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What’s YOUR Name?



“What’s in a name?” — a familiar query and an underlying question in All Our Names by Ethiopian-American author, Dinaw Mengestu.

The title refers to the primary given names of the book’s two narrators and also to the titles used to describe them at different times: the Professor, the poet, the writer…student, case worker,  revolutionary, friend, lover, outsider, daughter…

As you might imagine, reading this novel led me to consider “oldest daughter”  and the labels or tags often associated with what is actually, when taken at face value, simply a description of birth order.  “O.D.” is not an honorary title, like the doctorates given to keynote speakers at college graduations. Nor is it a title earned for some accomplishment.  Nope, “oldest daughter” just comes with being the first-born female in a family.  No choice here.

But as we grow up,  lots of options exist for how we describe ourselves or are depicted as a result of our birth-order position.  Among them are the M words: (little) Mother, Model, Mentor, Matriarch.   And of course the B word (not the rhyming one): Bossy.

We may be thought of or called any of  these names, depending on the particular period and circumstances we find ourselves in.  But unlike “oldest daughter,”  the label we voluntarily put on ourselves reflects what is most important to us.

As an adult, do I want to be for my siblings a substitute mom, a controller, a model, a leader,  a mentor?  Or would I be more comfortable as a peer, a first-born among equals?  What’s my personal preference?  While we don’t control how others regard us, we do have a say in how we see ourselves.

So, what’s YOUR name? As a song in Sound of Music puts it, what’s the name you call yourself?


Oh, and about that B word.   The Girl Scouts of  the USA and CEO Anna Maria Chavez  have joined Facebook COO  and oldest daughter (!) Sheryl Sandberg  along with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to launch a “Ban Bossy” campaign. Learn more about it at www.girlscouts.usa .


  1. cbarnickel@kc.rr.com
    April 19, 2014 at 1:08 am

    I don’t like labels. I prefer to see myself as a loving mother, sister and friend. If I can be true to myself and my values and have faith and trust in God, that’s the title I want to be known as. Please note:

    My email address has changed. My new email address is: CaroleAnnBarnickel@GMail.COM

  2. April 19, 2014 at 3:44 pm

    The names I call myself – caring, funloving, responsible, etc. The names my siblings call me – yikes!

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