At birth, like the other 7.674 billion people around the world, I was given a name. For the last 33 years, I have gone by that name, despite feeling a genuine disconnect from it. As a child, around the age of 11, I told my parents that they had indeed given me the wrong name in a matter-of-fact tone. It wasn’t a proclamation of disrespect or something I was saying to hurt their feelings. My mind couldn’t have been any further from that, but within it, I knew that my name held the narrative that my parents had made for me and my life, not the story that my soul had for itself. I truly believed that my birth name hadn’t corresponded to who I was: the spirited way I approached things, my precociousness, and my determined nature. It also held no alignment with my soul’s unique path for this incarnation. I craved a name that sounded like a melody explicitly created for my soul to dance proudly and uninhibited to. To exists freely and unabashedly so.
To understand this concept, I should preface it with my life philosophy. I believe, above all else, that it is the soul that shapes and guides us as we navigate life. It fights to create a way to express itself while staying true to the mission it is here to accomplish-the one that belongs only to us. That is why we intuitively know when something is missing or out of alignment between how we are living, the mission of our soul, and how our soul wants to accomplish its mission. Our bodies are the mere vessels to serve as physical houses for our souls. Our minds and hearts are instruments in shaping the possibilities in which we realize and maintain our soul’s journey.
For its relentless work, our souls deserve to be named sacredly in a way that resonates with it. But in life, the body, mind, and heart are usually given the focus, and the soul is forgotten and silenced. Our soul, however, does not stop trying to show itself as the truth of who we are. It calls us back into alignment so that we can continue on our divine paths. Walking the divine path is no easy task, as the world tries to get us to forget the knowledge we enter the world with at birth. That knowledge tells us that we are born knowing ourselves and can tell us why we are here. We are discouraged from expressing this knowledge due to being conditioned to believe that worldly affirmation is more important than our innate wisdom and to follow blueprints and well-worn pathways instead of exploring our truths.
My soul, thank goodness, is incredibly loud. Louder than my mind, body, and heart, but has the power to align them all. It is demanding and has required to be named, reclaiming the deafening volume it had when I was a child. The old-souled child that wanted desperately to be her soul self. The one that knew her soul was sacred and had a big job to do in this world. The one who dared to do it, despite the obstacles that would come her way. The one that knew her birth name was for her mind, body, and heart, but not her soul. The child that knew naming her soul would make her unstoppable and free her from the prison created by her birth name. The birth name that always seemed to make her default to her conditioning and deny her divine wisdom. Until now.
When I met my husband, we became close very quickly. Perhaps, it was the fact that we couldn’t be more different culturally that made me feel a need to show him who I was. The showing I was doing for him had been more for me—an effort to reclaim what I had forgotten about my soul and my mission. Though I had been working in corporate America since graduating college and had interviewed for another corporate position the morning we met, I introduced myself with my soul on full display. I told him I was an author who loved to tell stories. I told him I always had loved it as a child. I said nothing about the corporate job that I hoped I didn’t get or the worldly accomplishments that didn’t align with my vision for my life. From that conversation, the roar of my soul became thunderously loud, regardless of how many times I tried to quiet it, and the actual journey began.
I have been experimenting with safely sharing my soul throughout the past seven years, which reads: scared to be myself fully. I did what my soul craved within the scope of societal acceptability. And honestly, I don’t regret it. I learned so much along the way and acquired so much experience, but my soul wasn’t satisfied still. The disconnect became more frequent as I felt a lack of congruency whenever I was introduced or talked about in positive ways. I knew that I was only scratching the surface of my soul’s mission but felt as though my work had someone else’s name on it. My soul did not jump for joy, and the euphoria came in sporadic bursts, quickly fading as though it were never there. The mere mention of my birth name seemed to make my soul crawl back into its hiding place and leave me hollow inside.
