1. says

    Since I’m on the east coast today, I get to be the first one to post! Here’s my first response to this post….

    I was named after a chicken flicker—that’s what they called the woman who pulled the feathers out of the chicken after they were slaughtered in my grandfather’s kosher butcher shop. I assume the feathers came out after the chickens were killed, and maybe this woman also was the one to wring their necks. Whoever she was, this woman I know next to nothing about, her name was Sari. And that’s my middle name. A name I’ve always liked. My first name, Laura, was for my grandmother, my father’s mother, Lena Davis, who died of a heart attack before I was born. In the Jewish tradition, you name a child after someone who has died—not with the exact same name, but starting with the first letter. I was named Laura Sari Davis. Laura for my grandmother Lena, Sari for the chicken flicker, and Davis, my father’s name.

    Davis was actually just a name my grandfather gave at Ellis Island when he immigrated to the United States. His name was Budjakovsky—and no I have no idea whatsoever how to spell that—he had fled Russia or the Pale—the land that is somewhere on the border or Poland and Russia, and he made his way alone, as a 12 year old across Europe all the way to England where a baker took pity on him and let him sleep under the warm ovens. He became an apprentice baker and stayed there with that baker until he earned enough for passage to America. That Baker’s name was Davis and that was the name that Joe Budjakovski gave when he went through immigration in the early years of the 20th century.

    The best thing about my name, aside from how nicely balanced it is, are my initials. I have gotten so much mileage out of them in my life—You see, I was born in 1956 which means it was the sixties when my initial came into vogue—LSD. I even had a little tiny LSD ring my mother had made for me when I was eight years old. It was beautiful and the letters were woven together in inscribed scripted letter in a little golden heart. I lost that ring in the dump behind our school and my mother actually came across the street and dug around until she found it. When I was in high school, I loved flaunting my initials and later in my twenties, when I worked a temp job in an office and had to initial things all day long, I loved using red pen to leave my mark, LSD, LSD, LSD, LSD, all over every sheet of official paper in that office.

    • Fran Stekoll says

      Laura. My parents moved from Rochester, N.Y. to Fontana, California in 1942. Dad worked for Schenley Distillers and lost his job due to the 2nd world war. Upon arrival in Fontana he met Mr. Lerner who enticed him to go into the chicken business. I totally related to your story. Thanks for the memories.

    • Hazel says

      C-o-o-l Baby. Loved the LSD story.

      One time I had a job where there were two of us that had to make notes in charts. My co workers was named Arlene Higgs with initials AH. My name Hazel McCarthy hand the initials HM.

      One day our supervisor called us into the office and said “what is going on with the notes? I see “ah” and “hm” all through these charts, what does that mean?” She had not realized that that was our initials and we all had a good laugh over that.

    • Diana says

      I love immigrant stories. A 12 year old that managed to make it to another country alone is amazing. Awesome. What a strong, resouceful person. Today we are lucky if a 12 year old can make their own lunch.

    • Judy says

      What an amazing prompt and stories told. Enjoyed every word, Laura, along with all the other great responses. Thank you for the memory jog.

    • beverly Boyd says

      I guess I have flicked more than a few chickens in my life though we did not call it that. Growing up in a rural area we frequently bought our chickens directly from a farmer. My brother and I remember helping hold the dead chicken while Dad cut off its head. The big feathers were pulled out then the bird was taken to the kitchen. My job was to pull out the delicate pin feathers, a tedious job as the feathers were tiny and white and hard to see next to the chicken’s skin. Mother would hold the chicken over a gas flame to singe the feathers and make them easier to see. Even after we moved to the city, when we bought then from the butcher they looked much like the rubber chickens (head and all) you might buy at a party store with the large feathers removed.

      • beverly Boyd says

        I think a clearer explanation of this procedure could help. Dad used the same stump that he chopped wood on. We held the feet of the chicken while he held the head with the neck over the stump to support it.

    • Ilana says

      Laura- What a great piece. I love it when you respond to the prompt with us. I had never heard of a chicken flicker before. That made me smile but my favorite part was about your grandfather taking on the baker’s name. What a tribute. Then you ended it all with that great image of you writing LSD on all the official papers. It was really fun to read. IM

    • Debbie says

      Laura – I love your initials, too! How fun! And I was touched by the little ring, how your mother found it for you again. I had heard you tell the story of the Davis name before – and it always warms my heart. I like the old baker who took in the apprentice with a dream. Thanks for sharing this history with us.

