How a Photo and a Flower Taught Me to Love My Name

Tiare Flower (Gardenia Tahitiensis) National flower of Tahiti

The first time I changed my name, I was seven years old. Why? Because I hated my name. Hated it. With a passion. No one could pronounce it. No one could spell it. It seemed like a ridiculous, made-up name that no one had even heard of. I longed for a normal, boring name, like Jenny or Tiffany or Heather or Stephanie. Or if I had to have a unique name, why not something glamorous and beautiful, like Alexandria or Lydia? Ooh, how I hated my name! And so I changed it. I began to turn in my schoolwork with a variety of names that, at the time, I loved. Alyssa. Christine. Star. Anything but Tiare. (I assume that my teacher always knew that it was my work based on the sloppy handwriting).

When I was ten years old, I settled on my new real name. I announced to my entire family, “My name is now Jamie Katrelle.” After that, I refused to answer to Tiare. It had to be Jamie, or my new initials, J.K. I stuck with this new name for the next three years or so, until I reached high school and decided that Jamie was not such an interesting name after all. Still, I secretly loathed my name, including my middle name, La Brea, which I eventually learned means tar in Spanish. (Really, Mom and Dad? Couldn’t you have researched a little before picking a name in a foreign language?). When I had children of my own, I was determined to give them nice names. Somewhat normal names. Names that meant something, instead of names that just sounded nice to the ear, as is the contemporary naming tradition in many black families.

“But your name does mean something,” my mother informed me a few years ago when I complained. The year that I was born, she explained, she came across a Pullitzer Prize-winning photograph of a little girl falling from the fifth floor of a burning building. The child, whose name was Tiare, miraculously survived the fall. The photograph had a tremendous emotional impact on my mother. She gave me the little girl’s name — the name of a survivor. The name of a child who faced a fire and a tremendous fall, but was strong enough and lucky enough to go on living.

Of course, learning the story behind my name completely changed my opinion. Did I love the story? Well, no. In fact, the photo is very disturbing to look at. But it helped me to see that my name was not just something meaningless, pulled out of thin air. My mother loved me so much that she wanted to give me a name that touched her heart, from a story that impacted her life. My name was a mother’s gift. I could no longer hate it. In fact, I began to love my name, especially after I discovered that a Tiare is actually a beautiful, fragrant flower…the national flower of Tahiti, worn behind the ears of young women. I  also learned that my name is somewhat popular in Hawaii, Chile, and throughout the South Pacific. It is not so weird after all. My name is exotic, fragrant, beautiful, meaningful. And I am grateful to my mother for her gift.

(But sorry, Mom and Dad…the middle name has got to go. My name is now Tiare Liberty. There is no story that will make me embrace the old name).

A very disturbing image of a young girl and her godmother falling from a burning building after the fire escape collapsed. The little girl, Tiare Jones, my namesake, survived the fall.

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5 responses to “How a Photo and a Flower Taught Me to Love My Name

  1. Tiare is a lovely name, meaning “flower” and I also like the story behind your name’s selection. La Brea, or “pitch,” saved Moses’ life, so there may just be a blessing there too. Imagine being a beautiful flower and a life saver! Deon just means I’m somewhere close to Dionysus, so sure, I’ll have some wine, thanks for asking.

  2. I love how nombre de la pluma made the connection between tar (pitch) being what saved Moses in the basket. Noah also used pitch on the ark.

    This was a very beautiful story. Thank you for sharing!!

    When I was ten years old we read this story about a little Native American boy named Blue Wings Flying who grew up in a village that had a tradition where the whole village would go around and look for something beautiful on the day of someone’s birth. Each would present a name to the mother and father who would pick their favorite. The little boy saw a rainbow in a waterfall mist and his parents picked his name Rainbow Mist. I decided I was a was tired of everyone spelling my name wrong and tired of hearing my name all the time. My name was worn out! So I made everyone in my class including my teacher call me Keisha, which was the name of the little black girl in the Magic Schoolbus books. She was my favorite character because she was so smart and witty. Then my parents told me the story of how they met someone beautiful named Dannielle on their honeymoon and they picked that name because it meant “God is My Judge” and also because my mom’s favorite character in the Bible was Daniel. So now I love my name but I remember when I wished it was Sophie or Gabrielle or something exotic and beautiful when I was a little girl that you never heard. (Funny because now Sophie is the MOST popular name for girls twenty years later!) Dannielle was the ninth most popular name the year I was born so it was annoying that there were always three Ashleys, three Brittneys, and three Danielles everywhere I went.

    • Oh, I love your name story! And I remember well when the Ashleys, Brittanys, and Danielles reigned supreme during the 90s, and the Keisha character, too. 😀 Such a hippie concept, I suppose, but I see the appeal in parents choosing names based on the beauty of nature, like in the story you shared. I probably would have loved the name Tiare much better had I known abut the flower. The middle name, however, I axed. Sorry, I could never find the beauty in that one, even with the Moses story, lol. Thanks for sharing.

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