During the pandemic, I had the opportunity to truly reflect on myself and how I showed up in the world, and the legacy I wanted to leave. Being out of the public’s gaze and having time to strengthen my voice led me to know my soul again. At the center of the experience was what I knew well as a little girl: my birth name was not the right one. Or should I say my soul was not appropriately named? I combed through the many occasions friends and acquaintances had told me that my birth name did not fit me or my personality, the times I had been in a room full of other girls with the same name, and the times I felt like I was virtually shrinking at the mention of it. I examined my birth name, seeing that it held more trauma and despair than the joy and fearlessness that characterizes me.
I rediscovered the craving to name my soul throughout the past year. I concluded that it was time to give it a name that had meaning and emotion, which only I could give myself. I desired to give myself a name that I would love to hear, and that would cause my mind, body, and heart to align with my soul. One that would fill me with pride and joy when printed on my books and be music to my ears when used in introductions. A name that leaves an impression that matches my personality. The one that makes my soul dance exuberantly and makes me answer with a resounding yes.
In January of 2021, I started the journey to naming my soul for myself legally. The journey has been meticulous and requires hefty monetary investment. I am willing to invest in what is required to form an energetic contract with the universe for it to be so. Though I could have quickly and unofficially given myself a pen name, which many artists do, my name in all forms must reflect what is true for my soul. So I am going through the process, which varies by state. On April 6th, I will state my desire to legally change my name in front of a judge and have it certified. I claim the granting of my new name and know that it is already so. And because of this, I wanted to share my soul name with you.
At the age of 10, I intended to name my soul Camylle as soon as I legally could. The name is a tribute to my paternal grandmother, who was born in Camilla, GA. It alone did not cause my soul to pirouette happily, though it did cause a stirring. I am glad I didn’t change it at 18 because it was not the complete name my soul wanted for itself. Instead, it is a piece of the name. In 2019, I traveled to Ghana to lead programming I created to make literacy meaningful for children of color through representation in literature. My stateside host and Ghanaian host surprised our travel group with a very emotional naming ceremony, in which they spoke of who we are as individuals and what they had seen of us in a short time. I was given the name Ama through Ghanaian tradition due to being born on Saturday. The ceremony was special because it was a reconnection with my ancestors and the conventions they set forth. Ama was not the full name my soul wanted to be called by either. It was only another component-a connection to a past that is dear to me. So Ama-Camylle would become my middle name, symbolizing the idea of Sankofa, a West African concept, meaning to go back and get it. Indeed, I had to go back and get the knowledge of my past self and ancestors on this journey.
It wasn’t until the summer of 2020 that my first name, the one that would make a smile slide across my face each time I heard it, came to me. During the pandemic, my three-year-old son and I started our very first garden. The whole thing started with a planting project tied to one of my children’s books that I had been doing in workshop settings and virtually due to safety precautions. My son saw me in one of the videos and wanted to do it. We harvested seeds from vegetables in our refrigerator and began planting them on our window sill. In Spring, we sold many plants and then began to start our garden outside with those that remained. Feeling my hands in the earth and watching the plants grow gave me something I had never felt so strongly. There was a divine connection between myself and nature, my ability to be a light and to contribute to the growth of other living things. I fell in love with the sun and laughed when my son told me that I was shiny and bright in our garden due to sweating. Bright and light have been words used to describe me throughout my life, but my son associating those qualities with me made me hear them purely. My soul danced at the mention of those adjectives. The complete experience was symbolic of all the times I had felt most aligned in my life. And I realized that Rae (like sunray) was the name my soul desired, the one that would make it dance.
So if we have met before or you have known me as Ashlee, I say to you, “Nice, to meet you. My name is Rae Ama-Camylle Chesny. I am a storyteller goddess. My soul’s mission is to amplify the stories of women and children of color-past present and future.”
A message for you: I am so honored to have done all the work throughout the years to become my most whole self and fulfill my soul’s mission. During this transition, please know that all work that I have done under the names: Ashlee Henderson, Ashlee Chesny, Mrs. Ashlee, etc., is still a part of my legacy, and I do hold them dearly. For that reason, I will not be changing the name on any of my past work. As we advance, I will be navigating what resonates for my children’s brand. In the meantime, I am filled with gratitude as you call me by my soul name: Rae.