Most of us have several names, other than the ones we are given at birth. Throughout our lives, people give us names of affection, nicknames or abbreviations, diminutives and more. What do all of our multiple names mean? What messages do they convey to others and to us? I think they tell a lifetime of stories!

When I was born, my parents gave me the name “Joyce Karen Gillie.” I’ve been called many things during the years between birth and today. Each of my names has a story… I’d like to share a few with you and hear the stories of your many “names.”

At birth, my Uncle Cal called me “Princess” and treated me as one also. Mommy said that when she brought me home from the hospital, he came into my room, lifted the mattress with me on it, into his arms, and stood there for hours, just looking at me with tears in his eyes. She said that he looked at her and whispered, “She is my little princess,” as he held me. Princess is what he always called me.

From about 18 months until I was 6 years old, my name was, “Oh Joyce!!!” Courtesy of Mommy (smile). She uttered it at least 100 times daily, usually in some variation of, “Oh Joyce! How could you…? Oh Joyce why did you…? Oh Joyce what am I going to do with you…? Well, you get the picture (laughing). Problem was, I really did think that was my name, which turned out to be a problem when I got to kindergarten and the teacher asked us to stand and say our names on the first day of school. You guessed it… I proudly announced to the class that my name was, “Oh Joyce!” My teacher, Mrs. Wilson, said gently in that very special kindergarten teacher voice, “No sweetheart, what is your name? What does your mommy call you?” Wait for it… “Oh Joyce!” I forcefully replied (lol). “Okay dear, it’’s all right, you just have a seat,” she replied as she moved on to the next student. That evening, Mrs. Wilson called the house and Mommy called me from my room. “Joyce, why wouldn’t you tell Mrs. Wilson your name?” She asked. “I did, Mommy,” I told her, very confused. “Well,” Mommy said, holding out the phone, “Tell Mrs. Wilson your name again for me.” Completely confused, I spoke into the phone, “Hi Mrs. Wilson, my name is Oh Joyce!” Snatching the phone away from me and not missing a beat, my mother said, “Oh Joyce! How could you…?” I remember clearly just looking at her and she evidently realized what she had said, because she sent me to my room (as usual). And that was the end of “Oh Joyce!”

I became, “Joyce Karen” from about age 6 until about age 15. I think that was for two reasons, the first was so that I wouldn’t grow up thinking that my name was “Oh Joyce” and the second was the birth of a cousin. She was the third Joyce in the family, Aunt Joyce, my godmother being the first; I, Joyce Karen being the second; and now Baby Joyce was the third. I think the other reason I became Joyce Karen is that it was paired with “Gillie” about 100 times a day… as in, “Joyce Karen Gillie, how could you…? Joyce Karen Gillie, get in here this instant…! Joyce Karen Gillie, what on earth have you done…?” Not much had changed from being Oh Joyce! in that regard (laughing).

During the next few years, I added several more names. I became “Godmother” to Max when I was 15 and later to Ramelle; and had my name legally changed to “joyce karen gillie” when I was 16. People still have difficulty wrapping their heads around that one. My favorite of my two favorite names was given to me when I was 23. “Mommy.” My son, Dixson made me a mother and I cried when he called me Mommy for the first time when he was a little boy (still do, but don’t tell him that). Then at 30, I became “Auntie joyce” thanks to goddaughter Kat and nieces and nephew Jaz, Corey, and later Myko. Along the way I added more godchildren, Jordan, Justin, and Alex and more adopted nieces and nephews, Joanna, Tessie, Crystal, and so many others. I love being Auntie joyce. If you remember the movie and play, Auntie Mame, that’s me! I’m the one who gave the noisy gifts, forbidden candy and treats, planned super fun summer vacation visits, and basically drove their parents NUTS! Great fun! They’re all older now, so I’m just waiting until their children come along to continue the tradition (laughing)!

At 40, I became “The Best Gurl,” and eventually had a business named after me when I crossed paths with Thom Gossom Jr, who has plenty of his own name stories to tell! He introduced me to Alfre Woodard that way at the premiere of the film, Miss Ever’s Boys in Los Angeles. After they embraced and shared warm greetings, he reached for my hand. “Alfre,” he said as he drew me forward, “I want you to meet ‘The Best Gurl in the Whole World.’” I was basically speechless… first because I didn’t know he felt that way, since we had only been dating a short time, and second because it was Alfre Woodard and she is as stunning and commanding in person as she is on screen. That February evening, I became Thom’s Best Gurl and it is my second favorite name, right up there with Mommy! 

As adults, Mommy didn’t always call me “joyce karen gillie” or “joyce gillie gossom,” at least not very often (laughter). After our first adult road trip, she started calling me “Louise” and I called her “Thelma”…and she was!! You’d never believe how silly and outrageous she could be away from her school and her staff. 

