After 25 years of going by the name Rob, I have returned to Robin.
The Story of My Name
Robin is the name that Iwas given at birth. The full name I was given at birth was Robin Julian Greenfield.
I was named after the robin bird. While my mom was pregnant with me there was a robin nesting next to our small house in the countryside near Lake Superior. As this mother robin was nurturing her babies, so, too, was my mom nurturing a Robin of her own. She was about six months pregnant with me in May of 1986 when she first noticed this nesting robin bird and soon after decided to call me Robin. My dad also felt a love for Christopher Robin, from “Winnie-the-Pooh”, so when my mom proposed this name, he was pleased for me to be carry on his live for Christopher Robin.
My middle name, Julian, was passed down to me by mother in honor of my great, great uncle Jules, who died just a couple years before I was born at the age of 72. My mom had a deep love for her great uncle Jules and his wife Ruth and felt comforted by them during her childhood.
I was given my mother’s last name, Greenfield. My parents were never married and my dad was not very present in our life, so all four of us children – Joe, Levi, Rebecca and I – were given the last name Greenfield. The first Greenfield that we know of is Joseph Greenfield who came over from Vinnytsia, Ukraine in the 1890’s. His last name was likely Gruber, Grover (when anglicized) or something along those lines upon arriving in the US.
The Child that Yearned to be Rob
The society that I was born into – in the small town of Ashland in Northern Wisconsin – was part of the dominator society. Most people had names that were heard often in our society and were frequently shared by others within our community. My best friends were Paul, Kyle, Jeffrey, Daniel, Alex, Sarah, Rachel and Dane. (But, of course, there was Hans!) It was a predominately Christian/Catholic town. The vast majority of residents were white – the region was settled largely by Scandinavians – and there was very minimal diversity. My school was about 20% Anishinaabe, however, most of my Native American peers were not embracing their traditional ways and went by their English names, at least in school.
My family moved to the region in 1986. My mom was from Skokie, a suburb of Chicago, and my dad was from Michigan. When they moved to Ashland, they had no relatives in the state. My mom was the only Greenfield for many miles. We were outsiders. My mom was born to Jewish parents in Skokie and every child and parent before them were Jewish, as far as we know. Although we did not practice Judaism, my mom is Jewish, so I am ethnically Jewish. Judaism is a religion, but it is also an ethnicity. We did celebrate Hanukkah and spin some dreidel, but simply not being Catholic was enough to set us apart from the majority of people.
We were poor. My mom made less than $20,000 per year to support us four children, and she received support from the government and family. We had three dads, none of whom provided much support. I was embarrassed by the paint chipping off our old house on the busy intersection of Beaser Ave and 3rd St. I was embarrassed by the rust on our old car. I was embarrassed that my mom was kind of a hippy, with her long braid down to her waist and the glass beaded hair clips. I was embarrassed to not have a father in my life. I was embarrassed by my clothes. In so many ways, I felt shame. I had a great lack of self-love and confidence.
I wanted so deeply to belong. I wanted so deeply to be accepted. I really wanted to be loved.
At the age of 12, I was in sixth grade and a friend of mine, who also bullied me quite a bit, decided to call me Rob. I loved it! I was so desperately wanting to fit in and the name Robin was a constant reminder to others that I was different.
My concerns with Robin were numerous. It was considered a more feminine name and I existed in a homophobic society where anything that a boy did that appeared feminine could result in being teased for being gay. It was an unusual name in a society where the standard was to have a name that was easy to pronounce and similar to everyone else’s. Robin was the sidekick to Batman. He was not a hero.
Patrick had just provided a solution to all of this! Rob was incredibly normal. I could absolutely blend in with this name. I embraced it wholeheartedly in the years ahead and I worked hard to become Rob. At the beginning of the school year, I spoke to teachers before class and asked them clearly to make sure they called me Rob when they called out our names for roll call. I told all my friends to call me Rob. I no longer wrote Robin – ever. This was one of my embarrassments that I could control, and control it I did. Within a relatively short period of time everyone was calling me Rob.
