If you’re like me, you have a lot of “Saras” in your life. When you talk about them, you might ascribe adjectives to them to differentiate them one from the other – especially if many of the work-related ones have never revealed their surnames to you. Usually these adjectives are positive, or at worst, banal – Red-haired Sara, Financial-Department Sara, upstairs-Sara, Blue-car-Sara, Joe’s-Sara. Two of the Saras in my life were close friends who were always together, and so they became Big-Sara (she was quite tall) and Little-Sara (she was not as tall).
Big-Sara eventually drifted out of our group of friends, but Little-Sara stayed. It came to our attention that she did not particularly care to be called “Little”, and we have all tried very hard to call her simply Sara. We all understand, after all, that the word “little” has such a negative connotation.
It can make people think of children, or insignificance, or of things that are inconsequential, or invisible, or weak. It can connote that somehow the person so named is not as valid, or legitimate, or real as someone not so named. It can mean that the person is small, not in a physical way, in comparison to some big or tall person, but in a metaphysical way – that a “little” Sara just isn’t as impressive as a bigger one.
Of course, Little-Sara had no reason to think any of us thought any of those things – we all hold her in the highest regard. We could well understand that negative connotation, however, and she is just-Sara to us now. Mostly. Habits are so hard to break.
But in honour of her birthday, I wanted to offer a different connotation.
When I was in middle school, I adopted a nickname for myself, and I go by that name almost exclusively. But, even though I have been using it for some thirty years now, I know deep inside that it is only a nickname (rather than a “real” name), and so I’m not sure how much I identify with it. Yet my “real” name – the one on my birth certificate – just didn’t feel like my name; that was why I had changed it in the first place. It’s a nice enough name, but it just didn’t seem to be … “me”. So I don’t really identify with that name either. When I got married, I took my husband’s last name, and when we got divorced, I didn’t change it back. I don’t know if that means it’s “my” name or not.
I only identify with one name, and that’s the name my dad always calls me. I’m “Little One”. My sister is “Blondie”, my other sister is “Puff”. I believe my brother is something outside-the-box like “Boy”. And I’m “Little One”.
I connote this name with belonging to a group, with being loved and cared for, with being safe. I connote it with being singled out in a positive way, accepted for things that made me unique from my siblings and from anyone else. I associate it with my father, whom I am very much like – he is “One”, and I am “Little One”, a tiny-little-division of something important, which meant that I was important too. And now, when he calls me that, I know it is my name, and that I am the one being seen, and known, and talked to. It isn’t about a word written on paper or spoken aloud; it’s like a true name – the one that speaks to the part of me that is more than this material world, spoken by the part of someone else that is also more than this material world. It’s a name that speaks from his heart to my heart. That’s what “Little” means to me.
So I hope, when I accidentally call Sara “Little-Sara”, that she can hear what I really mean.
I hope she knows that we are all speaking to her from our hearts to hers, that we are all speaking to the real her, whatever she may be called.
Happy Birthday, Sara.