting on it not being a sticky situation for God.


If you have an unusual story about your name or thoughts on this topic, please share in the comment section below!

  • Kim
    April 28, 2016

    This writing makes you think! Love digging deeper into the meaning of the many wonderful things God grants us.

    • Jo-Ann
      April 28, 2016

      Thanks for reading and commenting Kim! Yes, God is gracious and generous. Even though my parents created this name situation for me, I was so blessed they both saw me as special and deserving of a name meant to honor loved ones.

  • Kathleen Banks
    April 30, 2016

    Very good read! I too have many names. My parents loved the name Kathleen but my Grams hated they spelled it with a K. She wanted it spelled with a C and refused to recognize the K! Anything she wrote about me or to me was always spelled with a C! So I got used to my name spelled as Kathleen and Cathleen. Gramps never liked my name much either and always called me Katrinka (I have no idea why,to this day). Ah then there’s the nicknames Kat, Kathy, Kit Kat (yup..my childhood friend still all me that!).

    I guess it’s those terms of endearment each loved ones has for us that matters in the end. I’m pretty sure God gets a good laugh out of the many names we have on earth! But the one that matters the most is being called His Daughter! Maybe all our names/nicknames will be written in the Book of Life (in parentheses?) because He knows us by these names as well since He loves us so much! 😊

    • Jo-Ann
      May 1, 2016

      I like the idea of parentheses so all our names can be included! Thanks for reading and sharing your name story. Sounds like your grandparents were as strong-willed as my parents and just dealt with name dissatisfaction their own way. 🙂

  • Tom P.
    May 8, 2016

    Well… let’s see. My first and middle names are ‘Thomas Stanley’ respectively with a very Polish last name. Thomas is after my father while Stanley belonged to my grandfather. My mother left after I was born and my father was not able to take care of me. My naming was left to my grandparents who nearly named me ‘Stanley Thomas’. I’m not sure who or why decided to go with ‘Thomas Stanley’ but I’m certainly glad they did! While Stanley was (and probably still is) a very appropriate name in Poland it didn’t fly too well growing up in Northern New Jersey. I was teased enough as a child when a teacher would call out “Thomas Stanley!”. If Stanley had been my first name I wonder if it would have changed the person I am today. While not near as dramatic as Jonny Cash’s “A boy Named Sue” I have a feeling I would have gotten in a lot more fights than I did growing up. Jo-Ann and Gina, thank you both for the very interesting post and the memories it brought back…

    • Jo-Ann
      May 8, 2016

      Thanks so much for reading and for your story Tom! Maybe your grandfather didn’t want the confusion that results from sharing a first name (which my mom was also happy to avoid). In either event, I’m glad you were happy with the decision to name you Tom! Thanks again for sharing!

  • Nancy
    May 17, 2016

    Very enjoyable Jo-Ann … my name is very boring at least you have an interesting story behind it.

    • Jo-Ann
      May 18, 2016

      Thanks Nancy! But if my memory is correct, your given name is not Nancy, so you DO have a story behind your name!

  • Wendy ladoux
    May 29, 2016

    Good story, Jo-Ann! My story is not quite as interesting as yours, but here it is. My Mom and Dad were married very young, 18 and 20. My Mom had her first born at 18 and he is my wonderful brother Bobby. 2 years later along came my 2nd wonderful brother Wayne. My parents were having marital problems already by then, unfortunately. They decided to take a short trip together to try and work things out. Out of that little getaway, I was conceived! My Mom was very upset to hear that she had yet another baby on the way at only 22 years of age, but accepted that God meant it to be. She knew for sure(without really knowing back then) that I was another boy. She couldn’t possibly be blessed with a baby girl! Well, my parents were. Problem is they had chose no name for a girl, as they were positive it was a boy! My father shared the dilemma with the labor room nurse. She said I have a beautiful little girl named Wendy and she has been nothing but a blessing in our lives! My Dad fell immediately in love with the name and so did my Mom. So,Wendy it was! I have always loved my name. It was different when I was growing up and I liked that. People thought I was Gwendolyn or Wendolyn, but I quickly corrected them. My Dad is long gone, but I thank him for my name. My Mom is still with me, Thank God. She is 81 and says she couldn’t never have imagined her life without her precious daughter, Wendy! Thanks Mom!

    • Jo-Ann
      May 29, 2016

      That’s a great story, Wendy! Thanks so much for taking the time to share it. I was pleased to hear you like your name because my impression is most people don’t! What a nice tribute to both your parents as well. 🙂 Again, thanks for reading and sharing!

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