My desire for normalcy continued through high school and university. The university that I went to, University of Wisconsin – La Crosse, is one of the whitest public universities in the nation. I had rewritten myself by then to fit the standards of “normalcy” and I had a fresh start. Nobody would know that my real name was Robin if I had any control over it. I held onto Rob, and the identity that I had created around the name with all my might. In junior year, my girlfriend did not find out that I was Jewish until after many months of dating me and she only learned by accident during a visit to a family member. This was the level to which I had decided that my past was my past and that I was now Rob with all the normalcy that name represented.
I embraced a new way of life that most of my peers back in Wisconsin would not have embraced nor accepted. Many of my daily actions were actually designed to help others awaken from this delusion of normalcy. My mission became to radically shift my life to live simply and sustainably. And, in the process, reach millions with messages of truth and positive change. Yet, at the same time, I held onto a certain level of normalcy in the public eye. I knew the dominator society that I was working with. I knew how they perceived outside ideas. I knew that if I wanted to bring these ideas of a different way of being to them and to have them accepted, I would need to package them in a way that they would be receptive to. I needed to craft a message that could get through to mainstream media production so that I could reach everyday people across the nation.
As I continued on this path of truth and integrity, I became less and less attached to the name Rob and more open to Robin. A few people close to me even started to call me Robin with endearment and affection – especially my partner at the time, Cheryl. I felt really connected to Cheryl when she called me Robin and I started to love the name.
I could now love Robin because I no longer saw a polarization of the feminine and masculine. I saw each of us as individuals having characteristics of both the feminine and masculine and I embraced qualities of femininity and masculinity within me. I had shed much of my own homophobia and no longer had any issue with someone being gay. Thus, why would I even care if someone thought I am gay? I had done substantial work to overcome social normalcies. I no longer believed in ideas such as a “man’s name” and a “woman’s name”. Instead of separation and individualism, I now generally think of interconnectedness and community. I was becoming whole and complete within. I was truly starting to love myself, just as I was.
However, as I had continued on this path, more and more people now knew me as Rob, like millions of people. My name was printed on thousands of articles around the world. There was my website and social media. There were the official sources, like Wikipedia. Rob was now intrinsic to my life. In my early thirties, I first started to contemplate returning to Robin, but was hesitant to put in the time and energy. It would be a lot of work. But more importantly, I was concerned about harming the online work I had established such as the SEO. It’s not exactly an ideal strategy to change a name when so much is built around it. So, for a number of years, I put it off as a possibility for some future day.
Return to Robin
There is one thing that changed it for me. One thing that would make it worth all the work to change my name… One thing that allowed me to accept the potential loss of online presence I had built… That one thing is love. I really love the name Robin.
The name Robin is not just a placeholder for me. It’s not a name that was given without thought. I was named after the robin bird because of my mother’s connection to Earth.
The robin is one of the first birds to return in the spring. After a long winter, they are a harbinger of joy and a sign of hope. Their song has brought cheer to many on a dreary spring day.
The robin is a gentle bird. They do no unnecessary harm in their existence, yet they do eat insects.
The robin is a modest bird, although the male robin has a flashy red chest, in the robin’s heart and soul, they live humbly.
The robin is one of the most common birds. They are widely spread and easily accessible. They blend into their surroundings but in their own little way stands out.
To return to Robin is a gentle reminder to myself to embody the characteristics of the robin…
-To contribute to the well-being of others, bringing joy and hope to my community in difficult times.
-To live in celebration of life through my thoughts, my words and my actions, which are my form of singing.
-To be gentle on our plant and animal relatives, yet embrace that I am a living being, part of the natural cycle of life, and that death is part of this life. To remember that I am part of this great community of life, not separate.
-To live in harmony with Earth. To embrace the way of the robin is to “do no unnecessary harm” and to remember that I am of the Earth.
-To live simply. Their homes are made of twigs, grass and mud. So, too, can my tiny house be built from Earth and designed to return to Earth.
-To live humbly. Although I, like the robin, have gifts to give – I remember that each of us have our gifts, and each of our gifts are equally meaningful.
