A lot of people don’t know that “Brett Will Taylor” isn’t my birthname.
It’s my chosen one. The one I chose, as a matter of fact, on Father’s Day 2009. The date was deliberate because, you see, my name represents the three father-figures who helped make me the man I am today. The ones who, though each are dead, shape how I see the world. How I move through it.
The idea to change my name came to me during an eight-day series of Ayahuasca dives in a Costa Rican rainforest in the summer of 2008. In the wee small hours of some morning, after spending eight or so hours with Mama Aya, a fellow diver told me how, in some traditions, a baby is not named until after its first year. The belief is that, after a year, you have a sense of the child’s personality and can give it a name that reflects who it is vs who you want it to be. That conversation followed me home to Boston and stalked me for about a year. Its potential was so powerful. If I could choose my name, what would it be?
The question stayed close to me all fall and winter of 2008. By spring of 2009, the answer was ready to emerge.
I would carry a name that honored my fathers. It was a bit of an odd choice because, as most anyone who knows me knows, I was very much raised by women. My mom and grandmother, to be exact. Yet, somehow, I knew my name was not to reflect that particular truth. I never really asked why. Maybe it’s because I don’t really look like a Barbara or a Dorothy….
Once I knew the answer to the approach, the application took care of itself. I had three main father figures in my life: my father, my grandfather and my stepfather. I would choose a three-part name that honored each of them quite intentionally and individually. And, thus, Brett Will Taylor was (re)born.
The name goes like this:
- Brett honors my grandfather. His last name was Brettman, but his nickname, throughout his life, was “Brett.” A gentleman through and through and a career military officer, Granddaddy taught me the values of respect and honor and the importance of living a life of purpose. And, so, Brett leads the way into my name. Every time I hold a door for someone or work with clients to create access to health care or build inclusive workplaces, I am doing so both as and for Brett.
- Will is a family name of my father’s. Actually, it’s Willard, which is a name I was given at birth, but, hey, who wouldn’t jump at the chance to ditch “Willard” for “Will.” I chose Will because, in part, I’ve been Will since birth and it fits me well. But I also chose it because it reminds me of family and family was important to Daddy. As I am doing now, Daddy made a priority of taking care of his mother as she aged. Daddy also taught me that family isn’t just defined by blood. It’s also defined by shared experience. By laughter, tears and love. By being there for each other and forever, day in and day out. I witnessed the power of that kind of family by seeing how tight Daddy was with the Golden Glove and mafia family that held him in Dallas for more than fifty years. And I experienced that power for myself when, upon arriving in Boston in 1991, I overnight found a gay family that holds me to this day. Just as I try to hold them. And, so, Will sits in the middle of my name. Just as family sits in the middle of my life.
- Taylor is my stepfather’s last name. Of my three names, it’s the most surprising to me. You see, my stepfather and I didn’t get along for many a year. Not because he wasn’t my father, but because he loved my mother and, in doing so, became the center of her world (a position I occupied the first ten years of my life). But somewhere along the way of their twenty-five year marriage, Tommy and I came to understand that neither of us were going anywhere. By the time he died, that bond was probably the closest I ever came to a true father-son bond. Tommy taught me two things. On good days, they are the most fundamental parts of who I am. First, he taught me how to love. My family doesn’t have a good track record when it comes to matters of love. Mom and Tommy set the gold standard and showed all of us how it’s done. All these years later, as my partner and I live in the family house that Mom and Tommy bought as newlyweds, I try to make sure the foundation remains one of true partnership and genuine love. Tommy also taught me the power of spirit. He was a deeply religious man his entire life. Me, not so much. As a little boy, I was deeply attached to spirit. Not through any particular religion, but rather the true essence of it all. The sun, moon, stars and earth. As I grew up, I came to see spirit as silly and childish and make-believe. As I watched my brothers die of AIDS, I also came to see religion as hateful and drenched in blood. But then, around the time I turned 40, things changed. A dead great-grandmother showed up and told me I was a shaman and the simple, natural wonder I knew as a child started seeping back into my life. In the earliest days of my return to spirit, Tommy was a guide. He was in the last two years of his life by then. He no longer could go to church. But he could pray before each meal. He could walk gently and talk gently. He could embody the very essence of spirit in every breath. Right up until his last. As a Taylor, I try to honor him, today and every day, by doing the same.
I love telling the story of my name because I so loved the men who allowed me to have it. And I so love Father’s Day because it reminds me how very important it is to remain mindful of and grateful for your elders. And to try your best to offer others the wisdom they offered you.
This-n-That is just that (and this!): A collection of words that don’t fit elsewhere, but that I still want to share.