"What's the world for you if you can't make it up the way you want."

-Jazz, Toni Morrison


Consternations About A Name

Consternations About A Name

1. It is a given thing: from grandmother to granddaughter. My grandmother’s named was Lydia Ruth Martin. She hated her name: she went by Ruth. I got a hand-me-down name from a woman I never met, who went by a different name.

2. I’ve heard tell that my name is musical. It rings.

3. Lydia doesn’t mean anything. It means simply “from Lydia”Meaning an empire somewhere in the Middle East. No greater, lyrical meaning. 

4. The Kingdom of Lydia existed in the Iron Age in western Asia minor, modern day Turkey. There is no Lydian literature, no monuments, not even mythology. The empire fell to ruins and left nothing standing.

5. My paternal grandmother has beautiful high cheekbones. Her living room is decorated in teepees, headdresses, and ethereal portraits of Native Americans. Little statues of howling wolves and canoes line her bookshelves. She whispers the work Cherokee to me when I am a child. 

6. Alex is though, that’s something else. It’s Greek and means “to defend, to help”

7. When I was fifteen an older woman at an important meeting wondered aloud what the pastry was sitting out for the taking. Baklava I said. A rich pastry. It’s popular in Greece. She said to me I wondered what you were, where you were from. It must be Greece then, you’re Greek aren’t you?

8. Ostenaco was a Cherokee chief who fought alongside colonial Virginia against the French and the Shawnee. He often preferred his warrior title of Utsidihiwhich means MankillerHis loyalty to the colonists forever changed history and aided the area of Virginia to later become the state of West Virginia.

9. On a colder day, we were sitting on the concrete slabs in an almost alley. Between the library and our building. A ladybug landed on my hand and I marveled at it, my familiar. Then my friend said maybe it’s not a ladybug though. She told me a story about these insects that destroy crops and they look just like ladybugs because ladybugs are harmless. Because no one would smash a ladybug. The difference is in the color: red or orange. The bug on my hand was orange. You lying bastard I said and I flicked it hard, with a lot of force. 

10. My mother has a curio cabinet full of porcelain dolls. One was custom made for her when I was two years old. It was the same size and shape of her daughter with the same locks of almost black hair and amber brown eyes. 

11. Cyrusis also Greek but comes from a Persian word. Another empire in the Middle East. Sometimes synonymous with “Lord” but it also means young, far sighted. Many kings bore the name, but Cyrus The Great conquered Babylon, making him the most famous. 

12. In public school they never mentioned the stories of Cyrus The Great. The only mention of his name in middle school led my classmates to stare at me. They called me a camel jockey. 

13. I am farsighted in one eye.

14. Chief Cornstalk was a member of the Shawnee tribe who lived in modern day Point Pleasant, West Virginia. At the end of his life he took to peace and served as a diplomatic figure. He was mistakenly slaughtered at Fort Randolph during a diplomatic visit after a man at the fort had been killed by another Native. 

15. You’re name must be a classist’s dream, said my history professor who specializes in Nazism. Neither of my parents went to college I said. The heavy map in his classroom was always unfolded to a section of map that focused on the Middle East. Every Monday night I looked at it and I saw my name—my names—and I thought I know where I’m from. Then the day I stood in front of the class I noticed that the map had been flipped to another country, one without my name. I would’ve said my name is Lydia like the ancient empire here. Cyrus just the like the great king who took this land. But the map was flipped over and I knew nothing.

16. My aunt holds up a photograph of my grandmother when she was eighteen. She compares it to my face and says just look at those cheekbones. This time she means me. 

17. My mother calls me Ladybug.

18. My skin is not the shade of porcelain, is not the same shade of the women in the paintings at my grandmother’s house either. My skin is not this shade, is not this shade, is not this shade.

19. In middle school, my best friends called me Pocahontas

20. My maternal grandmother’s maiden name was LockhartShe was Scottish. The Lockhart clan had a castle, has a castle. The family crest reads: Corda Serrata Pando. It means I open locked hearts. 

21. On my father’s side of the family I am related to a man named Mark Hopkins. He was one of the Big Four who developed the Central Pacific Railroad. When he died, his identity was stolen along with his riches. My grandfather is the last of kin who is eligible to take the case to court to try to regain our family’s wealth. He has never gone to court.

22. I know a woman who emigrated to West Virginia from Turkey. She asked me if I was IranianShe asked where are your parents from? Here,I said. They’re all from here. She said she was sorry and felt embarrassed by her mistake, I assured her that is happens often. 

23. Pocahontas was a nickname given to the favored daughter of Chief Powhatan. They were Algonquin and lived in the coastal areas of Virginia. Pocahontas, the favored daughter, was wed to a tobacco magnet and sailed to England. Once there she was baptized and she changed her name to Rebecca

24. I told my Turkish coworker a story once about how I got into fistfights with neighborhood boys as a little girl. She said, I’m telling you it’s all that hot, Mediterranean blood.

25. I have been called exotic more than once in my lifetime. I think the word exotic should be used to describe non-human animals and food. Otherwise, it is abhorrent.  

26. Chief Powhatan isn’t even really his name. The word Powhatan names the tribe he came from and represented. His name was Wahunsenacawh. 

27. In John Smith’s diaries about his time in Virginia he refers to Wahunsenacawh as The Great Powhatan.

28. I believe that I am made of every grain of Persian sand, every petal fallen from the blooms of Cherokee roses, and every slab of castle stone. 

29. I would like to give the name Lydia some meaning. To write lyrics to the music as it were.

30. I kept a diary for a while, the kind with writing prompts in it. One of the questions called for asking close friends a simple question:What name do you think suits me better than my own? They answered: Peggy and Diana. One friend simply said none. 

31. I am from Huntington, West Virginia. Land which once was split between Cherokee and Shawnee territory. Before that it belonged to the Adena people. Even the land is rife with conflict and split. 

I think that the name Lydia means: the daughter of every fallen empire. 


Lydia A. Cyrus is a creative nonfiction writer and poet from Huntington, West Virginia. She is an award winning scholar and her work as been featured in Thoreau's Rooster, Crab Fat Magazine, Moonchild Magazine, The Albion Review, Catfish Creek, and Luna Luna Magazine. Her essay "We Love You Anyway," was featured in the 2017 anthology Family Don't End with Blood which chronicles the lives of fans and actors from the television show Supernatural. She’ll soon be moving off to Indiana to get her MFA from Purdue in the fall. Twitter: @lydiaacyrus

Cover photo by Eric Ward on Unsplash

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