    • Terry Gibson says

      Laura, this story of LSD is fascinating to me! It was hard to write a response because it brought so much up for me. I felt conflicted. While I greatly admire the spirit of your grandfather, the fight for a better life, for safety, and the guts to take off at twelve, I remember that this may have been the grandfather. The one I don’t like for his actions. However, I love your full name. How proud you were and are of it. I never heard of the name ‘Sari’ before but like it a lot. If I was sixteen, I’d probably write LSD all over my books and papers too just because I COULD. Also, love that your Mom went and dug out that ring for you! That makes me smille.

    • Allen Berg says

      Dear Laura,
      What a pleasure to share among writers, thank you for your website and your story about your grandfather…

      I too had a Russian Jewish grandfather who came to New York City alone and made his new life… a wonderful holy man steeped in quietude, who I was fortunate to share a bedroom with for a couple of my young boy inquisitive years…

      Grandpa is one of my heroes, forever…and everyday I say his name in prayer…

      Thanks and to be continued…


  2. says

    And here’s a fictionalized version of the same story with a slightly fictional twist, as you’ll see in the explanation:

    In a recent class, I talked to my students about using seeds from real life to create fictional stories. At first, I asked everyone to tell a true story with one lie in it. Then I had them write a story about their mother or father; the piece was to be based on truth, but be at least 1/2 fiction. In the final prompt, I asked the class to create a story about one of their grandparents, based on a kernel of fact, with the resulting story mostly imagined.

    This is the piece I wrote about my grandfather. All I knew for sure were the bare bones of the story. I made up the rest. It was a very satisfying exercise.

    Here goes…bear in mind I only really know what I put in my first response to this prompt.

    I got my last name because my grandfather, Joe Budjakovski, was a young Jewish boy living in the Pale, the area that spread between Russia and Poland at a time when there were still pogroms, where soldiers still thundered in on their horses and killed for the pure pleasure of it, a time when soldiers burned the meager fields of the farmers and took the prettiest girls and raped them in the fields, leaving them disgraced, disfigured, or dead.

    Joe’s grandfather was a learned man, a rabbi. His rules were strict and unyielding. All 613 commandments of the Talmud were followed. There was no room for deviation. No room to dream. And Jewish young men in that harsh land were destined for conscription in the Russian army which meant being worked to death, a sentence of hard labor on the frozen steppes with inadequate food, shoes, clothing, shelter. It was a death sentence. If the enemy soldiers didn’t kill you and hunger didn’t take you, and you didn’t freeze to death on sentry duty, then one of your fellow soldiers, who didn’t like Jews or wanted a little sport might slit your throat in the quiet of the night. Joe Budjakovski wanted more than the life that was before him, so at age 12, in the dead of night, he stole away from his village, the only village and the only people he had every known. He carried nothing more than a small bundle of bread and some turnips and a warm cloak his mother slipped him at the last minute while secretly urging him away and making the sign of blessing over his head. Joe walked across those vast steppes, he walked through his shoes, the only pair he had, he walked until his feet bled and then he finally made his way to England, where like other boys who only dreamed of getting away, he ended up begging on the streets, his dream of coming to America slipping away as his stomach tightened and his mind turned feral, hell bent on survival.

    One day, when he was begging on the street, a tall thin man with a neatly trimmed beard and kind eyes looked down at the boy shivering below him. “Where are you from?” he asked.

    My grandfather, who had a quick mind and had already learned the rudiments of English, told him the truth. “I came all the way from Russia,” he said.

    The man looked at him more closely. “And your family, boy?”

    “In Russia,” the boy replied. “I walked here alone.”

    “Walked?” the man said, looking more closely at the sinewy strength of the young boy, at the clear determination in his eye, at the thin bonyness of him, the sunken cheekbones, the pride that shone from his eyes.

    “And why, may I ask, did you walk all the way here from Russia?”

    “I want to go to America,” my grandfather said, “Where the streets are paved with gold.”

    “If you don’t freeze to death first,” the man said, and with that he extended his arm to the teenager who was my grandfather, “come, let me feed you.” And he led him down an alley and up a wide street, across a field and into a neighborhood full of shops. As they walked up the street, Joe smelled the most wonderful aroma. It was warm and rich, alive and inspiring. It aroused the greatest hunger he had ever known and reminded him of his mother. Tears stung his eyes and he quickly blinked them back. He could not afford to remember. He could not afford to cry.

    The man took out a key and opened a large worn wooden door, and when my Joe Budjakovski stepped inside, he gasped. The room was full of vast ovens and on every counter were dozens of loaves of freshly baked bread. His mouth watered, and the man sat him down at a wooden table and said, “Hold on there, boy, I’ll let you eat your fill.” And he pulled out a rough-hewn plate and took down a loaf of rich twisted wheat and a knife. He filled a small bowl with sweet butter and took out a jar of jam, and he laid them down in front of my grandfather, who silently devoured it all, bite by bite, slice by slice, crumb by crumb. The man placed a glass of fresh milk, rich with cream in front of him, and he drank that, too. Joseph ate too fast, and his stomach roiled, but he could not help it.

