What’s in a Name?

Well, what is in a name?

A rose by any other name might smell as sweet. But if you’re in New England and the rose’s species name is Rosa multiflora, you have stumbled upon an invasive and better get rid of it. There are roses by other names that you’ll want: Rosa virginiana, Rosa Carolina, and a few others.

I’ll have plenty to say at a later date about invasives, as I get deeper into learning about native plants and their significance. But for this post, I confess, I’ve chosen a slightly deceptive lead-in to telling you about something else. Namely, my pen name. And why I’m changing it.

Those of you dear readers who have been with this blog for a while know its author as Kateri F. Foley. But in recent months, I’ve grown increasingly uneasy about that name. No problem for the Foley; it comes to me via a grandmother’s maiden name. But the choice of Kateri, a name that enchanted me from childhood, has felt increasingly inappropriate.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Kateri Tekakwitha story, I’m providing a brief summary. Tekakwitha (1656-1680) was a Native American converted to Catholicism by French missionaries. (The missionaries had been imposed upon the Mohawks by treaty after military defeat by French colonizers.) “Kateri” roughly approximates the pronunciation of her baptismal name, Catherine, in her native language. After her conversion, hostility against Tekakwitha arose among her Haudenosaunee relatives and neighbors. Encouraged by a French Jesuit, she left her home village to settle in a Native American village connected to a French mission. She lived in the village for three years, before her death at age 23 or 24.

No, what really is in a name?

Statue of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha in small garden spot outside a church, with cast-iron gates and stone gateposts surrounding a cemetery seen in background. Statue has turquoise necklace, earrings, and bracelet, white blanket/shawl over shoulders, and brown and red tunics beneath, and is holding a steaf of feathers, a rosary, and what looks like a stem with seedbeds on it.

Kateri Tekakwitha Statue at Cathedral Basilica of St Francis of Assisi
by jay galvin
licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Her short but saintly life brought popular veneration among Indigenous Catholics after her death. However, the Church’s official processes move slowly. She received the designation of “venerable” only in 1943, became Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha in 1980, and finally was canonized as Saint Kateri Tekakwitha in 2012.

At first, I thought the name Kateri made a good fit for me. I grew up on the shores of Lake Huron, near areas once claimed by the Haudenosaunee peoples (and also by Algonquins, the Native American people her mother was born to). And she is considered a patron saint of ecology and the environment.

However, I started feeling uneasy about whether adopting the name Kateri might smack of cultural appropriation. Then, as I looked more closely at the history, I started feeling concern that Kateri herself might have been appropriated by Western colonial culture, of which religion forms a part.

Consider the missionaries forced upon the Haudenosaunee, and Kateri’s separation from her community following her embrace of Catholicism. And I can’t help but cringe at the blatant racism in the reminiscence by the priest who administered the last rites to her: “This face, so marked [by smallpox] and swarthy, suddenly changed about a quarter of an hour after her death and became in a moment so beautiful and so white that I observed it immediately.”[Emphasis added]  Although Saint Kateri enjoys veneration by many Indigenous people in North America, others deplore both her conversion and the “way Mohawk culture is represented through the lens of her conversion.”

Even if the issue isn’t exactly clearcut, do I really want to wade into such territory?


So I decided to change my pen name. Hereafter, I will use the name Hecate Foley.

How did I pick that one? How do you even pronounce it?

Marble statue with two out of three female [presumably Hecate] figures showing, dressed in flowing tunics and skirts and balancing a carved decorative item atop their heads

Triple Goddess Statue (presumably Hecate)
by MumblerJamie
licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Regarding the latter: Hecate comes from the classical Greek Ἑκάτη. My recollection of classical Greek pronunciation (no, I never learned the language, just the alphabet) says you’d pronounce that h

eh-KAH-tay. Merriam-Webster says HEK-uh-tee or HEH-kut. But how often will you want to say it out loud? You can call me Cate.

How did I pick it? Well, if I’m going to be appropriating anything appropriately, Graeco-Roman provenance makes a good source for someone of my cultural extraction. And a goddess makes a good role model. Hecate offers multiple possible roles, “being at once the goddess of witches, the household, crossroads and travel, agriculture, and more,” says Mythopedia. I’m fine with agriculture, crossroads, travel, and household, and as we all know, witches had to know a lot about plants, too. Moreover, for someone who has trouble making up her mind, the classic representation of Hecate as three figures facing in different directions strikes me as all too appropriate.

