It used to be easy. . .

. . . or at least it seems so. Identity. That is today’s writing prompt. Let me share what I think, what I know—probably it will be mostly a lot of what I think I know.

I remember when I was in college in the sixties and suppose to write a paper for a psychology class. Who am I? was the title. I got a “A” on it. I wrote about who I was physiologically, intellectually, and emotionally. Despite the grade on a great paper, I really had no clue who I was. The sixties were confusing times. For previous generations, it seemed one’s identity seemed to be set before them, like aplate of food.

What’s your name? Our names are given by our parents, and we are called by those names until we either accept them or change them. In high school a friend of mine had III after his name, denoting that his name was the same as his father’s and his grandfather’s. My father would have named me after himself, and I’d have Junior following my name. My mother objected. Every Ted, she said, was called Teddy as a child. While she didn’t say why, exactly, she didn’t like Teddy. I was named Terrence William. I have no clue who the Terrence came from, except maybe out of thin air. The William was from my Uncle, a Welsh coal miner. He was called Willie, and it wasn’t until many years later my mom discovered that Willie wasn’t a nickname, it was his complete first name.

Every kid seems to get a nickname. I was dubbed Terry. I really didn’t like that name. I really still don’t. When things were going good, my dad would say, “Terry Willie. . .” When I wasn’t in good graces, he’d say, “Terrence William. . .” When I returned to college in the late 1980s to study journalism, I wanted to write under the name Wil Robinson. My first journalism instructor at a community college said it was a weak name. When I got into Humboldt State University to complete my degree, I simple introduced my self as Wil Robinson, and began writing under that name. People I knew in Arcata knew me as Wil.

What do you do? Names, however, don’t fully identify us. There’s our occupation, for instance. Whether we like it or not, this way of identifying us exists today to some extent, as it has for centuries. But before the 1960s, which I think was a turning point, sons seemed to follow pretty closely in their fathers’ footsteps. And daughters’ too, in that they’d get married and become copies of their mothers, and used to take on the last name of their husband. And last names can be traced to occupations, too. Carpenter. Butcher. I have a picture of my brother and I posing in front of our house. I was maybe seven or so, and my brother three. We are dressed in khakis. Army khaki uniforms made by my mom. No, not halloween. We were going somewhere and my father would be dressed in his khaki uniform, too. I don’t recall every my father saying he thought I’d follow in his chosen profession, which was his fathers and as far as I know on back the line to the first Robinson to land in North America well before the United States was born.

So when my father enrolled me in military academy when I was twelve, it seemed a strong hint that I was suppose to step into his boots. Following my first year at an academy near home, he sent me to Wisconsin to the military academy he’d attended for high school, just prior to WWII. His pictures were on the wall of the main hall at Northwestern Military and Navel Academy. One of his instructors was still there. Things had change little. In many ways, the disciple, the order, fit pretty well with me for a time. I was pretty good at it.

Now my brother’s occupation came about much differently— the brother that was in that photo with me. When he was very young, I remember he used to take things apart, especially electrical things. My parents said he’d be in electronics. Sure, enough, he studied electronic engineering and worked until his retirement for companies like Xerox and Logitech.

Who are you, really? I doubt people ask you that question. We are identified by our name and our profession or trade, yet identity also involves who we are as human beings. In my first experience in college, in the 1960s, a psychology 101 class paper was to be written on “Who am I?” I wrote about physiological, emotional, and intellectual aspects of me as a person. I may have added some spiritual aspects, too. I got an “A” on that paper, but seriously didn’t know who I was then at all.

If I were to write that paper today, I’d probably have added a section on character. Identity is closely related to character. And I believe we do get that from our parents, our teachers in school, our preachers, and our peers. Family values. Integrity, or lack of it, begins at home, for example.

Teach a youth about the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.
—Proverb 22:6

A parent has a grave responsibility. A duty, really. Parents pass down to their children more than a name and possibly a trade or profession. A parent passes down the values of that a parent. It doesn’t have to be spoken to be picked up. Actions teach just as well as word. Better, really.

At some point in our lives we begin to self-identify our selves, creating someone different from the person our parents brought into the world. Perhaps make up a new nickname, or even changing names. We don’t have to follow in the same occupation as our parents. Women today decide not to marry, or to marry but have a career or occupation. Women don’t change their names to that of their husbands. Yet there remains within us the core values we’ve been exposed to throughout our upbringing.


Camera cuts to a young boy with a fishing pole in one had and a sandwich in the other.

“My bologna has a first name, it’s O-s-c-a-r. My bologna has a second name, it’s M-a-y-e-r,” sings the boy.

Camera cuts to a close-up shot of ripe tomatoes and a head of lettuce AND a package of Oscar Mayer bologna.


So a piece of bologna—mystery meat—has the name of its maker. Mystery meat wrapped in nice packaging. Huh. Isn’t that the case with humans. A lot beneath the packaging that we can’t see.

Anyway. Identity. Name, occupation, values, are part of what makes us who we are. We may or may not like our name; same with our occupation. We can change those. Values. Those aren’t as easily changed. There is a struggle that goes on when we decide we no longer care for the way we are, the way we’ve become. The Apostle Paul put it this way:

Though I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
—Romans 7:21-25

When we come to realize that the only way we will change is though spiritual help, and when we turn from our old ways and toward G-D through Jesus, we become new. A new man or a new woman. We are reborn into a new family. And the head of that family is G-D Himself. We’re like that mystery meat with a great wrapper. Unlike that piece of meat, however, as we begin to spend time with our Creator, study His Words to us, spend time with others in the family, we adopt the values of our Creator and His family. Our outward selves may remain the same, our names, or occupations, but our inner selves change. We immediately are given a new, spiritual name known only by our Lord Jesus.

L-RD Bless, Keep, Shine. . .

2 thoughts on “It used to be easy. . .

  1. yup, you are a writer, a thinker, a kind word given as valuable and soothing as a cup of cold water on a hot humid Georgia summer day.


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