    As he ate, the man watched and his eyes grew soft. He had lost his son ten years earlier when young Jackie ran out on to the street and was lost to the wheels of a cart. The baker’s wife had not been able to survive the death of her son and she died of consumption three years later. Since then, the baker had lived for his work and guarded his heart, pounding his grief into each loaf of bread. As he watched the great bowls of yeasted dough rise, he tried to loosen the grief that raged inside him.

    This Russian boy, this bright, determined, starving, heedless boy was the age his son would have been. And so as he watched Joseph shovel the food into his mouth as fast as he could, he made an offer that would change my grandfather’s life forever. “Would you like to sleep here?” he asked. “We could make a pallet under the ovens where it’s warm.”

    Joe couldn’t believe his luck, and said, “Yes, yes, and maybe I could sweep up for you tomorrow.”

    And so it began. Young Joe became an apprentice baker and he lived in the baker’s house sleeping under the ovens for the next six years. The baker, whose name was Davis, paid him fair wages, and Joe saved his money for passage to America.

    Finally, when he was twenty, he said goodbye to the man who had saved his life and booked passage in steerage to start his new life. And when he got to Ellis Island and was asked for his name, he decided to shed his old name forever, to let go of the cold Russian winters and the harsh tirades of his father, and to honor the man who had edged him toward him dream.

    “My name is Joe Davis,” he said.

    • Hazel says

      What a great story, and so well told! Maybe you are so driven because it is in your blood. Hmmm.

      Thank you for sharing Laura. It is nice to have the facilitator post a story.

    • Adrienne Drake says

      This could so be how it all went down, and another ispiring example of how, if you pay attention, the universe provides.

    • Polly says

      I love this story, Laura. It’s beautiful. Thanks for posting it. If I have time this week, I might challenge myself and try to write the two versions as well, although it will have to be under my pseudonym so it would partly be fictional by default.

      • says

        I’d love to see what you come up with. I had a ball writing that story making up (most of) my grandfather’s story. It was really fun–and liberating.

    • Diana says

      I love this fictionalized account. You know just enough information to fill in the blanks with a plausable story by combining family history with historical facts. It puts your ancestor in historical context but also makes history personal.

  3. Fran Stekoll says

    I got my first name from my Great Grandmother Fannie Figenbaum. She was from Budapest Hungary and made apple strudel for her family and friends and neighbors. She would put on her apron and classical music, open her windows, place a linen tablecloth on her large wooden table, sprinkle it with abundant amounts of flour, prepare her dough, place it on the floured tablecloth covered with flour, pick up her wooden rolling pin and roll her dough paper thin. Then she would core, peel and thinly slice 6-8 apples, add 1/3 cup brown sugar, 12 tablespoons of melted butter, 1/2 cup of raisins, 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon.

    Then she would spoon these ingredients carefully on the thinly rolled dough and roll up a log. which she coated with 1/4 pound melted butter.

    Then she would sing and dance around this huge table while waiting for the oven to reach 425 degrees. She then would carefully roll the dough around the filling to make a log which she coated with melted butter and bake for 45 minutes. She would then continue singing around the table while she cleaned up. The window allowed her voice to penetrate throughout the ghetto and the neighbors smelled what was being prepared which made their salivary glands drool uncontrollably. When Fannie stopped singing they knew their treat was coming out of the oven. She put it on the windowsill to cool.

    About a half-an- hour later, they would line up with their finest china plates to receive Fannie’s freshly baked apple strudel. I am so glad to be named after her; however I’m grateful that my name was changed to Frances Ann because Fannie is where all my excess weight ends up (that’s a pun) I changed Frances to Fran due to a movie that came out of our radio in the 40’s -“Frances the Talking Mule” I did not want to be remembered as a jackass!!

    To this day I prepare Fannie’s strudel weekly, sing while I use Phylo Dough layered carefully in a 13x9x2 rectangular glass dish coated with cooking spray. After folding the phylo dough into the dish, I spoon the ingredients carefully covering the dough which I then sprinkle with granola. I usually get four layers coating the last with the melted butter and carefully folding in the dough to tuck it in nicely. I then wait patiently. My neighbors appear regularly with their containers for their portion and I share with other friends and family. Very often my daughter’s neighbor provide me with apples from their trees knowing good and well they will get back Great Grandma’s Strudel.

