Inspired by the lovely Shoshana of We Will Be Like Dreamers, I started to evaluate what, really, is in a name. As you can tell from the title of this here Blog, I’m from the Midwest. I was born Caitlin Anne McClusky, daughter of Mark and Barb, sister to Matt and Nick, friend to many a human and animal alike. Mostly everyone called me Katie. I was meant to be named Alexandra (even though my Mom really wanted to call me Justine after the novel by Lawrence Durrell. Justine was, ironically, Jewish) but when I came out, all 10 pounds of me, my parents thought I really looked more like a Katie. Katie, and strangely enough, a moose. I was huge. Not wanting to put a nickname on my birth certificate, they settled on Caitlin.
Could there be a more W.A.S.Py name? Throughout my childhood, I took several different names. On the playground at the local pool I would often introduce myself as Sophie, Chloe, or any other name I felt was equally chic. I usually forgot which one I had chosen, and didn’t turn around when the other kids called. Around fourth grade I dabbled in witchcraft (don’t ask.) and wrote Silver Willow in the space designated for Name on my Math and English tests. My teacher didn’t think it was funny, or cute for that matter. What? It was my Earth-Spirit-Deity name. Before long, I settled in to Katie and that was it. For awhile.
When I went away to College, and then to Israel, and had my “big experience” when I decided to convert to Judaism, I learned of the concept of the Hebrew name. Most Jews are given theirs around a week old, either at a naming ceremony or a Bris. But what about me? Would the Rabbis decide what my name should be on the day I became a Jew? I was given the option of choosing my own name. Except unlike my childish musings, this one would stick. For eternity. Whoa. I went looking through many a name book and online for the perfect way to represent “Me”. I have always put confidence in the power of dreams. So when I woke up one morning, sat up straight in bed and declared, “My name is Chana” it seemed like a sign from Up Above (I was also exhausted from the long conversion process and was seriously stressed at the time, so I wouldn’t go making anything prophetess connections just yet).
In the Torah we encounter two different women who bear the name Chana. Both were Mothers of the exquisite kind. One bore seven sons, and then watched all of them perish in front of her eyes because of their faith. The other, barren, prayed for a child, and was given a son- Samuel, one of the greatest Prophets in Jewish history. The name Chana is also connected to the word “grace.” In my life, there have been two goals I have held dear to my heart. To one day become a Mother, and to be graceful in all things; in thought, behavior, and prayer.
When I went away to Israel after my conversion to study in a Jewish seminary for women, I introduced myself as Chana McClusky. Everyone began to call me Chana, not knowing me as anything else. I had split personalities. Everyone at home, including friends and family, called me Katie. In my religious community I was Chana. And then I got married. And the McClusky turned to Harris. Chana Harris. A completely different woman. A Jew, a Wife, and now a Mother. I started to feel my old self slipping away; my silly, goofy self who used to rock out at concerts, believed in animal rights, and desperately loved poetry and writing. I didn’t want to lose that part of myself. So that is why I have decided to go by Katie. A strange combination of an old life and a new life. It has been tricky, going back and forth. I will always be Chana- graceful mother. But I feel good as Katie. Happy with who I am and who I hope to become. Finally!