When Your Name Precedes You: Jeannie Vanasco On Feeling Bound to the Dead Older Sibling She’s Named For

Painter on His Way to Work. Vincent Van Gogh, 1888
Painter on His Way to Work. Vincent van Gogh, 1888. Image via Wikimedia Commons

Every Sunday as he entered the church where his father, Theodorus, preached, Vincent van Gogh passed a gravestone marked VINCENT VAN GOGH.

The artist’s brother Vincent was born, and died, March 30, 1852. The artist was born March 30, 1853. I remember being sixteen years old in the Toledo Museum of Art, staring at his painting Houses at Auvers, when I heard a museum guide say this. Whether the knowledge affected van Gogh—that he shared both his name and birthday with a dead sibling—remains unknown, the guide said.

“Does anyone have any questions?” he asked.

My mind filled with loud, hurried thoughts and just as suddenly emptied, like a flock of birds scattering from a field.

I was sixteen, the age Jeanne would always be.

-From an essay at The Believer by Jeannie Vanasco, about the heavy psychic burden of her “necronym,” the name she was given in memory of the daughter her father had lost, and whose presence she always felt.

Read the story