    Bake 325 degrees for 35 minutes until

  4. Lee Senior says

    According to my mother, she had always wanted a daughter named Audrey
    Jane. And, that’s what she told my father when he came to see her at the
    hospital. She thought it was a pretty name and suited me. My father
    advised her that I had to be named after someone in the family who died.
    “It’s our religion,” he said. “It’s how they live on.” Though disappointed
    that she would not hve an Audrey Jane, she accepted my father’s reasoning.
    However, there were no women in our immediate families who had died.
    My father countered that by telling her they would have to go back a little further. He remembered hearing about a distant relative named Leah and liked the fact that it was a biblical name. My mother agreed, but then became concerned about a middle name. My father stopped by the glass window of the nursery and looked at me before leaving the building. He was happy with Leah, but Leah what? I needed a middle name. Before he returned the next day, he had contemplated many names but had not made a decision. When my mother asked him if he had thought of one, he told her the only name he could think if was Marchten, because that was my birthday. My mother had never heard of anyone named after their birthday. My father had to go to work and left the middle name up in the air. However, when he returned to the hospital that evening, he asked my mother whether she had thought of a middle name. “I thought it was Marchten,” she said. “That’s what I told them to put on the birth certificate. And, so I became Leah Marchten. I didn’t mind it when I was little, but as I grew older, I began to hate it. Kids at school called me Leah the Peea. And Marchten was stupid.
    I wanted my name to be Josephine, after Jo in “Little Women”. I also
    wanted a name that would also be a boy’s name. But I was stuck with
    Leah Marchten, although no one at school knew about the Marchten.
    Eventually, I accepted the Marchten, because everyone in my family,
    aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, remembered my birthday, but I
    was alway uncomfortable with it. I spent a good deal of my time trying
    to think of other names I could call myself. Then, in fourth grade, everything changed. The teacher told us we were going to write letters to servicemen and asked everyone in the class to bring a name. My favorite uncle was
    in the army in France. I had a name to bring and was very proud. The
    teacher put all the names on folded pieces of paper and we came to her desk one by one to draw one of the papers. I guess luck was with me that
    day. The name I drew was Leon Fire. I wrote him a letter, and he responded. At the bottom of the page he signed his name – Lee. From that
    moment on, I became Lee. I not only signed letters Lee, I signed them with
    another word. Sincere Lee, Gratefull Lee, Loving Lee, True Lee. Then I decided to tackle my middle name. After spending hours playing with names, I decided to use Hebrew. My middle name in Hebrew is Meryl. When I was seventeen, after years of dancing lessons and several acting classes, I took the name Lee Meryl as my stage name. Somehow it came into common usage, and I have been Lee Meryl ever since.

    • Hazel says

      Strange the things that influence how we think about our names. I know some people don’t think about them at all, but most of us have some preference for something other than what we have been named at birth.

      Thank you for sharing this story.

    • Ilana says

      What a great story, Lee. So empowering. I’ve always liked your name because it is the middle name of someone important to me. It also always reminded me of the Hebrew name, Lev, meaning heart. It’s so amazing to hear the stories of how people got their names and reflect upon how those names affected me as a reader of their work. Thank you for sharing yours. IM

    • Diana says

      A captivating story. I like the “Marchten” after you birthday. That was very clever and modern of him to create a name just for you. I like how you have taken the name your parents gave you and it has evolved as your life progressed.

    • Debbie says

      Lee – this was so interesting! Your middle name was so unique and meant something – not something kids usually appreciate. I liked learning this about your – thanks!

  5. Chris Reeves says

    The painful stagnant line at the DMV has dragged on in its deliberate brewing of expected irritation. I’m already annoyed. It’s as if they’ve planned the pace of this line just perfectly to grate my nerves. At the front, I take the plunging step up to the reception clerk. I hand him my driver’s license and wait for the idiot-slow expression that I know will dawn on him; as it unfalteringly does to every civil servant. I watch him read my name. His mouth twitches silently with the words, Christopher Reeves. I see the antique light bulb of an idea fizzle in the expressions that play out across his face. He thinks he’s going to be funny. They all do. A second later he opens his mouth for the runaway train of stupidity when he starts the imbecile prattle that they all believe is as easy as stand-up comedy. The first thing that your brain vomits forth is never the funniest.

    “Christopher Reeves! Aren’t you….?”

    I cut him off. Cold, “Don’t say it.”

    He believes he’s in a position of minor authority, and continues, dumb and self-important, “Aren’t you…?”

    Again, like the bitchy version of the implied hero, I try to save him from himself, but I can’t even be kind about it anymore. “Don’t say it. It’s just going to prove you have a crappy sense of humor. Every half-wit civil servant and their sister says it; and it’s just pathetic.”

