Evolution of a Name-Change
During my first year in college, I lived in the unique Stadium Scholarship Dormitory at The Ohio State University. The late lamented Stadium Dorm had been built into the very walls of Ohio Stadium, literally under the west bleachers, in a vast and esoteric network of halls, usually-windowless dorm-rooms that often differed vastly among themselves, and cavernous public areas. The Stadium Dorm had been conceived as cooperative on-campus housing for undergraduates at Ohio State; only four or five of the 350-plus souls who rattled around the place were paid staff: almost all the day-to-day operations were run by residents in exchange for reduced housing. You could only live in the Stadium if you were eligible for a scholarship.
Being among the brighter bulbs in the pack and living in such an odd environment, Stadiumites developed a rich and eccentric subculture.
During my freshman year, I lived in a “unit” (a cluster of usually six rooms, but in this case, nine) dominated by many of the dorm’s more colorful movers-and-shakers. One of them, Dean LaRue, started, not long into my first quarter, to call me “Chris-o.”
This name puzzled me; nobody had ever called me that before-I had always been just plain “Chris.”
“Dean,” I inquired one day, “Why do you call me ‘Chris-o’?”
“That’s what your roommate calls you when he gets drunk.”
My roommate had never called me that to my face, but his drinking had increased precipitously during that quarter, so, knowing that he was spending enough time drunk these days to earn himself the name, “Wild Man,” I was sure that there was ample opportunity for Dean to note his speech patterns while under the influence.
I didn’t dislike the name “Chris-o;” I was just a tad bewildered by it. In fact, I kinda liked it. In the first flush (fortunately, not literally) of freshman hazing, several other names had been applied to me, and hoping to distract anyone from adopting any of the others, I encouraged the use of this one, by far the least objectionable up to that point.
During and after college I was heavily involved in what is now known as GCAC, a tight-knit community of evangelicals with whom I had become connected through friends in the Stadium Dorm, and so the nickname “Chriso” had become widely known in that community. In fact, toward the end of my days with them, there was a strong trend in that community by the pastors to discourage the use of nicknames–an act that reinforces the proposition that names carry great power. Partly because I found it intrusive of them to dictate how I should be known, and partly just because I liked my name, I flouted their authority by not discouraging the use of “Chriso.”
A story will illustrate how tied I had become to the name:
During my time in GCAC, I worked for a year as a file clerk in a hospital. I became friendly with one of the security guards, Diane. As we graduated from friendly greetings at the door to actual conversation, I introduced myself as Chris. She cocked her head, frowned and remarked that somehow the name didn’t quite suit me. When I then volunteered that my friends called me “Chriso,” she broke into a huge smile and nodded in vigorous affirmation. “That’s who you are!” she exclaimed.
I broke with GCAC, which I now recognize as having been a cult, about five years after I graduated from college and began a new life among people who were, for the most part, not accustomed to calling me “Chriso,” and the name faded into my past.
Some of the rigidity of my religious life began to fade, as well: during the seven or so years after leaving GCAC, I came to embrace my gayness and to evolve across the religious and political spectrum from being extremely conservative to extremely liberal. I came to appreciate the Bible as metaphorically, but not literally, true, and to acknowledge that we are all, in the most literal sense of the word, “a-gnostics,” since faith is not proof: none of us really knows, objectively, about God.
As the Ohio State alma mater puts it, the seasons passed and the years rolled, and at age 34 I was feeling a deep yearning to identify my “tribe.” That fall I found myself surrounded by gay counterculturalists who call themselves “Radical Faeries” at a gathering at a nature sanctuary in central Tennessee. Knowing little about the Radical Faeries, I nonetheless felt drawn to explore what they were about and trekked into the hills among a couple hundred strange and fabulous men I had never met before.
I found the Faeries to be, above all, whimsical: laughing, creative, childlike, wondering, incongruous, open–whimsical. Suddenly, I understood that those qualities existed within me, and that they had been the qualities that had made Diane smile in recognition when she first heard my name “Chriso.” All those years ago, I’d had a Faerie name, but it had taken 14 years for me to discover that that’s what it had been. And so I reclaimed that name as a rite of passage back toward my whimsical Faerie self.
At first I used the name “Chriso” only among the Radical Faeries, but as my musical career developed, I began using it as a stage name as well, especially among the broader Pagan community.
