In August, during a lull in the activity at our local county fair, a firefighter I was volunteering with said, “Guess what? Another Rob Harrison is interested in becoming a volunteer firefighter. Guess which station?”
According to census data, there are 4,988,173 Roberts in the U.S., and over the decades I’ve often been one of four Roberts in a room. Some of us become Bobs, Robs, Bobbies and Robbies in an attempt to distinguish ourselves, and so far that’s worked. But two Robert Harrisons at the same fire station? On an island? With 206,068 Robert Harrisons in the U.S., I guess it was bound to happen sometime.
The last couple of years have been tough on me. My Holmes and Rahe score put me at serious risk of illness. I experienced major life events such as a marital separation, being laid off from my job, a change in my financial state, the death of a friend, beginning school, a change my living conditions, and a change in residence. I suppose it comes as no surprise that, just as Holmes and Rahe predicted, these stressful circumstances led to serious illness, which took two biopsies to correct.
But generation after generation in my family has experienced enormous change. My grandmother, Caroline Leckey, was born on a ship as it made its way to the U.S. from Ireland. How bad would life have to be to get on a ship pregnant and leave everything you know and love behind? Potato famine bad, apparently, and my great grandmother wasn’t the first to do heroic things for the sake of an unborn child.
My birth certificate cites Mr. and Mrs. Herbert V. Harrison as my parents. As was the custom at the time, Dorothy Jean Brown’s identity was completely eclipsed by my father’s, though she graduated from the University of Nebraska with a degree in accounting and served in the military with a security clearance—things women didn’t typically do at the time.
Mom wanted my middle name to be Leckey, but dad vetoed that, and I ended up Robert Edward. I find my name feeling foreign, lately, which is unsettling. It’s like it no longer fits. I’ve revisited the idea of ceremonial names, and I do have two Buddhist names, which represent what my teachers see in me. But neither is English and both are private, so I prefer not to use them.
Like a butterfly outgrowing its cocoon, I feel like I’ve outgrown my name. So I’ve decided to change my legal middle name to Leckey and go by it instead of Robert or Rob. A Scottish friend tells me the name means “stone,” usually in reference to a hearth or marker stone. That resonates with me, as one indicates a boundary, while the other marks the center of a home–the source of heat and the place where meals are cooked. I am experiencing both an inner and outer defining. The boundary marker represents what I’ve learned about my own personal space. Knowing where I end and others begin, knowing my own voice and using it, knowing what’s mine, defining it to myself and others, and “defending” it. The hearth represents warmth and nourishment, an element of expansion in my life experience, an enlarging of both my heart and my hearth.
As I adopt the name Leckey, I embrace both my mother and father, the feminine and masculine of my origin. I don’t need a castle, moat, armaments, or coat of arms to declare what is mine. Changing my name isn’t about running away from anything, like my ancestors before me, it represents a courageous setting forth into an unknown future.
I am Robert Leckey Harrison. Call me Leckey.