    His expression is unchanged. Eyes glazed in his sorry little moment to shine, he plows through my conversational roadblock and spews the words in what feels an eternity to me. Time slows. The fat wrinkled around his eyes is rolled into creases of self-amusement. Sweat rolls in tiny drops down the side of prematurely graying hair. The glare of fluorescent government lighting bleaches his crescent eyes behind thick glasses. I stare hard in utter disgust. Finally the syllables roll out in extended play, “SSuuuuupppeeeerrrrmmaaaaaaannnn.”

    “See? There you did it. Pathetic sense of humor.”

    Still proud of himself, “I bet people say that to you all the time.”

    Expressionless, “Yep. That just occur to you?”

    “You know, if you don’t want to stand in line, you could just make an appointment.”

    I imagine him in the starring role of one of those terrifying traffic accident movies they show you in high school driver’s training. I take my number and go sit while I wait to talk to yet another clerk who will give me a repeat performance.

    My mother named me after Saint Christopher. Though she does not go to church, and thinks little of a religion that claims that children are born with sin, she still chose Catholic names for my brother Damien and I. True to form, she chose to name us after saints whose names became legend for selflessly helping others. Damien was after Father Damien (now a saint) who ministered the needs of the government quarantined leper colony on island of Moloka’i. I was named after Saint Christopher, who carried the Christ child across a treacherous river. While I enjoy the stuff of legend, my brother got the better honor, having been named after an historical figure who served within the reach of photographic evidence. Unfortunately we share similar fate in that, people remark on the lead character in the 1976 movie “The Omen” about the Antichrist, whose name is also Damien. It was no fault of my parents that four years after the more important historical even that was my birth, a usurper with almost the same name portrayed Superman in the 1978 film that I idolized as a child. Christopher Reeve was a singular, while I am a plural. As a young kid there was flattering affinity to having the same name as a guy who could fly and save the world. As an adult, the feeble attempts at humor wear thin. It’s always the same unimaginative drivel: the protracted “Superman,” “Aren’t you supposed to be wearing a red cape?”, “You’re supposed to have a big ‘S’ on your shirt,” or “I thought you were in a wheelchair.” The sad ending to the actor’s life briefly brought the truly thoughtless, “I thought you were dead.” I watched the faces of those poor fools fall as soon as they heard themselves say it; unable to take it back.

    I would be more excited about the phenomenon if I heard anything original; ever. I have attempted to garner new punch lines, by offering free sail boat trips to classes I teach, in exchange for any new material whatsoever. The last sign of originality passed from the world several years ago with; “What’s the opposite of Christopher Walkin?” Local lore would suggest that there’s still an original joke about my name somewhere, as evidenced by the constant failed attempts to make them. Everyone believes it’s out there, but no one has seen it in a long time.

    I sidle up to the brunette at the bar with the sharp green eyes who keeps looking over toward our table. She has her driver’s license out; knowing that she looks young enough to be carded. I glance at the photo on her ID and go for the low-hanging fruit. “Don’t you hate it when you finally remember that they’re going to take your photo at the DMV, so you show up looking good, but they refuse to let you smile?” She blushes a little and half-covers the photo with her thumb.

    “Yeah, seriously. I hate this picture. They wouldn’t even let me wear my hair up.”

    “Don’t worry, everybody’s is like that. I don’t like mine either.”

    “What? Let’s see it.”

    “No way, it’s crappy.”

    “C’mon. Give it up.” She holds out her hand and gives me a demanding flirty expression. It’s on now.

    I feign reluctance and hand her my own driver’s license. The photo is of course mediocre. She scans it for all useful information like sharp women always do. Weight, height, age, eye color, name… She pauses and looks me in the eye with one eyebrow raised. “ I bet people comment on that all the time.” That’s how the intelligent ones do it when they’re interested in me.

    She’ll remember who I am.

    • says

      Sounds really frustrating! Maybe someone on this forum will come back with a funny come-back line. Or maybe you need some kind of Aikido like response–where you flow with the inevitable and then turn it in the direction you want it to go. Very well told…thank you!

    • Ilana says

      Oh Chris! I have wondered, each time I saw your name and read your posts how much crap you get about sharing a name with Superman. Now I have my answer. I am sorry that it was as bad as, or worse than, I imagined. Still, you told your story eloquently and I enjoyed reading it. I also loved hearing how you got the name. Thank you for sharing. IM

    • beverly boyd says

      My married name and the name of all my children was Gilligan. The boys especially could relate to what you have gone through with your name. All three were usually called Gilligan. They were in grade school when G’s Island was in reruns every night in the early evening. They say, thankfully, that don’t get it as much anymore. For me it was a relief to go back to using my maiden name when they got out of school.

