Tuesday, July 1, 2008
On What's in a Name
From our ancestors come our names, but from our virtues our honors. ~Proverb
ROBERTA: I was standing in line at Southwest Airlines a couple of weeks ago. With the new SW procedures, you have to cram into the holding tank according to the section letter on your ticket. And you’ve received your section letter because you logged onto your computer exactly 24 hours in advance of the flight to get it. If you care about where you sit on a plane, it’s an obsessive’s nightmare. Anyway, I digress. I was in line and a woman tapped me on the back.
Le crap, I thought, she thinks I’ve pushed in ahead of her. Instead she showed me the name on her ticket: Roberta Gilbert.
“You don’t meet too many of us,” she said. I laughed and asked her if she’d grown into the name.
“Finally,” she said.
“What was your nickname?” I asked.
“Bert or Bertie,” she said, shaking her head grimly.
“Did your father want a son?”
“I was the sixth child,” she explained. “And three of them were already boys!”
Which got me thinking about my name—Roberta Ann. I was the second child of four, following my sister by 11 months. I was definitely supposed to be the son, named after my dad, Charles Robert. Then my brother came along and could have absorbed his legacy quite nicely. Though the other name my parents considered was Priscilla…so in the end I feel lucky. (No offense to any Priscilla’s out there!)
It’s not been an easy name to carry—half female, half male, closely tied to my father, but not exactly, as it’s his MIDDLE name: he goes by Bob, not Charlie. People often need me to spell it: “Robert with an ‘a’,” I tell them, dreading the move to my last name.
Next week I’ll be visiting my dad, who’s in an assisted living facility, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. But I can picture exactly how his face will light up when he sees me. “This is my daughter, Roberta,” he’ll boast to anyone who enters the room. And I’ll be grateful for the connection of our common names.
How about you guys? Where did your names come from and how do you feel about them?
RO: I was named after my father's two sisters Rose and Mary, which is, I suppose better than being named after any of his six brothers which could have made me Lou Bob or worse, Ben Ludovico. My sister got the cool name, she was Paula, named after my mother's brother.
I hated my name growing up - there weren't any other Rosemarys - except for Rosemary Clooney or Rosemary Kennedy. And neither of them made a hot role model when I was sixteen. I've gotten over it though.
HANK: Yes, okay, fine. I know this is just a sneaky way to get me to tell.
My name is Harriet Ann. Apparently there was a great uncle Harry, who was not in good shape when I was born. So Mom decided to give him a gift, and told him she and my Dad were naming me Harriet. In his honor. Mom tells me--and maybe this is one of those possibly-apocryphal family stories we were talking about last week--that his response was "Oh, that poor girl."
He was so right. When all the cool girls are Debbie or Linda, you don't want Harriet. (As in Ozzie and.) So, until college, I was always called Ann or Annie. When I go home to Indianapolis, I still instantly answer to Ann. Here in Boston, if someone says "Ann" I don't connect at all. (I now think Harriet is kind of hip and competent, and wouldn't mind being her.)
To make things worse, Mom and Dad had decided on Alexandra, a perfectly wonderful name, until the Uncle Harry thing came up. And then, Mom told me, she had decided I didn't look like an Alexandra. I was ONE DAY OLD, for gosh sake.
To make things better, my Dad was the music critic at the Chicago Daily News back then, and he was pushing to name me Harmony. Yikes. But, in the funny way the world has, perhaps little Harmony still would have turned out to be Hank.
ROBERTA: Ro, actually Rosemary is the perfect name for a master gardener and the author of PUSHING UP DAISIES! And Hank, you dodged a bullet with "Harmony." But we'll start calling you Harriet whenever you're ready--just give us the word!
Name stories, anyone?