What do we leave behind when we die?
Most wish to leave behind good memories for their loved ones, maybe a will of their possessions and wealth to back it up. Some want their work to extend beyond personal relationships, to a fame that lasts for ages. Fewer beg to be remembered for anything at all, whether it be for a heart of gold or an unforgivable deed.
We leave an impression different to all that may know us, existing beyond death in the memories of the living. Still, most of us will be given that privilege of true passing out of existence, nothing to search for in history books, disappearing with hardly a thing to our name. In fact, hardly a thing but our name.
Yet that is why a name can mean so much. Whether that of our own, or that we give to someone else, names collect in our mind. Some will use multiple names over their lifetime, each one reflecting a crucial piece of their identity. Names are a part of oneself that will literally be set in stone far after our death. But in life, they are malleable. They are meaningful.
All at our own fingertips.
A name isn’t just in legal records. We shape one’s perception of ourselves via what we allow them to call us, and many will gain other things they allow certain people to call them- nicknames. Yet the concept of a nickname comes with casualness and immaturity. They’re not to be used in professional circumstances, or become what everyone calls you. Even less so if your nickname isn’t just a shortation of your ‘real’ name.
Despite that, my own nickname, T-Wolf, is one I use regularly, for all settings. If a name can hold meaning, identity, a whole living being- I say that this one holds it all for me.
The beginning comes from my legal name, Thanh-Lan. Given to me by my parents, it means ‘orchid’ in Vietnamese. It was a sticking point of correction every time I was in a new class with a new teacher, correcting them each first time. Quite hypocritically, though, as I pronounced it wrong for three years myself. Still, despite the embarrassment and exasperation, I have used it for more formal situations and academics- and still do.
The end comes from a different, much more amusingly haphazard nickname I was given in sixth grade. Coming into middle school with a thirst to prove myself, I decided my quirk of adolescence would be barking and howling. I garnered a reputation for uncannily mastering the sounds of actual canines- but also, garnered friends. One of them labeled me with the nickname ‘Nightwolf’, from a fictional character I’d never heard of before. That friendship lasted maybe a year, but the name stuck with me. Only then, had the notion that my name could leave a positive impression to those around me, ever existed.
In the end, I merged the two. The tall, unyielding ‘T’ and curious hyphen, latched onto a ‘Wolf’ who hadn’t howled in seasons. It was weird, it was memorable, and it was passionate. I fell in love with it from the start, plastering it across my online profile, as well as introducing myself in real life with it.
Many peers have welcomed T-Wolf with easy grins and curious tongues. Teachers, with intrigued brows and accepting nods. I remain firm in the notion that a ‘strange’ or ‘silly’ name deserves its own respect for the courage to give it. T-Wolf is my name, first and foremost, and no one can take away how intertwined with my identity it is. I use it wherever I please, refusing to bat an eye when I explain it upon meeting people. Though I definitely existed as a human before it, the confidence and peace it gave me to reconcile so many tumultuous aspects of myself is one I could never deny. It is my name, the one I hope to set in stone upon my passing, and leave for plenty to remember- even if that is all of me that they ever will.