Story Prompts: What’s In a Name?

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet. . .

– Juliet in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet


What’s in a name? Perhaps more than Juliet was willing to admit. One of my favorite storytelling prompts is to ask people to share the story of how they got their name. It’s a simple prompt that elicits very interesting stories. In fact, in some cases, a person’s name can play a rather prophetic role in their life.


My name came from a movie. When the credits started to roll, my pregnant mother saw the name “Lindsay Wagner” scrolling up the screen. She knew that Lindsay was the name for me. What she didn’t know is that I would go on to be an actress just like my namesake.


As for my husband, he got his middle name (the name that he goes by) from a famous actor as well – Steve Austin. As the story goes, his mother loved to watch The Million Dollar Man on TV from her home in Manizales, Colombia. But Steve isn’t exactly a common Hispanic name, except in its Spanish equivalent, Esteban. So when she went to put that name on her son’s birth certificate, she spelled it the way it sounded to her. It came out as Estith (pronounced eh-STEET). Comically enough, when my husband introduces himself here in the US, people almost always hear “Steve,” so I guess it worked out in the end!


As luck would have it, Estith and I ended up together. Or as we like to say, The Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman ended up together. Coincidence? I think not! God just has a great sense of humor.


When it came to naming our son, we wanted the right name for him. Names are important. They help to define us. They give us an identity. They may even help determine our future.


Thus, in choosing a name, we wanted something that would reflect our son’s cultural roots, and yet would leave neither his Colombian nor American family members alienated. We wanted something that could be pronounced more or less the same in both English and Spanish. We also wanted a meaningful name – something that spoke to our values and the character that we wanted our son to have.


We chose the name Rafael. While certainly more common in the Spanish language, it is pronounced by English and Spanish speakers with equal ease. But more than that, the name had a deep significance to us. The name comes from the Hebrew and means, “God heals.” As people of faith, we loved that meaning, and it’s our prayer that Rafael will come to espouse all that his name means, being a person who brings peace and healing wherever he goes. And while he may still be small, I have already seen little ways in which he has begun to live up to his name, and it makes me smile.


Someday, someone will ask my son where his name came from, and when they do, he will have a story to tell. What’s your story?


Today, ask someone the story of their name. You may be surprised by all that you can learn about them from this simple question.

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