"Become aware what is in you. Announce it, pronounce it, produce it and give birth to it." - Meister Eckhart

15 April 2015

Day 13 of the A to Z Blogging Challenge: M is for Michael

M is for Michael

Today, I want to tell you the story of my name because it's worth remembering that there's a story behind every name. I've often energized workshop groups simply by asking them to share the story of their name, what it means, how they got it, do they have a nickname and so on.

Before the age of five I don't particularly remember my name as being problematic in any way. Like a dog or cat, I assimilated it, knew the sound of it was different than my brothers' names (and our dog Sandy), and learned how the tone with which it was spoken was more important than the name itself.

However, when I got to school, my name suddenly became an issue -- at least with the teachers. You see, "Michael" is not my first name. My parents graced me with two other forenames -- "Robert" and "John" -- before "Michael". The former was in honour of my father and the latter recognised my great-grandfather. That didn't mean much then, but it does now and gives me a sense of connection with my ancestors. However, that was far from my schoolboy mind.

Every year, when the teacher read out the class list to ensure that we were all present, she would call out for a "Robert Williams". I sat there in silence, thinking perhaps that there might be another boy with that name. She called out again as if this other boy might be hard of hearing. Silent still.

Then she barked out the name, obviously irritated. Reluctantly, I put up my hand. At the same time she was chastising me for not answering, I was timidly explaining that my name was not "Robert" but "Michael". The class erupted into laughter. Their guffaws and my explanation only added to the confusion and her annoyance.

"It says here that your name is Robert," she said holding up the class roll, before adding, "If your name is not Robert, why did you put up your hand?"

"Because," I said, "it is me."

Of course, in those days, only first and last names were entered on the roll. There wasn't room for a multi-named individual, as there might be today. Once the class was settled down, I explained that my full name was "Robert John Michael" at which the class erupted once again and the teacher usually muttered something about my crazy parents.

The befuddlement lasted well into high school and beyond. Administrations everywhere just didn't seem to be able to cope with a boy with three first names. Of course, I tried to help them by lightening my name to just "Michael" to avoid unnecessary confusion, yet somehow I've always felt a little guilty about that.

In any event, I'm proud of my name, which is why I don't encourage shortening it to "Mike". You might raise your eyebrows and say, "Why, it's just a name afterall, a rose by any other name etc etc."

But to me my name is special. My name is Michael. What's yours? What's the story behind your name?

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"We have received only very positive reports of your workshop, and must thank you for being so flexible and responsive both before and in the course of implementing the workshop. It has been lovely to work with you. . . . We are hopeful this project will give rise to future storytelling endeavours, and would be very happy to work with you again if the opportunity arises!" Muireann Crowley, At Home in Scotland, University of Edinburgh, May 2014 ("Storytelling, Research and Public Engagement" workshop)

Michael Williams is a a storyteller of compelling skill. He is also a fine human being who engages in all situations and draws people into the warmth of communication and shared experience." Donald Smith, Director, Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh Scotland

"Michael's understanding of storytelling within a leadership and business context has helped us provide a great service in helping leaders determine their personal and organisational destiny and legacy. Working with Michael is inspiring and fun; and pulls you to be fully engaged from start to finish." Norton Bertram-Smith, Managing Director and Leadership Consultant for On Purpose.

Kamink: the little boy who grew into a giant of a man

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