What’s in a Name

On this day 65 years ago, my parents were married. James Michael Cummins and Willena Mae Livingston… the best mom and dad a little girl could have had.

And now, a little story that tells something about my parents…

I was born Willena Rose Cummins, first child and only daughter of my father.

When I was a small girl, I didn’t like being the only Willena in my entire school. I didn’t know anyone by the name of Rose either, except for my Great Aunt Rose, for whom I was named. I liked Aunt Rose, but saw her as old lady with a very old-fashioned name.

My father was hospitalized off and on for two years before he died of leukemia, when I was 7. A year later my mom remarried. We never regained the stability we had before my father fell ill. For the next ten years we moved EVERY school year. Always in the same town, but flip-flopping among three of the five elementary schools. My stepfather was a kind and generous man, but “friends” at school never let me forget that he was “the town garbage man” and an alcoholic. By the time I reached high school, I knew most of the kids there, but I had no close friends.

All of this emphasized in my mind the fact that I was “different”, and did not fit the mold. Being the only one with my name only magnified all the other differences, and I felt isolated and very much a misfit.

One day when I was about 16, I was complaining to my mom about being the only Willena in a school of 1200 students. I will never forget her response.

“Willena, have you ever stopped to think that your brown eyes and your first name are the ONLY things your father gave you, that no one can ever take away from you?”

Wow. THAT was a slap up the side of the head. Nine years after my father’s death, I still missed him sorely. Even now, 57 years later (he passed away Aug. 3, 1960), there is a hole in my heart because I still miss him. This picture shows my little brothers and me with our Great Aunt Rose, taken at our maternal grandparents’ farm shortly after our father died.

My mom’s simple words turned everything around for me. It didn’t matter any more that I was “the only one”, or that people would mispronounce and misspell my name. I wasn’t “different” any more… I was unique. I had something special and precious, that I would cherish from that day forward. I decided that day that I would name my first daughter Willena, making it a family tradition in honour of my father. When Irene was born, there were three Willena’s… Willena Mae, Willena Rose, and Willena Irene.

They say the sweetest sound to a person’s ear is the sound of his own name. And it’s so important to say it correctly, in the form he prefers.

For example, my name is Willena. Not Willie or Willy or Will. It’s Willena. I could write a book on the numerous pronunciations and spellings people have come up with for my name. Wilena… Willeen… Willene… Willamina… Lowena…Wilma… and the list goes on. My favourite is Wylena…!

I don’t get upset when people get it wrong — especially if I know they don’t do it deliberately. But the fact remains, the sweetest sound to a person’s ear is the sound of his own name. When you are speaking with someone you have just met, use his name. Find out how to pronounce it, and make sure you are saying it correctly. It will mean so much to him, and give him the feeling that he is important to you.

© Willena Flewelling


  1. Hello Willena, Yeppers you are the only Willena I know! I Love your name girl friend! You certainly are unique!
    Great story, Thanks for sharing..
    Chery :))
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  2. Hi Willena
    Your posts are so personal – stories from your family.
    I loved the last part -“the sweetest sound to a person’s ear is the sound of his own name. When you are speaking with someone you have just met, use his name. Find out how to pronounce it, and make sure you are saying it correctly. It will mean so much to him, and give him the feeling that he is important to you” I will remember that.. Thanks

  3. Hello Willena,

    I am sorry about what happened to your father but his name will live on.

  4. Hi Willena.

    I had never heard the name Willena before reading you’re blog, so hearing the story behind it was really nice. I’m so glad your mom’s answer turned things around for you from that day forward. 🙂

    Keep on sharing your great stories!

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  5. Willena,
    When I was growing up, I was the only Erica. And my father came from Jerusalem and had an accent. I used to feel embarrassed by that – and so different. My father also died in 1960 and I would love to spend time with him now, listening to that beautiful accent and hearing stories of his childhood. I would now cherish every moment.

    As far as having a different name, on the internet that is a gift. If you had a name that many other people have, it is much more difficult to be found and to stand out.

    And as for the name Rose, that was my grandmother’s name and also my sister-in-law’s name. Rose is a beautiful name – and so is Willena.


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  6. You have made it so simple to show respect for our name sake! Yes, our names tells our history and service to others. I appreciate this article, with your history and ability to make it known proper usage of our names, is the norm. Most people love to shorten names for they comfort. Never, giving thought of how offensive it is to those who’s names it is.

    Thanks for keeping it real and personal. That is what i call transparency!
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  7. What a great legacy you’re carrying on—something to remind you every day of your cherished memories of your father.
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  8. I love my father more than anything in this world. I’m sorry about your father,.

  9. What a great and touching story Willena!

    And wasn’t it great that your Mom finally help
    you put things in the proper perspective!LOL!

    And going forward, you are able to do the same for
    all the future name sakes! That’s truly awesome!And great story!

    Thanks for sharing it!
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  10. I too love the name Willena (and Rose).

    I was one of 13 Susans in my grade year at high school, 6 of them were in my class all the way through! I’m not sure why it was such a popular name the year I was born. We became known by variations such as Suzanne, Suzie or even second names. I was Sue and I still prefer that.

    I can empathize with you losing your father at such an early age. Mine was my idol and he died when I was 13. The ache has never quite gone away over 40 years later. My own mother never remarried, – she was sick from me being about 6. I had to take on a lot of responsibility after dad died.

    My dad was Irish, Erica, and I adored listening to his stories and songs about “the old country”

    We were quite poor but I won a scholarship to a school across town. I always felt different because most came from affluent families and neighborhoods. I think my lifelong desire for travel came from not being able to afford to go on school trips, including the annual one to Europe. I’ve made up for it now 🙂
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  11. Willena; I was so envious of your name when I was a child. Being named Susan in an era when the name was so popular; then coming from a family where nicknames were popular. Up to my college days, I was known as Susie. When attending post-secondary I used this time to start introducing myself as Susan. It was like having a new name.

    I have so many fond memories of your mother, Willena, and how she always gave me a haven from my overbearing siblings.

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