    • Judy says

      Chris, What creativity. Both fun reads. Loved the last two lines on Christopher Walkin and Everyone believes it’s out there…hope it finds its way to you one day; I’m on the look out!

    • Debbie says

      I like how you told the story of frustration and, then, surprised us with how you also use your name to your advantage. Very cool – thanks!

    • Terry Gibson says

      I don’t envy you, Chris. I can just hear my inner groan if I repeatedly dealt with what you do. The ‘here it comes …’ again. Ugh! My name is boring but I’ll hold my tongue before complaining. 🙂

  6. Hazel says

    Hazel Robinson’s husband, Harry Robinson had gone to work in the woods north west of Klammath Falls, Oregon where my father was also working. They had become friends. Harry had told my father about his wife’s boarding house for the doctor’s patients down in Dorris, California. In 1936 that was way too far to drive in a Model A with a woman ready to give birth imminently. My father probably could have, but he was not about to deliver his first child by himself along side the bumpy gravel road with log trucks rumbling by raising lots of dust. So that is why Dorothea Gertrude Daily Strawn, otherwise known as “Gertie,” had been brought to this house in Dorris, California to have her baby, because that was where the closest doctor was.

    I was born on July first 1936 at 5 a.m. That was just about the last time I would get up that early in my entire life. It was two weeks until my father was able to make the trip back to pick up mother and me. In the meantime mother had been thinking of names for her darling daughter. When my father came he was excited to hold me and all self conscious like most guys are when handed a new-born. Someone asked him what he was going to name me and he said, “Hazel for my friend Harry’s wife and Gertrude after her mom, Gertie.” So there I was, the cutest little girl in the world doomed ever after to have to answer to the name Hazel and never to tell anyone what my middle name was.

    Both those names were high on my hate list until at my father’s funeral in 2001 when my mother turned to me and said, “It was your father that named you Hazel. I wanted to call you something pretty like Sophia, but your father never asked me.” I had always wondered how anyone could look at an infant girl and pronounced the name of “Hazel Gertrude” upon them. Now, I loved my father and in my eyes he could do very little that was wrong, but that was just wrong! Then I thought about it a long time and decided that Sophia didn’t exactly suit me either.

    I’ve changed my last name several times over my lifetime, but I have decided that all the memories I have are connected to THAT name, and they are for the most part very good, so I have quit fighting.

    • Polly says

      Hazel, I just laughed out loud while reading this, when I came to the line “I had always wondered how anyone could look at an infant girl and pronounced the name of ‘Hazel Gertrude’ upon them.” When I was little I had a long list of names I wanted to switch to – basically anything except my real name. Thanks for this relatable and funny piece!

    • Judy says

      Hazel, What a touching story. Such vivid images (warm and funny). Love this line…’That was just about the last time I would get up that early in my entire life.’ Thanks.

    • Hazel says

      Thank you all for your comments. Writing is best when others can relate and comment.

      Thank you all again, for sharing.

    • Diana says

      You brought the rural Oregon life of your parents alive. I laughed at “that was the las time in my life I would get up that early.” I was touched by “memories are connect with THAT name, so I have quit fighting.

    • Ilana says

      What a rich story, Hazel. Thank you for sharing it. By the way. I love the name Hazel. It reminds me of that beautiful song “In Lily’s Eyes” from “The Secret Garden.” I will always be haunted by Mandy Patinkin’s lilting voice singing about Lily’s hazel eyes. Just my opinion but it always seemed to me to be a timeless name. 🙂 IM

  7. Gayle says

    I was named Gayle because my mother couldn’t find a C name that she liked. As was the Jewish tradition, my Hebrew name, Chava (which meant first woman, or Eve) was in honor of a relative who had died. My mother was creative and took liberties with most things, changing them to suit her fancy. So the C became a G. She used the uncommon, ‘more artistic’ spelling. There were few Gails to begin with, but to spell it with a y set me apart from the beginning of my life. My mother also liked the 50’s star, Gale Storm, and compared me to her when I talked quickly or became dramatic.

    Lindsay was another story. I hated that middle name. It reminded me of cans of Lindsay Olives lined up on the shelf. I always thought of it as a man’s name, wishing for the more feminine spelling of Lindsey or the cutesy Linzy. Today, I like it as is–I do have something to say, so having that word as part of my name, suits me.

    As far as my last name–I’m glad that my Russian grandfather changed it to Slaten at Ellis Island, instead of the original Slutsky…who knows where I’d be today with that energy–perhaps more out there, living a bawdy life instead of living a life in my head, just writing about it.

