The Power of Words- Names

From the time we are born, sometimes even earlier, we are labeled. Labels are applied to us so that society knows how to interact with us. Most of the labels we are given are directly related to some trait we have- genitalia, skin color, ethnic origin, etc. There is one label that is chosen for us, and has great value, our name. Our name is the beginning of our personal brand and our feelings about our name are shaped by how others use it.  

Some names naturally evolve with nicknames, like Elizabeth becomes Beth, while others are shed and new ones adopted. When people make the choice to adopt a new name there is a reason behind it. No longer using a previous name comes with consequences and yet the rewards greater leading to a willingness and continued desire to change.  

Some people chose a new name so that they feel more accepted. This often happens in conjunction with major life changes such as immigrating to a new country to escape poverty and or discrimination. Others select a new name in order to separate from thoughts and feelings associated with their old, birth name. This can be seen with individuals who have decided to live a life more congruent with their true self and or those who have survived abuse. Imagine you spend years hearing your name in combination with demeaning remarks, “NAME you idiot”, “NAME is such a failure”, “NAME you’re worthless”. Over time this combination of name and remarks begins to feel like a definition. By letting go of this name the person can also begin to let go of this maladapted belief that they are those definitions. This is also seen in people whose gender does not align with their birth name. We place so much weight on societal expectations regarding gender that having a name incongruent with our gender can lead to some rather uncomfortable encounters as well. And there are some who choose a name in order to escape from their abusers. These people frequently up root their entire lives and relocate so that they feel safe. 

When you use a name that has been shed you are saying that the experiences related to that name are not valid. You may not, and hopefully do not, use someone’s old name (birth name, deadname, shed name, etc.) with malicious intent. However, using this name can be triggering for some people and bring up maladaptive thoughts and feelings.  

Names are incredibly important to us. Learning how to say other’s names and respecting their name, rather given at birth or chosen as the result of adversity is a simple way to be a better human.  

The Power of Words- Layers of Meaning

“You are overthinking what was said.” If you have heard that line, you are not alone. We’ve all heard “a picture paints a thousand words” and that “actions speak louder then words”. I cringe at how much these sayings discount the power of words.

We often forget that words carry layers of meaning through denotation, or the literal meaning, and connotation, the deeper meaning linked to our thoughts and feelings surrounding the word. Denotation is the meaning that would be found in the dictionary, think of it as the meaning your “brain” interprets. Connotation however, is what your “heart” or “gut” feels and is the key element in “overthinking what was said”. Connotation can elicit positive, negative, and even neutral feelings.

All definitions (denotations) from Merriam-Webster.com

Add to the meanings presented with the words alone the tone in which they are said (by the sender) or read (by the receiver in written messages) and the meaning can become even richer.

Overthinking can occur for a variety of reasons but it tends to be “A NIT”.

*Automatic- seems to just happen unintentionally
*Negative- generally evoke undesirable feelings
*Intrusive- aren’t easily dismissed
*Thoughts- tend to be based on ideas which trigger emotions

Since there thoughts tend to evoke emotions there is a risk that they will influence our behaviors if not kept in check often leading to self-fulfilling or self-sabotaging which reinforces the thought. There are several therapeutic tools and techniques that help address and disrupt this viscous cycle.

In time, I will write individual posts for some of these tools and techniques, however, I strongly recommend working with a licensed professional to learn them.

As we are all senders of messages however, I want you to reflect on they ways in which you say things. If you find that people misread what you say, think about the words you choose and the emotions they may carry with them.

Words are powerful and you have a choice to use them beneficially to have clear communication or haphazardly and risk miscommunications and potentially distress.

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