Tuesday, October 30, 2012

What's in a Name?

Cynthia. Cyndi. Sid. Syd. Cyd
Each of these has been my name during some season of my life. A friend asked me the other day if I had always been Cyd... and as another friend came at the very end of the story, she also wanted to hear it.  So I was encouraged to blog about it...

It all started with the youngest one in curls. My mom never admitted to naming me after Cindy Brady... but I can only imagine that the prime time show had something to do with the popularity of the name for girls born between 1970 and 1975. But my mom, in her urge to always be at least a little bit different, kept the Cy from my full name, Cynthia, and so decided my name would be "Cyndi." Early on, I learned to spell my name out loud as "C-Y-N-D-I" to the response of, "oh... that's an interesting spelling."

I began playing the clarinet in 5th grade and it became a compelling passion in my life, leading to my participation in the Grand Rapids Youth Symphony Orchestra in high school. But, being a person who loves variety, I wanted to branch out... and so I borrowed a friend's flute and fiddled around for a while, but had even better luck with the alto sax. I loved the rich texture of the sax and I was fortunate enough to be able to join the jazz band at my high school, along with my friends, Tom (trumpet) & Corey (sax).

Enter Joe Jackson.  (Don't worry, the pieces will all come together soon).  Tom was a big fan of Joe Jackson, and especially his Jumping Jive album.  One of the songs was a cover of a Lester Young / King Pleasure song. If you haven't heard the song, you really should follow the link and give it a listen.  It's a pretty swinging song and if you've heard it, you'll better understand the rest of the context. The song is written about Symphony Sid (Sid Torin), who has been credited as being the DJ who introduced jazz to the general public.

In addition to the alto sax's prominence, it's just a really great piece of big band jazz.  Somehow, Tom started calling me "Youth Symphony Sid" because of this song... and we did an awful lot of jumping in the city together with our friends back in the day and so it fit... aside from the "my boy" part.  Eventually, I became "Sid" to Tom & Corey and a few other friends. But Cyndi was still my name to most folks.

In 1990, I left Grand Rapids and headed to St. Olaf College, to major in clarinet performance. One of the first people to call me in my new context was Tom. My roommate, Johanna, answered the phone and Tom asked for "Sid."  When Johanna had no idea who he was talking about, he corrected himself and asked for Cyndi. After hearing me called "Sid," Johanna decided she liked that better. And so everyone on my floor started calling me Sid along with all of my new friends. However, I was still Cyndi on all of the class rosters and so Cyndi remained.

At the end of my first year, I began to see the drawbacks of having more than one name. I had a French class with Maren. We enjoyed each other in class, but never saw each other in any other context. Toward the end of our first year, our circles of friends began dancing closer to each other and Maren began to hear of this girl named "Sid" who she needed to meet. Eventually, we ended up at the same party and I was introduced to her as "Sid," to which Maren was confused because she already knew me as Cyndi. Since Sid was beginning to feel a whole lot more like me than Cyndi, I began to ask my professors to call me Sid to keep things clear.

By the time I graduated from St. Olaf, I was consistently Sid in all areas of my life, except for the few holdouts from high school and my family. But when I moved to California to take a teaching job, Cynthia was on my driver's license, social security card, and resume, and so everyone on staff at the school where I taught called me Cyndi, as did all the parents of my students. Simultaneously, my friends - both old and new - still called me Sid.

When the phone rang in my apartment in those days, I could easily discern if this was a call for Cyndi, the teacher, or for Sid, the friend. These were the days before caller ID, and so the only way to find out who was calling was the answer the phone. I was too broke to call people back long distance, and so I didn't want to miss calls from friends. However, there were times when I just didn't have the energy to have a conversation with a parent about their concerns about their child. After all, this was the year that I taught in a portable classroom with a tin roof, on which it rained for 42 consecutive school days. I taught all subjects including music, art, and PE, and I supervised my own recesses (in that portable with the rain pounding down on the roof). Consequently, I developed a bit of a dishonest habit. If I received a call from someone asking to speak to Cyndi, I replied by letting them know that she wasn't available but I would be glad to take a message. If someone asked for Sid, I was happy to say it was me.

After a year of that nonsense, I took to the woods and started teaching outdoor education at a conference center in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It was in this place, where I lived, worked, and played with the same coworkers and friends that Cyndi and Sid finally integrated into one person.

This integration stayed with me through graduate school and into directing Elderhostel programs (now called Road Scholar). After having several folks show up to the first program I directed with shocked looks when I introduced myself as Sid, I had to ask what was so shocking about my name. One outspoken gentleman finally told me that, through all the correspondence I had sent people to prepare them for the program, he had been picturing me as a middle aged man. Although he was delighted to find a young woman, he could not hide the surprise on his face at finding such a contrast.

After asking several other program participants if they had similar imaginings, I realized that changing the spelling to "Syd" might help people to understand that I was a woman. Now people just imagined my name was Sydney. All along the way, my poor mother kept lamenting the loss of the name she had given me, so intentionally keeping the "Cy" from Cynthia. She kept telling me that Cynthia means "reflector of light" because the Greek goddess, Artemis, was also called Cynthia, having been born on Mt. Cynthus. She and my Dad had named me Cynthia Joy because they hoped I would reflect the light of Christ and bring joy to everyone I met.

But my little life was filled with early loss and confusion. My Dad was killed in a car accident when I was only 17 months old. For much of my life, fears and doubts blocked me from being a reflector of light and a bringer of joy. It wasn't until after my Mom's sudden death, that I finally changed the spelling to "Cyd," reintroducing the Cy to the nickname that had become my real name. About a year later, my mother-in-law started calling me Cynthia Joy in her place.

And so, Cynthia Joy Hoekstra became Cyndi Koetje (when my mom's new husband legally adopted me), Sid Koetje (the middle aged man), and eventually Cyd Holsclaw. And hopefully, along with the spelling change, I am becoming more consistent in reflecting the light of Christ and bringing the joy of his presence into the lives of those I meet.

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