What’s in a Name?

I was born and raised in Kerala, India. I have lived in the United States twenty eight years. During these years, only very few people have attempted to pronounce my last name and only a handful have succeeded. Most people either mangle it or give up and say, “I’ll just call you Paul.” During those moments, I had fleeting thoughts about changing my name to Paul Smith.

One day, I googled my name and there were 178 results. It was about eight years ago. Today there are 2120 results under my name on Google. But the surprising revelation is that I am the ONLY Paul Veliyathil on the planet, at least according to Google. The same is true according to the white pages of the phone book of my city.

On the other hand, the name “Paul Smith” has more than 776 million results on Google. That day, I decided, once and for all, that regardless of how many people mispronounced my name or considered me a “foreigner,” I was going to keep my name and be proud of it. Besides, my chance of being a victim of identity theft is less as most criminals won’t bother to fabricate a unique name as mine.

Once, I experienced the greatest blessing of my name when one of my hospice patients tried to pronounce it.

Dolores was 79 years old with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. She is charmingly confused, blissfully ignorant and a joy to be around because she is so innocent and playful. She revels in the attention I give her, and I enjoy the experience of looking into her twinkling eyes and wondering what an amazing life she has had before Alzheimer’s set in. Every time I am in the presence of patients like Dolores, I am elevated to the realm of mystery.

Dolores tells me that she is 30 years old and her husband is 25 and that they have a 35 year old daughter. When I point out that is impossible, she squeezes my hand and laughs with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. Regardless of the content of our mundane and disjointed “conversations,” I always enjoy visiting her, because there is a pure joy that comes from being in the presence of someone going through the “second childhood.”Anyone who enjoys being with little children will enjoy being with Alzheimers patients, because they are like children in all aspects, except in size.

During a recent visit, Dolores asked me what my name was, and I said “Paul.” I did not want to confuse her with my name so many so called “normal people” find so hard to pronounce. But she insisted on knowing my last name. So I showed her my VITAS Hospice badge. She looked at it intensely for a few seconds, then she looked at me and asked, “Veryfaithful”?

My jaw dropped and tears welled up in my eyes. I was instantly elevated to a place of gratitude and grace. I felt as if Dolores had peered into my soul and invited me to live up to the meaning of my name as she saw it. I took it as an affirmation of my life and as a challenge to be faithful to God, faithful to my job and faithful to life itself.