A handful of us are standing around our cars, preparing to leave after singing for a woman in hospice. We are all members of the Morning Star Singers, a volunteer comfort choir I founded in 2007 to bring singing and compassionate presence to people facing various challenges.
“I know we’ve been in choir together for months, but I can’t seem to recall your name,” one of them says to another.
“It’s Lisa,” Lisa says. And I blurt out – still in the spacey, wide-open place I go when I’m with someone in their dying time – “You are so NOT a Lisa!”
“Funny you should mention that,” Lisa says. “People have a hard time remembering my name all the time – and I don’t really relate to it myself. What do you think my name should be?”
Without a hint of hesitation, I gaze at them and say, “Kip. You are Kip.”
From that day on, Lisa became Kip to the Morning Star Singers. In the ensuing years, they began inviting friends to call them by that name and just last year, they told their family that they were going to make it official. Lisa was going to become Kip.
That is why I got up this sunny, lilac-scented morning and rode my bike downtown to a courtroom in the Hennepin County Government Center. Kip, their partner and two other friends joined several other groups who were there for name change court.
One young woman of Hmong descent was there to change her first name to one that makes more phonetic sense in English. The name she chose is the one my mother uses – “Wynn.” After her hearing, I ran over to congratulate her and tell her that she shares a name with my 94-year-old mom. She was elated to hear it.
Then it was Kip’s turn. The judge called us forward to sit at the official table. We were surprisingly nervous. After raising right hands, asking a series of questions and affirming this and that, the judge made it official – Kip was Kip – legally and forever. The other people waiting their turn quietly applauded.
We were all strangely moved by the experience. To claim a name that fits is a powerful thing. We were keenly aware that behind every person in that courtroom was a long and sacred journey to identity.
In my 58 years, I’ve named numerous pets – and have conjured nicknames for many beloved friends. Kip is the first person I’ve ever named. I still don’t quite know how it happened. I know it had something to do with being at the threshold of life and death. Or the fact that my heart always leaps up with joy and recognition whenever I encounter Kip.
After we leave the courthouse, Kip, their partner and I head off to a celebratory brunch. Over lemon-ricotta pancakes and Eggs Benedict, we make plans for a ceremony to mark this sacred change. We decide that the proper place to begin the ritual is on that curb where I first “heard” Kip’s name. From there we’ll process to a nearby lake to honor and celebrate this sacred and joyful naming.