I remember vaguely as an elementary school child not liking my given name ‘Carmen’. I couldn’t quite explain why, but the closest I get is that it didn’t feel like who I was. I embraced my name as I grew up, and saw it as something that connected me to my family tree and to a special date – my birth date. July 16th is the feast day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, or in Spanish, El Dia de la Virgen del Carmen. I was two hours shy of being named Diana. According to the story, my mother was in labor for 25 hours. Being my mother’s first born, my grandmother was worried about her daughter and was also praying that I’d be born on that date (the 16th) so that I’d be Carmen. And so it came to pass, I was born Carmen Erlin Mojica at 10:01pm in the Bronx.
Given my passion for childbirth & pregnancy, I asked as many questions as I could about my own entrance into the world. My grandmother told me that a relative had had a dream in which there was a hole in the ground full of water. My mother was in it, naked and very pregnant. On her belly was the image of la Virgen del Carmen. I was born with meconium in the amniotic fluid, which is when the baby poops in vitro. Usually it is linked to distress of some sort. I always wonder what was happening to me that I experienced some sort of stress before getting here. From asking my father about my birth, I learned that an offering of some sort was made after I was born by my dad because of the prayers and things asked for my safety.
The first time I chose a name was when I crossed into my sorority in Spring 2004. I chose the name Ori, which the Yoruba traditionally believe that daily life depends on proper alignment and knowledge of one’s Ori. Ori literally means the head, but in spiritual matters it is taken to mean an inner portion of the soul that determines personal destiny and success. 4 years later, I chose another name in a self-initiation. At the time, Wicca and Earth-based religions spoke to my soul loudly, and on a cold Imbolc in 2008, I consecrated myself to my beloved Moon Goddess as her priestess Artemis Celeste. These were names that marked important transitions for me as I began to embrace myself on many different levels.
In my post-college life, I began to meet people who had legally changed their given names for many reasons – spiritual initiations, marriages, transitioning to another gender, and ancestral affirmation. I gave the idea of names more thought as I reflected on names I had picked along the years. At this point, my name meant a lot to me. It connected me to my mother and father’s lineages, and told the story of colonization. I wore my name then as a source of pride, as a symbol of being my mother’s daughter and being proud of the struggle and sacrifice made to get me, a modern day Afro-descendant woman, to this juncture.
Shortly after I completed the first draft of my book, Hija De Mi Madre, I had a nervous breakdown. I had taken so much out of me that I was unsure how to move forward. Writing the book was the end of my ignorance and the painful process of enlightening – of shedding light on the shadows of my life, on the things that are not spoken about. I knew I would never be the same again. And I am not, and never will be. I published Hija De Mi Madre in 2009, and shortly after that faced a confrontation with my family, mainly my mother. She was intolerant of my spiritual views, and who I was becoming – a woman who was interested in her West African roots, Egyptian culture, Afro-Caribbean dance and religious practices, and completely disinterested in chemically processing her hair, shaving her body hair, a heterosexual identity, or abiding by a “womanly” dress code.
As I recovered from my family conflict, I suffered another blow and was retraumatized. From that summer in 2010 until the end of 2011, I unraveled quickly as I struggled with my demons and pursued my personal aspirations in the midst of barely taking care of my basic needs. My road to recovery started when I finally went to therapy in October 2011. It was my first time trying psychotherapy. At first I was apprehensive because mental health had been such a taboo with my mother’s battle with being bi-polar. I knew I was fucked up and was scared of what speaking to a therapist would bring.
I realized at this time that I was grieving. I had lost more than I acknowledged in the course of my then-26 years of life. I was also beginning to feel like I was no longer the self I knew as Carmen. It was a very intense period of my life where I felt parts of my former self dying as a rebirth was surfacing. Around this time, I went with a delegation to Ayiti and came back feeling very clear about my life purpose: to heal myself and in turn heal others. I knew then that my desire to present at colleges and universities was fueled by my belief in the healing power of witnessing. There is something very powerful about witnessing someone else’s story, poem, song, or documentary and feeling like another person was able to help you on your journey by just sharing themselves. Early in college I realized my words had the ability to move people. I wanted to use that power intentionally to help Afro-Latinas and other Afro-descendant women feel understood and validated. I want to help someone feel a little less alone knowing that what they’re going through is not only common but also has historical and generational precedence. It was the feeling I got when I first read the article “LatiNegras” by Marta Cruz-Janzen. I felt so relieved that my experience was validated somehow just by another woman like me sharing her story and giving it a context.
2012 brought a lot of change for me. After coming home from Ayiti, I knew I was shedding old skin and becoming an evolved version of myself. I embraced this new person I was last summer after the last confrontation I had with my family. This time, I realized that in order for them to be happy, I would have to repress myself. It felt like I was being asked to shove myself back into my old shell. I knew there was no going back to oppressing my hair, skin, heart, sexuality and self-determination. Distancing myself from my family was the last straw for me. It was like the last crack in the dam before the water floods out.
About a week before my 27th birthday, I felt the need to choose a name that encompassed who I was becoming. I met with my therapist and explained how I felt like I was vibrating on a different level. He told me about how yogis often change their name when they initiate into their spiritual life. On the way home, I began trying on names. In my meditations, I remembered my fascination with the goddess Inanna. It became a chant to me that felt soothing.
In the 5th week of my nursing program last semester, I had a serious nervous breakdown. I was hospitalized for a few hours before being released to my partner. I had broken completely. All the traumas that I have experienced were too much to handle. I have continued to go to therapy after breaking down last fall, and am grateful for it. It forced me to heal and release years of pain and silence that Carmen held onto and Ynanna needs to let go of to travel light.
I chose Ynanna as my name, honoring the energy of the multidimensional goddess I was awakening in my healing journey. I spoke to a mentor of mine about names. He gave me a lot of powerful thoughts to mull over. The one that resonated with me was the idea that your name speaks your destiny every time it is said. That to name something is an act of power; naming something defines it.
I realized that the name and identity ‘Carmen’ came with expectations and characteristic given to me. ‘Carmen’ pegged me as a silent, reserved, Catholic, good obedient little girl. ‘Carmen’ was a reminder that a Eurocentric mentality was being forced on me, my physical appearance and what I was expected to do with my life as a woman of color. The act of choosing my name, Ynanna Djehuty, is my commitment to shaping my future and destiny on my own terms. It is a statement of self-determination, a vow to transform myself, a claim to the birthright stolen from my ancestors, and a dedication to breaking internalized cycles of abuse.
Ynanna is my spelling of Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of love, fertility and warfare. Inanna is the Queen of Heaven and Earth. She is the embodiment of all the phases and parts of feminine energy and is one of the oldest myths that has remained intact before patriarchy took hold. It is also one of the stories the whole resurrection of Jesus was taken from. Her most famous myth is a metaphor for the ultimate spiritual initiation into wisdom, expanded consciousness, and adulthood, in which one willingly faces their shadows and their demons, to embrace both sides of them and be complete and stand in their power. Djehuty is the Egyptian God of wisdom. He maintains the order of the universe, the system of writing, speech and law.
My destiny is to face the shadows of my life and stand in my power so that I may help others, particularly women, stand in their complete power as I channel the divine wisdom guiding me, using my words and my voice to restore order and justice in this part of the Universe.