I buried the lede…

Closeup of four close-growing pink lady slipper orchids in full bloom, individual flowers suspended on stalks rising above green tulip-like foliage. Flowers have deep pink labella shaped somewhat like ladies' slippers, with thin brownish petals spreading out to the sides above the "slippers." The plants are growing out of a carpet of oak leaves and twigs, with lichen-covered branches or tree trunks in the background.

Funny, they don’t look dangerous…
Pink lady’s slipper orchids surprised in a wooded area of coastal Maine, May 2021

So why am I making this declaration now? Because, dear reader, my very first publication in a literary (online) magazine has just hit the ether. Hecate Foley is out in public! You can find my tiny flash-nonfiction piece about orchids, Surprise Bad Guys, in Cosmic Daffodil, right now. This is CD‘s two-part issue on Buds & Blooms.

So you get a reward for plowing through all that pen name angst. Not only me going on about flowers, but about 80 other people doing so as well. Enjoy!

Next time, I promise, you will get a full-fledged blog post about Plants. It’s the season, after all. I’m taking more of those amazing Native Plants certificate courses—New England Herbaceous Early Flowering Plants, for one. With New England Shrubs coming soon. Plus, our local native-plants nursery just opened last Friday and oh my, of course, I had to get two of these, and three of those, and four of those irresistible…. The next adventure will be actually getting the babies into the ground.

Annnnnnd, I’ve just committed to compiling a directory of native plant nurseries and native-plant garden designers in New England and beyond. So, there’s lots coming soon.

Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, your turn!

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  1. Can you recommend a native plant nursery or garden designer in your area? (please state the general area)
  2. What’s the first thing you plan to plant this spring–or have you already planted it? Tell us about it!
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16 Responses to What’s in a Name?

  1. Teresa says:

    Great new name.
    I love your piece.

  2. Robert says:

    Good move, pen-name-wise, Hecate. But you didn’t “bury the ‘lede'” — that’s a grotesque Americanism that flourished with the burst of journalism groupy-ism after the Watergate incident, with an alleged backstory. Sadly, I sometimes now see legitimate card-carrying journalists (there are a few left) referring to it as if it were true. It is not.

    You “buried the lead”, not the “lede”. Now dig it up and put it back where it belongs. and what’s the story with that bad invasive rose we’re supposed to get rid of?

    Good luck.

    • Hecate says:

      Thanks much for that correction, Robert! I’ll have to check with you off this thread to get more info about leads and ledes.
      This being a blog, and not finished product, I’ll leave the lead buried. But I will get into invasive, roses and other types, in future posts. It’s a big subject, with many wrinkles.
      Fortunately, unless you’ve moved recently, you don’t need to worry about invasive roses where you are.

  3. Teague Skye says:

    Yes! Hecate it is! And the orchid piece is lovely too!

  4. Susan McKenna says:

    And congratulations on your witty piece on the caddish orchids!

  5. Susan McKenna says:

    Bravo in the thoughtful name change.

  6. Hillary Hutchinson says:

    You might find it fun to know that some on the Carolina coast call the rosa carolina the “salt rose.” Think this is just a local sobrequet.

    • Hecate says:

      That’s a good one, Hillary! But I think my favorite nickname for living things on the Carolina coast is still the other one you told me about some time ago: butter-butt, for the yellow-rumped warbler.
      Keep those nicknames coming!

  7. Ellice Gonzalez says:

    You were born to be Cate!

  8. helen says:

    love the stories.. Gives me more insight into the whole missionary business.. sigh.. And what’s the native nursery you’re excited to visit? Just curious.

    • Hecate says:

      Sigh is right, Helen!
      The native nursery that’s closest to me is Nasami Farm, which is also the nursery operation for Native Plant Trust. The headquarters location for NPT, Garden in the Woods, in Framingham, sells pretty much the same kinds of plants (although I think Nasami has more space for putting them all outside). It’s a better location for people closer to the Boston area.
      The other native plants nursery in my neck of the woods is Wing and a Prayer, but they’re not open for another week or so. They carry mostly herbaceous plants; NPT runs the gamut from trees to shrubs to herbaceous, including ferns.

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