No longer being Christian and not resonating at all with the New Age notion of “Christ-Consciousness,” which might have mitigated the Christ imagery, I felt less and less comfortable with a name that means, literally, “Christ-bearer.” Wanting to distance myself from the Christian roots from which “Chriso” derived, and wanting a name that would appear a bit more exotic and mystical on publicity materials, I began playing with alternate ways of spelling the sounds in my name. That’s how I came up with K-H-R-Y-S-S-O.
Though I had a degree in Linguistics, a discipline that had helped me to contrive this new spelling, I had not thought consciously about any meanings that this new name might have in and of itself. Only later did I begin having conversations with Greek people who would say to me, “Do you know that your name means ‘gold?”
Hmmm. Chrysalis. Chrysolite. Chrysanthemum… Yes, I guess I did.
This awareness brought whole new layers of meaning to my name, not only because I had been liberated from implying, every time I rendered it into print, doctrinal statements about the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth, but because the idea of gold was significant to me:
Since my early adolescence I had thought, from time to time, about the attractiveness of not going on in life any longer–in fact, I had felt low and self-destructive the summer that I decided to go visit the Radical Faeries in Tennessee that first time. To think of myself as being something precious has served as a reminder to me that my life has value and is not to be taken lightly–certainly not something to throw away.
The Enneagram is an ancient tool that comes to us from Sufi mysticism to explain the dynamic ways in which personality traits relate to one another. In the mystical tradition the spiritual implications of the different ways of being are accounted for. Nowadays psychology has co-opted the Enneagram for its own purposes and has, in many cases, robbed the sophisticated system of interactions of their spiritual significance, but my spiritual understanding has been enhanced by this tool.
As for me, I have located myself at #8 on the Enneagram. Eights are reputed for operating from their gut, and our typical pattern, under stress, when our gut-orientation is not serving us well, is to go to our heads. This is certainly my pattern. But the lore of the Enneagram is that my redemption, so to speak, lies in my seeking not my intellect but my heart to resolve my deepest and most painful spiritual issues.
Spiritual traditions across time and all over the world teach me that my redemption lies in my heart. In (East) Indian metaphysics, there are seven energy centers in the body, called “chakras.” One of the chakras is located around the area of the heart, and the teaching concerning the heart chakra is that it is the center for compassion, relationships, and healing. (Obviously this is also true in western metaphysics.) I have been told from time to time that I relate most deeply to people through my heart chakra and that my energy there is strong.
I remember one time lending my first 12-string to someone for a few minutes after a concert, and when he handed it back to me, he said with a smile, “This has a lot of heart-chakra in it!”
After I went public with my Faerie name “Khrysso,” I felt the need to have another name to be known by among the Faeries. I chose “Heart” as my new Faerie name, another reminder, as Khrysso was a call to remember that my life is precious: my very name would be a call to memory that it was in finding my heart that I would find my integrity. With time, however, I came to believe that it was important that I bring that name, too, out of the closet, so to speak, since heart-energy is what I’m about as a healer. I was in theological school at the time, studying how to form in myself the character of a spiritual leader, and I wanted very much for my diploma to name these callings of mine.
I have never reproduced and I never expect to; I am a terminal node on the family tree. Since there are already males in the next generation of my family to carry on my father’s name, my not using my original surname “Wagner” will have no more negative impact genealogically than did my sister’s having changed her name when she married. So while I agreed with my father that Wagner was indeed a fine name, I felt no particular need for it to define me, since patrilineality was not on the agenda for me. I knew my roots, just as my married sister knew hers; I didn’t need the name to remind me.
For a last name I want to use something political in the sense that “the personal is political,” as they’ve been saying for a couple of decades in feminist circles. Partly as a function of gay visibility and partly because, as a Pagan, I think it has power for me to identify outwardly as having many qualities of a faerie–some of the magical qualities of faeries are among my most appealing qualities, too. So I have been, in the Pagan community, using the name “LeFey,” as in Morgan LeFay of the Arthur legend-cycle. I liked the name because it means “fairy” and thus was a way for me to make an in-your-face statement that the name could never again be used as an epithet against me. Also, it had the the literary precedent, so while it was offbeat, it wasn’t entirely unknown to the public, at least the literate public in the circles in which I was likely to run.
And so I became Khrysso Heart LeFey, son of Victoria Josephine Marmo Wagner and Donald Charles Wagner. And so it was entered into the records in the courts in the city and county of Denver, Colorado, USA.
©2000 Khrysso Heart LeFey