Friday, January 6, 2012

Why I Changed My Name to Olivia

(My family of origin--I am at the far left wearing the sunsuit.)

For years, whenever I heard people call my birth name, I would flinch or startle. This was because for years my mother would scream my name as she would beat me; I had such terrible memories of my childhood and I wanted to put them behind me. So, I finally changed my name when I was 33.

I picked "Olivia" partly because the name means "peace" and partly because of the "liv" in the center. Peace was what I valued above all else and what was missing from my childhood. And I wanted to live, instead of die, as my mother had raised me--my mother brought me up believing that I would die, like all of the other oldest daughters my maternal line of ancestry, shortly before my 45th birthday.

My grandmother had died a few days before she was to turn 45, as had her mother. My mother was convinced that she too would never live to see 45. She raised me to think I would not either. For example, when I said I wanted to walk with a pretty cane when I was an old lady, my mother would say, "You know you will never be old--you're going to die just like my mother and grandmother because you're an oldest daughter."

I never wanted to be anything like my mother. Especially, I wanted to live instead of die. I love that saying my name reminds me of what I want to do. I also had some intensive counseling for the year after I turned 44. I reminded myself that my ancestors were miserable (as my mother had described them) and had probably wanted to die--like my mother. I was happy, loved life, and did not want to die!

My mother looked forward to death and anticipated hers with resignation. She was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia and died on January 3rd, eight days before her 45th birthday. I remember the lessons she taught me when this time of year rolls around.

I was reminded of this also by Kim's post and her choice of the word "Live" for 2012. Writing this now, I realize that she posted this on the 30th anniversary of my mother's death.

As cruel as my mother's heritage might seem to some, she taught me many things about life and about how I wanted to be in the world. She had a horrific upbringing and truly did the best she could with what she knew. I do not miss her, but I am grateful for the lessons she left with me.

And that's how I came to be known as "Olivia".


~Karen C.L. Anderson~ said...

Wow...WOW!! What a powerful post. And before I even read it, I thought to myself, I love the nickname Liv!

I've spent the past six or seven years consciously undoing a maternal legacy as of substance abuse, narcissism, self-loathing, and more. The women on my mother's side of the family live long, bitter, and unhappy lives. I want to live a long happy and contented one...if I die tomorrow, however, I will still have achieved the happiness and contentedness :-)

I've also learned a lot from my mother and how I want to be in the world...and I have true compassion for her, even though we're estranged.

Thank you so much for sharing this...

patti said...

I had a happy relationship with my mother and cannot imagine growing up in the atmosphere you describe.

Re-naming yourself is a wonderful way of breaking free from all of it. I have always loved the name and wanted to call my daughter Olivia (My husband voted for Lauren, which I also love)

Living peacefully - a simple path to happiness!

laundrygirl said...

Thanks for your vulnerability in sharing something so personal. Something about this seems biblical like the way people were told - you will now be known as ...
They were given new names as they changed and stepped into who they were meant to be.

CrystalChick said...

I love the name Olivia and it suits you perfectly. It's wonderful that you were able to break the cycle and enjoy a happy life. I'm sure you'll live to a ripe old age. Being able to move on and be grateful even for the experience is pretty cool. Good for you!
Thanks for sharing this. xo

Lori-Lyn said...

It is difficult for me to express how moved I am by this post or how much I love you, Olivia, and your beautiful name. Thank you for sharing this and for always sharing of yourself in the most mindful and honest ways.

kate i said...

Olivia, your name is so beautiful and suits you perfectly. Thanks for sharing your story here....our family's of origin are often very wounded themselves and so the family "story" continues on perpetuating the damage. It takes a lot of courage to close the book on the old story and begin a new one, but you're doing it. I almost feel as though I can see the wings unfolding as you take flight. Huge hugs!

Olivia said...

Karen CL, thank you for your support. It's good to know that someone else has felt this type of mother legacy. I hear about people missing their moms and wonder what it must feel sounds so strange.

I am glad for you as well, that you have worked through this and broken the chain that has been passed down.

Peace and love to you, xoO

Olivia said...

Patti, I am so glad for you--that you had a happy relationship with your mother--it is very hard for me to imagine that or to relate. But still I am GLAD! It might be part of an underlying security that I'd imagine gives you a head start in life...

I think Lauren is such a beautiful name. My daughter-in-law is named Lauren, as is my niece-in-law. Both names are so mellifluous, aren't they? (YAY, I finally got to use that fun word somewhere!)

Thanks for your enduring support, Patti, xoO

Olivia said...

Kristine, That's so interesting you would say that, because that's JUST what I was thinking at the time. I was a fundamentalist Christian and thought "If Abram and Sarai could do it and Saul could do it, so can I!" and "God is doing a new thing!"

I feel so relieved that I can blog again (I mean just that I am ABLE to do it), and I want to be able to be myself here. It comforts me greatly that I can share such things here, and I so appreciate the support.

Thanks so much, Kristine :) xoO

Olivia said...