-To spread my message far and wide and to ensure my message is easily accessible. To stand out in appearance just enough to be seen, but to remain of the people.
I have returned to Robin.
Messages from Dear Friends:
“The robin is a bird of peace in Blackfoot culture. If they hung around the camps, that meant there were no enemies around. In our language, we call the robin, Otahkaaokayii (Yellow Breast) sounds like this, with a guttural “ugh” and the a after “oat” is silent (Oat a Duh ugh gocky).” – Kobe
“Robin is also one of the two most important teaching birds of the druids in Europe. It stands for the warrior of the heart, the one that brings healing to the people by their courage to shine their heart into the world. Being an outwardly oriented bird, it also stand for the south (summer side) of the seasonly wheel. Robin is a healing bird, a teaching bird. ” -Sophie Ayla Camomille
“The robin bird is my shamanic animal – it means ‘gentle power’ to me and when the robin came into my life it totally transformed the way how I show up in the world.” -Andrea Szekeres-Haldimann
“I live on the Black Sea coast of north Turkey and robins have kept me company all winter. They have a huge range in their song whatever the weather. I paint and have been painting our local birds. These painted connections between woman and bird have been very intuitive. I wanted to paint a male figure and could not decide which bird, or rather I could, it was the robin that came to me, but I wondered if I needed a more macho bird… But my intuition told me that it is the robin who has persisted here throughout the winter, loyal to home and resilient. A force of nature.” -Jodie Harburt
“In the UK the robin (which is a much smaller bird than the American one) is one of the few birds that doesn’t head anywhere else in the fall but stays throughout the winter – a bright little presence in the garden which will become quite tame if you take the time to talk and share some food.” -Hilly Jean
“One of my most cherished experiences and memories was when I first truly took the time to observe a flock of robins on their way further south (I am in Florida). They had taken up shelter to roost in my backyard for the night. I had let the hose run to water the garden and when I came back out to shut it off, I noticed about 20 or so birds splashing and drinking in the puddles formed. So I took a seat and let the water keep running… When I say the next hour was the most enchanting and enlightening experience I had had up until that point… I mean it. They were having such a blast and exuding so much joy in every moment and interacting in a way that really captured how socially complex and intuitive they are.” -Michelle Hope
“I love your story and what your name means to you. I was given my Native name Opichikwe in my adulthood which translates to Robin Woman in the Ojibwe language. Which has meant a great deal to me.” -Joan Marie Pero
“I’ve always loved my name, and it fits me, I love being the first one out foraging mushrooms at the first sign of spring!” -Robin Christine
“I was named Robyn because I was born on the first day of Spring!” -Robyn Wyatt
“I see you as Robin Hood, robbing the rich ( corporate America) and giving to the poor (mother earth).” -Sarah Chamberlain Brown
“Your story resonates deeply with me, Robin. It takes courage to embrace and reclaim our true selves after years of insecurity and conformity. The symbolism behind your name, inspired by the robin bird and your mother’s connection to Earth, is beautiful. Just like the robin, you embody qualities of joy, hope, gentleness, and humility. Your commitment to contributing to the well-being of others, celebrating life, and living in harmony with Earth is inspiring.
Thank you for sharing your journey and reminding us to embrace our authentic selves.” -Isaac Danladi Garba
“I love this. I’m going to show it to my 9 year old son who is also Robin, named after a robin bird that sat by my side when I was pregnant with him” – VJ
“I LOVE this!!! My pet name is also Robin. I was given this name at birth as my mother observed a Robin bird on the sill of her hospital window. The pink appearance of my skin along with my shiny, black hair lying on my head in big curls reminded her of the bird. When I cried I turned red and my crying reminded her of the singing of that bird.
Thank you for sharing because it brought joy to my heart. I was trained as a Midwife and I enjoy caring for the sick and teaching people how to care for their bodies. I” -Karlene Haynes
“We had so many robins visit us this past spring. So many years before I had not seen even one. I think the robins were telling us the small patch of Earth we have has had enough time to rest and is healthy again and now it’s time to plant a garden.” -Kristen