In 1788, Redmond Red O’Day set off on a voyage to sail across to the new continent that had just become the United States of America. Whether he knew it or not, he was setting off to begin a new and different life on a far shore. After settling in the colony Tennessee Redmond Red eventually married a Cherokee woman by the name Berry Deer. They had a son named Rain and the lineage continued on from there.
There are many common ancestral threads on both sides of my family, but I came to love that one particular ancestor, his story, and what it symbolized for me. Clan Ua Déaghaidh, modernly O’Day, O’Dea, O’Dee, and so on, is an ancient and rebel clan with a long history.
I relate with the outlier persona often inherent with the term rebel, the fence walker, the fish out of water, and in Jungian psychology the concept of a mistaken zygote. Wherein it describes a soul that feels misplaced, as characterized by the tale of The Ugly Duckling.
“It is worse to stay where one does not belong at all than to wander about lost for a while and looking for the psychic and soulful kinship one requires”
– Clarissa Pinkola Estés
As I grew up, I began to understand I was not fully, shall we say, internally aligned with my familial environment. To say I simply took different paths spiritually, politically, and in many other ways than are common in my family, would be an incredible understatement. I tend to be very independently minded, as my partner often and lovingly points out to me.
Fence walkers, and those who are willing to be fully themselves; like a Salmon moving against the current toward what they believe is true and right, these are the souls I relate most to. This is by no means an unusual occurrence amongst artists, and I have met many along my path both artist and non-artist that share this experience.
I can not know why Mr. O’Dea set out of Ireland for a new coast. I can, however, relate to the enormity of taking a huge journey to leave familial and familiar shores to set out for the mystery of all that is unknown, to find yourself, in every sense, in a new space, and to rebuild a life with all you have come to understand and know.
After all, I have done this a few times, though the most significant of these was on my 16th birthday. I, shortly after, became legally emancipated, with the guidance of an attorney and social worker. I consented to limited legal guardianship with a close friend’s father. This allowed me to finish high school in a safe and supportive environment.
To do so, I had to leave a treasure trove of close friends, the seashore I loved, and my siblings. My parents had been separated, my father was living on his boat in the Florida Keys and my mother had essentially abandoned us to spend all her nights and days at her boyfriend’s home. I had already become accustomed to an independent life void of parentage, the choice to leave was a step toward freedom and well-being.
I love my family. I have learned a great deal from my parents and my siblings. This decision was not from a knee-jerk dislike, a desire to be separate, or a desire to escape. I simply found I had arrived in a space where this decision was called for, and seemed long overdue.
It’s not easy to explain, but some of that “taking of the reigns of my life” and the reversed child-parent role I bore with my mother are in some small part what lead me to want to take governance over my naming. Just as I had to become, in essence, my own parent as I came of age; I similarly felt a need to reclaim my earliest identity and give myself a name that speaks of my soul-self. It has felt like a warm homecoming.
Though, for me, it was also important to understand, embrace, and honor one’s ancestral lineage, without which I would not now be here. Thus it was essentional for me to select an ancestral name; so it was an easy decision to more fully embrace the ancestral O’Dea lineage.
There are also many important and pragmatic reasons I had for considering a change of name. These points were raised by artist mentors, business coaches, and close friends.
- very common names allow for mistaken identity
- the multiplicity of other visual artists and other artists of the same name makes it challenging to brand and stand apart
- the multiplicity of online arrest records and mugshots of other people with the same name
- aligning in a deeper way with ancestry, passions, and purpose
- transitioning mindfully into a new phase of life
In various traditions, it is common for a name to change occur after a “peak” moment, as well as being given by a spiritual teacher. About a year ago, I completed a week-long stay in the hospital. The event prompted me to think deeply about the ways I wanted to change my life and how I wanted to spend the rest of it. This does not require changing one’s name though.
Naturally, I have a list of things I want to do, learn, and experience. Yet the deeper more meaningful things were put under scrutiny too. Lifestyle, spirituality, and, more importantly, individuation on a whole. From there, I began working with a few artist mentors directly. I was doing a lot of research and reading. Additionally, I threw myself deep into two very similar, yet distinctly different, spiritual paths and began working with mentors and teachers in those traditions as well.
Over the winter, the deep introspection brought about the early glowing seeds of an idea that would eventually be fully realized. I decided I would change my name. At first, I thought it some whim of emotion that would pass, later I found myself searching through names and looking up the meaning of some nicknames I’ve received from others. I started researching why and how people change their name. I chewed and internalized the idea for months, even after interviewing friends who had done the same.
When I found myself thinking about it, I was only wondering how to do it, not if I should. I started interviewing the women my age that I knew had also changed their names. In the end, I chose a name that had a similar sound and meaning to my original name, is a nickname in certain circles on account of my dark hair and love of ravens, and reflected the advice of some mentors. Since the name touched all those points, it was an easy choice.
More important than some of the aesthetics was preparing for the birth of my next phase of life. This decision is about growth, self-ownership, and individual expression. It is common in spiritual and artistic circles to do. For that reason, I think it was not surprising to my closest friends and family that I told early on.
I’d like to introduce myself again now as Branna Ela O’Dea. The middle name, Ela, is a Cherokee word for Earth. It is also the word for earth in other indigenous American tribes, which suggests it is an old and primal, elemental word earth.
Branna has been made my first name because it’s root is from the word bran which in old Irish means raven. The raven is a beloved and meaningful symbol for me, as is likely apparent in my art. The fact that the raven was also a root word tied to my birth name, Brenda, is not lost on me. I feel it gives this story of metamorphosis a sense of completeness and congruence.