Friday, November 4, 2011

What's in a Name

I've always liked my name. While it's relatively common in the community world for people to try out different names (partly to handle the situation where there are two or more folks in the same group with the same first name), I've never even been tempted.

I like that my name is unusual—to the point where I rarely have to wonder which "Laird" people are referring to when I hear my name. While there were many things that my father tired to pass along to me that I considered dubious gifts, my name is not among them. I have my name simply because my father liked the sound of it, and I think that was reason enough. In fact, I cherish this as one strand of a heavily twisted skein of connection with my father that stands out for being one of the few links that isn't kinked.

While I regularly encounter problems with people mishearing my name (Larry or Leonard are common approximations), it turns out that I've struggled more with my last name. Not because I'm uncomfortable with it, or with my German heritage, but because of the inference of ownership that I'd rather distance myself from. In community culture, people seldom use last names, and for most of my life my first name has been entirely sufficient to direct comments or attention my way.

In the rarefied environment of income-sharing communities, last names are so little employed that it's deemed preferable to use the community association when a secondary marker is needed, rather than a person's legal last name—since so few people would understand the reference. Thus, it's more meaningful to talk about Valerie Oaks than Valerie Renwick if you want someone at East Wind to know which Valerie you are referring to (as people in Missouri are much more likely to know the Valerie who lives at Twin Oaks than they are to know that her last name is Renwick).

Following that inspiration, when I first started writing for publication I adopted the nom de plume of Laird Sandhill. As long as the scope of my activities was focused on the rather small pond of income-sharing communities, that worked fine. However, once I ventured into the much larger pond of all intentional communities (working for the Fellowship for Intentional Community), people started misconstruing the context of my public croaking.

Once I became a regular contributor to Communities magazine, I was reaching a lot of people who didn't know me. When they read that Laird Sandhill lived at Sandhill Farm, they would frequently connect the dots in the wrong sequence, thinking that the community was named after me, rather than the other way around. Uh oh. As someone who doesn't suffer from a lack of self-confidence, that was a problem I didn't need. (I should note here the irony of being a founding member of an egalitarian community with the name Laird, which is a Scottish term for lord of the manor. While I am indeed the Laird of Sandhill; I am not the laird of Sandhill.) Thus, for publication, I switched back to Laird Schaub.

When I had kids, I struggled with what last name to give them. Having made a conscious choice to not marry for the purpose of "legitimizing" my children (isn't that a concept, that somehow children are inappropriate or incomplete if born out of wedlock?), both of my kids have mothers with different last names than mine. What to do? I'm not fond of hyphenated last names (I find them cumbersome and where would that leave my children when they had kids), and neither was I enamored of settling the issue by flipping a coin. In the end we decided on the elegant solution of giving the kids the last name Sandhill, which wasn't patrilineal or matrilineal. (While my father wasn't pleased, I was only doing what he had done—consciously picking a name for my kids that pleased the father.)

What the H
It turns out that Sandhill has an unusual relationship with the letter H. On the one hand, one our specialty food products is tempeh, an Indonesian soy food that is blessed with an ending H, distinguishing it from the city that is home to the Arizona State Sun Devils. On the other, we currently have three people living at Sandhill (out of eight) who have names that are most commonly spelled with H's, which all three have chosen to eschew: Mica, Jon, and Sara. While I'm not sure what that portends, I'm confident that with sufficient tea leaves or chicken gizzards we could divine what the H it all means.

One of the things that reinforces the bond I have with Ma'ikwe and her 14-year-old son Jibran is our mutual love of word play. (This, of course, is in addition the bond we share in having weird names.) Driving into the Chicago area yesterday for an overnight stay with my sister and brother-in-law, Alison & Dan (who live in the western suburb of La Grange, where Al & I grew up), Jibran announced that we would be spending the night in "Schauburbia." Cute.

As I played with that a bit more, it was plain to me that if my parents had settled in the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg (instead of La Grange), that my family would have long ago started referring to it as "Schauburg." Who could resist?

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