Before we go any further there is something you should know about me. There are very few things I take extremely serious. I’ll crack a joke about mental health, death, and all kinds of other topics that leave people feeling awkward. People move away from me in order to make room for the eventual god-smack that will happen from my irreverent sense of humor. One of the most serious things in my life has been names and the act of naming. My name is one of the most valuable pieces of heritage I was given. My full name is Jasmine Dione Banks. That is a strong name, right? My name is so valuable to me, in fact, that when I decided to marry at the tender age of twenty I decided to keep my full name. My parents took the task of giving me a name very serious. When my mother discovered she was pregnant with me, she set to the task of determining what I would be called: who I would be. In the 80’s, the era of my conception and birth, people were still holding on to that hippie wave. By “people” I mean my mother. She was still all “free love” and “groovy”. She believed that the name she would give me would inevitably shape who I was in the world. It is the first thing that people interact with. My mother and father poured over books by ancient philosophers, historical accounts of strong women, and first-hand accounts of civil rights leaders. My mom recalls, “ I could feel how powerful you were.” To hear her tell the story, you’d believe she was about to birth Joan of Arc. “I knew you would be unique,” she’d reassure me, “every parent says that, but I remember a clear energy shift when I was pregnant with you.” My father also took name giving seriously. He found himself dreaming about what kind of person I would be. My parents agreed to not talk about names they wanted until a set date. Since both of my parents felt that my name would be an emotional and historical gift, they set out to meditate and research individually. On the morning of the date they agreed upon, the first week in my mother’s last trimester, my parents went for a walk. The early morning sun was starting to kiss the skyline in Enid, Oklahoma. My father grabbed my mother’s hand and looked into her October Sky Blue eyes. He pulled out a piece of paper and handed it to my mother. She opened the small slip of paper and began to gently weep. On the paper my father had written, “Jasmine”. My mom pulled out a small folded piece of paper of her own. She unfolded the paper and held it up to my father. A huge grin spread across his face as he read “Jasmine”, written on the paper in cursive. They both laughed and wept and knew: My name would be Jasmine.
I was named after the Jasmine flower. The flower, to my parents, represented a a strong beautiful fragrance, with a juxtaposed gentleness in the mysterious bloom. My given middle name is Dione. Dione is a derivation of Diana, Goddess of the moon and hunt. Diana’s qualities are her physical strength and independence. They wanted my names to impart these qualities to me and manifest in my life.
That whole story was made up. My mom named me Jasmine because she really liked a song called “Summer Breeze” by Seals and Croft. One day (probably while high on marijuana) my mom heard the song and it was soothing to her. “Blowin’ through the Jasmine in my mind” made my mom relax and so she decided to name me Jasmine. My middle name, Dione, came from my mother’s favorite Psychic Friend: Dionne Warwick. Yeah. I know! I discovered this painful reality about the origin of my name in elementary school. My class was tasked with writing autobiographies and interviewing our parents about our lives. The other kids recounted stories of inheriting names, being named after their parent’s favorite novels, and other really crazy cool name origin stories. Me? I got my name from a song that would one day be a jingle for a ceiling fan commercial. This is one of my earliest memories of family angst. Lacking a name origin story with gravitas, I found myself rooted firmly in a neurotic space. I’d indignantly quiz my mom, “So you just liked a song and named me after it?” She would answer with the same puzzled, “yes Jasmine” over and over again. I suppose I should practice gratitude that I wasn’t named after Wham! “Careless Whisper”, the Billboard Chart Topper in 1985. Glass half full, right?