    Gayle Lindsay Slaten. My mother always told me that she gave me a writer’s name. That was who I was–a writer. I saw the world differently from most, but my quirky views were O.K., because ‘I was a writer’. Having conversations with a crab on the beach or a misshapen pumpkin that was left on the shelf at Halloween, were normal parts of my day, being a writer. Angelica, the Beautiful Butterfly, Betty the Button, and Alfredadore, the Fly Who Flew the Atlantic, were my childhood friends who helped me win an award as ‘Best Writer’ of my 6th grade class…of course, there were only ten of us graduating that year from a small private school, but, I was ‘the Writer’ of the group.

    In later years, I married and took my husband’s name, as we so often did in those days. The magic of my name disappeared. I went underground as a writer and became a mirror for others, especially in my work as a therapist. I reflected pieces of the names I took on, of all three of my husbands. Now, on my new journey to self, I reclaim my given name, and the energy it holds. I’m ready to write that book, now, Mom!

    • Hazel says

      “Now, on my new journey to self, I reclaim my given name, and the energy it holds.” I found this a most interesting statement. Long, long ago and far, far away I had to change my name completely to escape being killed by a very deranged husband. I also fled to a different country, but being a cancer I wanted to return to my “nest,” my home. It was okay for several years but then the authorities caught up with me and I was forced to take back this name that I had never liked. The autonomous name that I had taken had allowed me the freedom to do and be whatever I wanted to be. I accomplished, I think, many things I would not have done with my given name. So taking back that “maiden name” with all of it’s baggage was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. The years have softened my feelings about most things that have occurred related to my name and I am now comfortable with it but it has taken over 75 years.

    • Judy says

      Gayle, Love the structure of your piece and the vivid images. Your mom had great instincts in naming you. Thanks for sharing. (My post will include reclaiming my birth name as well.)

    • Diana says

      I liked the part about marrying and losing the magic of your birth name. My husbands name seems so foreign to me even after 15 years marriage. I feel the excite of the ” new journey to self” and reclaiming your name.

    • Debbie says

      Gayle – I loved these lines “The magic of my name disappeared. I went underground as a writer and became a mirror for others,” I also found that name of my ex-husband kept me linked to him in a way that I didn’t like until I changed it back to my birth name. The only name that has ever felt authentic to me.

    • Terry Gibson says

      What a great story, Gayle. I love the Jewish tradition of picking names! It’s really cool. I laughed about you being compared to Gale Storm ‘when I talked quickly or became dramatic’ and wiped my brow in relief that your grandfather changed that last name. Also, love the description of you and your world, “Having conversations with a crab on the beach or a misshapen pumpkin that was left on the shelf at Halloween, were normal parts of my day, being a writer.” Thanks Gayle!

  8. Bing Shaw says

    I am a first generation Chinese American born in the U.S. All Chinese names begin with their surnames, so that’s where I’ll start with mine. After I got married, many people assumed that my surname “Shaw” was the name of my husband, who is Anglo American. I then had to explain that when my father came to the U.S. in the mid-1940’s, his Chinese surname was spelled “Hsiao” which, at that time, was virtually unpronounceable to most Americans. Like so many immigrants before and after him, my father “Anglicized” his surname to Shaw. And, as a matter of fact, there are not a few Chinese immigrants from his generation who have the surname “Shaw”.

    When I was born, I was named after my maternal grandmother, who had passed away shortly after my birth in Taiwan. My actual Chinese given name, spelled in Pinyin, is “Bin Bin” but was written as” Bing Bing” on my birth certificate. The characters from my name are taken from classical Chinese; in the Confucian Analects, there is a phrase, “bin bin you li”, which means extremely polite, proper, and courteous. But it took many, many years before I had any inkling of the meaning of my name, and what it would eventually come to mean to me.

    Growing up in northwest Washington, D.C., my brothers and I were the only Asian American students in our predominantly white, middle-class school. Some of my most searing memories of my elementary years was the desperate longing to have golden, curly hair, blue eyes, and rosy skin. Other kids took every opportunity to tease me about my eyes and even my clothing—could my name as a target be far behind? In those days, all children walked to school; we were even required to walk home for lunch, which gave us about 15 minutes to gulp down our food before heading back to school. At each intersection, there were “patrol boys” (I’m sure there must’ve been girls as well, but I don’t remember them) to help us cross the street safely. When I was in first grade, I dreaded one particular corner, because the patrol boy there (who was at least a couple of years older than I) would taunt me every time I walked by: “Bing Bong plays ping pong in Hong Kong with King Kong!” As an adult I relish telling this story to point out not only how cruel children could be, but also how clever! It always gets a good laugh. But at the time, to a painfully shy, introverted Chinese American girl, it was pure torture.