Mary, that you, my dear! I have processed a lot with my family through years of therapy, but have been doing even more lately. Unfortunately, the only way I was able to do that was by being estranged from them, but the distance enables me to heal. They do not understand this at all, but that's the way things go sometimes.

I am grateful to be able to think of my mother without bitterness, but it did take many years, a lot of work, and distance from the abuse.

Thank you Mary, I appreciate it, xoO

Olivia said...


Thank you for letting me know, Lori-Lyn, and your support really encourages me. I wonder why I need to post about such personal things sometimes, but I am letting my Higher Power guide me and it feels right. When I write inauthentically or about things that don't matter (like mushrooms) I feel kind of empty, and so I am just glad that I am able to resume.

A lot has been because I've embraced Imperfection as my word for the year--this has helped.

I want to tell you again and again that I enjoy your posts as well, and the one I think of every day as I try to develop a living FAITH is your post about how you've felt held by love your whole life. I've felt the opposite and it's exciting to know that this is possible. The way you wrote about it was palpable.

Although I have been religious I have never experienced Love like this, and am excited to be discovering it now, just the tip of the iceberg ( or solar flare).

Anyway, thank you Lori-Lyn, so much,

Continued love, xoO

Olivia said...

Oh, thank you, kate, I will hold that vision! I love it!

I do know that my mother was very wounded by both of her parents. She went through so much and tried to be an outstanding mother. She just really didn't know how in some important ways (although she did in other ways that to me are less important) and was stressed by raising three children alone while my father was off serving our country in Vietnam, Thailand, Berlin, etc. I feel for her.

And oh my, I am so grateful for not carrying the family story on! What if I had never known that there was a different way? What if I KEPT thinking I deserved it all? It could have easily have happened, and it didn't, and for that I am so grateful.

Joy and peace and love,


Kim Mailhot said...

Wow, Lovely Olivia, how strong the messages have been to you about your name. I love that you chose to break the pattern that your mother wasn't able to break. To LIVE and LOVE life to its fullest, each and every precious day of it.
Peace and love to you, Beautiful Heart !

Olivia said...

Absolutely, Kim! This is such a good remembrance for all of us to LIVE and LOVE every moment of life to its fullest, to be grateful for every moment. Thank you for the Big Love that you share here and well....EVERYWHERE ♥ xoO

Kate said...

Wow what a story you shared today. I love the name Olivia and the "Liv" too. Thanks for sharing this story. So happy to know you and hope you live a incredibly long life,


Angie D in Ohio said...

Good Morning my special friend. Although you had told me the reason why you changed your name I'm happy you shared it here. Now it's out there and the power your Mother had over a little girl named Kathy has diminished.

You are much stronger than you realize Olivia. It took a lot of courage to change your name, to face the year 44 knowing 45 was fast approaching and to live.

Thanks for opening your heart. I know that must be difficult for you at times. But you are strong, you have courage, and you have hope. And I'm so happy to have you in my life.

Happy Sunday....

love EB

kikipotamus said...

Thank you for sharing this here, Olivia. All the thoughts I have about it have already been expressed by others. I especially want to echo what Kate i said. xoxo K

couragetocreatewriteandlove said...

Olivia you are :-)
and i am so glad for you in all the ways.
this is making refelct on my own things (thank YOU) i have a daughter and when i get sick all i can think is of her and her wellbeing. i think i live for her to keep seeing her grow happy and successful and i want to be a greaat great grandma and i want to see my friend Olivia sharing her life online with me
let's growing old and together
i love YOU Olivia!

Olivia said...

Kate R,

Thank you, and I do too :) That's one of the differences between her and I, as I have not ever wanted to die nor do I now. She on the other hand spoke of it often and longingly, like she yearned for the end of a forced march or something. Thank you for your support, Kate,

Blessings and love, xoO

Olivia said...


Hello there, my special friend, too. Yes, I thought about that; I wanted to share it with everyone. It was sort of hard, but sort of freeing at the same time.

Thank you for your words of support, and I'm happy you are in my life too :)

Peace, love, joy, xoO

Olivia said...


You're welcome, Kelly. That happens to me all the time. I read a blog post and the amazing comments and think "Yes, yes, yes!" and want to let the writer know it with something like "all of the above". I'm glad you let me know, Love to you, xoO

Olivia said...


Thank you, my friend. I feel sorry for my mother because she was handicapped in how she could be a person and how she could love her children. I am so glad for you that you want only good things for your daughter. I love you too, xoO

rebecca said...

oh olivia...i love your name more than ever! you are so bright and filled with love, so courageous and willing to redefine yourself and the life you are living.
thank you for candor and your remarkable peace.

viva la vida!

Olivia said...

Blessings to you, and love always. Thank you, xoO

Kimora Avery said...

I am so happy for you Olivia! Know this: you are better than your mother. You are a strong and independent woman, one who doesn’t bind herself to such superstitious beliefs. It was good that you changed your name. You deserve a name that others will be able to remember for all the good that you’ve done, not your dark past.

Kimora Avery