I went home from the hospital without a name. No na-me as my mom says.
It isn’t as if my parents weren’t ready for a child, they were, and they had a boy’s name all picked out: Daymond Kenneth after my father and grandfather. But the girl’s name was more…elusive.
They considered Alexis, after the small town in Illinois where my father grew up, but they settled on Clara. Clara was my great-grandmother’s name on both my mother and father’s side. My mother’s grandmother raised her so not only was it a family name but it had special meaning and significance for my mom.
In the hospital the nurses did not like the name Clara. Clara? They would ask with their faces twisted in disgust. This was the era of Jennifer and Michelle. Clara was too old-fashioned.
My mother could have ignored the nurses, but she couldn’t ignore ME.
As the story goes, every time my mother called me Clara…I cried. Every time. My darling Clara she would coo…and I would burst into tears, protesting the name. My parents realized they couldn’t call me Clara, but they had to take me home, so I went home No Na-me.
When my parents lived in San Francisico they had friends who loved Yosemite. These friends would camp and hike there and always said, if we have a daughter we will name her Tenaya.
The name Tenaya stuck with my parents and finally they called their friends to ask if they could steal the name. We have an infant daughter here without a name, they said, can we call her Tenaya? Their friends said yes. That couple ended up having two boys so they never would have used the name, and I got to be Tenaya.
Now, to be honest, I did not love the name Tenaya when I was a child. It was hard to pronounce and remember. Every time my mom made an appointment for me over the phone she would say: her name is Tenaya, it rhymes with papaya, T-E-N-A-Y-A. Tenaya.
She said it so often I thought that whole thing was my name. As a toddler people would ask, what is your name little girl? I would dutifully reply dutifully, my name is Tenaya. It rhymes with papaya. T-E-N-A-Y-A. Tenaya.
But when I played dress up and princess I would choose Sarah or Tracy, those where the names I preferred.
It wasn’t until my parents started taking me to Yosemite that I really understood what an amazing name Tenaya really is. Not only is it a Lake in Yosemite National Park, Tenaya is the last chief of the Yosemite tribe.
When the white men came into Yosemite Valley led by Major Savage, and that was his name, it was Tenaya who resisted them and worked to keep his tribe in the valley. But Major Savage was a bad man and kidnapped Tenaya’s sons. To make sure no harm came to his sons Tenaya retreated and kept his tribe together as they moved to Mono Lake where his mother was from. Now there is a lake, creak, canyon and peak named Tenaya.
Every summer I take my kids to Yosemite. We hike and ride bikes and float down the Merced, all the things I loved doing as a kid. I get to share Yosemite with them and it is still very much my happy place.
My name has defined who I am. I am an environmentalist, like the chief. I strive to build community, just as Tenaya worked to keep his tribe together. I am a communicator, and Tenaya was too, calling his people together in celebration from the very top of Half Dome.
So I think I knew what I was doing as an infant. I protested the name Clara because I was not a Clara. I am, and am honored to be, Tenaya.
A Bit About Me
I am Tenaya, a communications strategist and public speaker telling stories that connect, inspire...and laugh.