A few months ago, I added my final name so far. Thanks to Dixson and his fiancée Sissy, I am now a “Grams” and have four grandchildren to love and spoil rotten (laughing)! We’re already planning trips to see them and summer vacations with us… parents optional and not necessarily preferred! 

What’s in a name? Hundreds of relationships and stories. Many, many facets of a life. What’s in my name? An entire lifetime of love! 

What’s in your names? Drop me a line and tell me about them!

“Nine o’clock the next day and I’m ready to go. I’ve got 600 miles to ride to do one more show.”

Those lyrics from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s What’s Your Name paint a picture of a raucous band going from city to city performing by night and traveling by day, sometimes on 600-mile journeys to the next evening’s show.

Such has been my adult business life. No, not the raucous, band playing part; but since 1979, starting as a management recruiter for South Central Bell/AT&T/ Bellsouth, I’ve been on the road from one gig to another, making my living as an actor, consultant, writer, or speaker, and then moving on to the next episode.

It started with recruiting new management hires for South Central Bell. It was technically a 9 to 5, however some weeks I left home on Monday and returned on Friday after visiting at least three college campuses. I could offer jobs to deserving young people and that was satisfying.

Later, I added acting in film and television to the consulting work I did in my firm after leaving BellSouth. For six years it was back and forth from my hometown of Birmingham to Conyers, Georgia to work on the television show In the Heat Of The Night. What started as community theatre and consultation has become a 30-year career in film and television and consultation. In the Southeast, I’ve traveled highways between Birmingham, Northwest Florida, Atlanta, Nashville, Jackson, Wilmington, Charleston, and Savannah, for gigs on movies, speeches and corporate communications.

I’ve flown into airports in most major cities. I flew into Memphis from Los Angeles to catch a connecting flight home only to turn around and get back on the plane to LA, because duty called.

The longest commute began in 1997, Birmingham to Los Angeles working as an actor out of the Los Angeles market. Then came Florida to LA, back and forth and back and forth until we got a place in Santa Monica and used it as our work home. I still enjoy spending time in Santa Monica with friends, Irish Joe, Michael O, and Sterfon.

Into this second decade of the 21st century it’s been, Charleston, Atlanta, Charlotte, Auburn, Birmingham, Nashville, Washington DC, Dallas, New York. I identify cities by the gig I worked there, Atlanta: Containment, Nashville: Sing Me the Blues Lena, Wilmington: Miracle In The Woods, Jackson: The Chamber, Los Angeles: Fight Club, NYPD Blue, etc etc.

The latest gig was in Charleston, South Carolina. I’ve worked Charleston now a half dozen times. I could know more about it. I could have seen more, even visited the few people I know who live there, but that’s the road life. Go in do your gig, enjoy the crew and fellow cast members, another temporary family, and head for home awaiting the next episode of life to call. Home for me is the cherry on top of my life’s bowl of ice cream. Home is where I live my life.

How many final checks have I done? You know where you walk through the room and make sure you haven’t left anything, only in the back of your mind you feel you’re leaving something. It’s a road ritual; like zipping up the final item in your suitcase only to then remember something you specifically and meticulously planned not to forget only to have to unzip, reposition and remember what you promised to remember to pack, in the first place.

Leaving Charleston, I fired up some Allman Brothers and headed to Savannah. In Savannah, I stayed in a hotel I’d stayed in before. For every night I have paid for a hotel room, I could own an entire hotel by now. Sometimes I get to mix business and pleasure. In Savannah, I got to visit with Dixson (our son) and his family.

I am working out of Atlanta again. Looking back there is a sense of pride in having made it work. In having honored my commitments, both business and personal.

When will I stop? I don’t know. What I’ve done for money over the years, I’ve also done for free. It’s what I enjoy. I love the actual performing, consulting, and writing.

There is little more satisfying to me than siting in my office in the early hours of morning writing a piece and watching the sun come up over the Bay.

Then the phone rings, an e-mail hits, a text gets my attention.

“Nine O’clock, the next day and I’m ready to go!”

(Photo from Vladimir Pcholkin via Getty Images)
(Photo from Vladimir Pcholkin via Getty Images) 

I’ve learned that:
Mornings are beautiful! 
Life is good. 
The Future is now.

I’ve learned that:
Life is complicated! 
Ignorance is not bliss. 
Change is messy but necessary.

I’ve learned that:
The grass is green right where it is. 
Love feels best when you give it to someone. 
It’s great to live life as a free agent. 
The back roads of life are as exciting as its superhighways.

I’ve learned that:
Anger doesn’t help a whole lot. 
The fruit you reach for is better than that which falls at your feet. 
I’m just passing through.