What’s in a name?

What is a name but a vocalized jumble of consonants and vowels by which others call you? Your name is the sound your mother whispered to you, exhausted and sweaty, in the first moments of your life. The sound your best friend yelled across the gym locker room. The sound your partner moans in your ear as you make love upon the bed. Of course I know that you are not your name – a name is simply a label, hardly adequate in describing or conveying all that you do and are. But, perhaps it is your first exercise in hearing and responding to the calls you hear in your life.

In internet lore, there is an African tribe (some sources say the Himba of Namibia, but who knows if the story is even true) that, when a woman becomes pregnant, finds the Song of the Child through meditation. When the child is born, the village sings the song to the baby at important milestones along his life. Later, the song is sung when the villager has committed a crime or social taboo – not as corrective punishment, but as a reminder of his true identity. The idea is that when you’ve made a mistake, it’s simply because you’ve strayed from yourself.

My name is Chelsea Ann MacMillan.

Chelsea is a port for ships. A port is a place to anchor for safekeeping until the next journey across the sea. A port is a hub for goods from far-off lands to be collected and distributed in a new locale. I imagine Chelsea as a busy wharf: boxes of who knows what – perhaps common provisions, exotic spices, and fancy luxuries – loaded onto the docks, sailors whistling and shouting, swinging and slinging, merchants tending to numbers and figures, keeping a watchful eye on their wares to be sold. Ocean liners carrying all classes of society descend upon the waiting arms of loved ones. Working class and upper class meet. Exotic goods are made available to those who may never travel far from home. Chelsea is a place of organized chaos, a place to converge and disperse.

How can I relate to this? I have found similar patterns in my own life and work, constantly synthesizing seemingly disparate ideas or social circles. As an interspiritual minister and teacher, I love to facilitate spaces where people of all backgrounds and experiences can come together and inspire each other when otherwise, they might never meet.

A port is a place for safety and rest, where ships are harbored from storms until the next journey. As a healer, whether formally or informally (because aren’t we all always taking part in healing each other?), I create a space in which to welcome weary or troubled souls in the safe harbor of my heart. This is my intention as I lay my hands on someone or simply listen openly and deeply.

Ann. Ann means grace. How appropriate that this is my middle name as, when I open to it, Grace flows through the center of my being.

Not so inspiringly, MacMillan literally translates to “son of the bald or tonsured one in the manner of St. John.” However, upon further research, this indicates that MacMillans are descended from an order of Celtic priests who marked themselves as such by tonsuring or shaving the front of their heads. Before European influence arrived, priests back then (about a thousand years ago) were allowed to marry and, presumably, father children.

The Clan MacMillan motto? Misesris succerere disco. I learn to succor the unfortunate.

I am descended from a long line of people whose guiding principle is to assist people experiencing misfortune. This isn’t a grand proclamation of “I will help” or “I know exactly how to help.” I learn to help. Some distant ancestor of mine had the wisdom to recognize the ongoing journey of service, all of its ups and downs. Learning comes from a humble place, a place of unknowing that requires looking to a source other than the self. To me, this indicates both an inward and an outward experience, observing and studying the examples of sacred activists who have gone before, people like MLK or Dorothy Day – not to mention listening to the Source of all, the Presence that is greater than myself – and then putting my education into verb form, moving into concrete action. Sometimes – most of the time, I learn by doing.

Of course, a name isn’t always an indication of our vocation, which comes from the Latin vocare, to call. I am still discovering my vocation, but anytime I have doubts or worries, I return to the first call I ever heard. Chelsea Ann MacMillan.








3 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

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