    Fast forward to high school—my name became the source of many nicknames (hey, it rhymes so easily!) from Bing Bong to Bing-a-ling, to Bing-a-ling-a-thing-a-wing. Thankfully, by this time, all names were terms of endearment, and I relished every new iteration, as it now became a measure of how popular I was!

    And then, to adulthood. I started to introduce myself as “My name is Bing, as in Crosby” because so many people misheard my name as “Ping”. I knew I had to come up with something different many years ago when a young woman to whom I was talking looked at me blankly and said, “Huh?” I realized in a flash that she had never heard of Bing Crosby! Wow, I was getting old. So now, depending on the age of the speaker, I will either use the Crosby line, or “Bing as in cherries” (this is more successful in CA than here on the east coast–don’t they eat Bing cherries here?) OR “Bing as in dot com.” I only use the last on YOUNG people!

    I love my name. It holds the story of my evolving identity and the search for the integration of my Chinese roots and American upbringing. It is more common for Asian males to have the name Bing, and although I know there are women out there named Bing, I have yet to meet one. And I doubt there are many with the exact Chinese character as mine.

    Oh, and I do have a middle name that has nothing to do with Chinese origins. But that’s another story.

    • says

      Bing, welcome to the Roadmap blog. I was delighted to see your post. I’m sitting in a cafe with Lizzy in New Haven. We’re visiting Yale tomorrow and while she’s doing homework, I’m checking email and just saw your post. I loved your story. Even knowing you for years, I didn’t know this story and love the way you told it. My favorite part was the evolving way you’ve used rhymes and little sayings to teach people your name. That made me laugh out loud–the Bing Crosby, bing cherries and–one of my favorite search engines for researching whether the price of airfare is going up or down! I hope to see many more posts from you here, my friend. Sorry we didn’t get to see you on this swing to the east coast!

      • Bing Shaw says

        Can’t wait to hear about your adventures and what Lizzy thinks of the colleges she’s visiting. I know you’re having a fabulous time! We WILL connect on the east coast someday!

    • Diana says

      I loved many aspects of your story, Bing. My daughter is Chinese and we have recently had to deal with peers making fun of her eyes. (Some things never change). Fortunately, I think school officials are more enlightened about dealing with that sort of thing than they were “back in the day”. Also, I enjoyed the strategies you use to place your name with the listener’s cultural context from “Crosby” to “.com” All very clever. Finally, you brought back memories of selecting my own daughter’s name. I connected with the Chinese tradition of naming a child with a quality you wish for them to possess. For her I choose, “li” meaning “strong”. Her first name is derived from that. She is strong in many respects. I also kept her Chinese name one of them being “An” the character is “peace” which she could have with our family. Thanks for bring that forward in my memory.

    • Judy says

      Bing, What a beautiful telling of your naming. I loved the structure, creativity and humor along with the explanation of the Confucian Analects. Look forward to hearing your middle name story. Thank you for sharing such a creativity memory skill, too.

    • Ilana says

      Bing- I enjoyed this piece on so many levels. I loved how you took us through all the different experiences you had with your name. I really related to the little girl who dreaded the street corner where the nasty patrol boy. For a few years in junior high I tried to go by my full, very unusual name. (Big mistake!) The songs they sang about me haunt me to this day and I cannot give voice to them because it is still so painful. I also loved watching you grow to love your name. The last line was very enticing to me as well. “Oh, and I do have a middle name that has nothing to do with Chinese origins. But that’s another story.” It makes me hope that one day Laura will put out a promt that will bring that story to this blog. Welcome to our little community. I look forward to your future posts. IM

    • Debbie says

      Bing – thank you for sharing this post with us. So many of us got teased about our names but you highlight how much more intense it was for those who were “different”. Thanks so much for your piece!

    • Terry Gibson says

      I enjoyed how you told the tale of your name. Tailoring explanations based on the generation you’re talking to. One of my GPs was a Dr. Shiao and I took note of the name back then, as I had never heard it before; I loved its spelling and pronunciation and still do. I always love stuff like that and learning the histories behind words, names, and places. Thanks for this, Bing, and let me also extend a big Welcome to you.

  9. Allen Berg says

    The night tree crown dome king
    leaf growth sage years slowth
    Companying me here
    this evening of spring equinox

    Comfort with stars brilliance
    of the planets pair
    Descending some relative circles

    I sit still on the grass
    in my portable lawn chair
    Calming my mind and ascending
    to the up above, out there

    This dark warm tree, my neighbor
    in the night
    Confirms my birth that I was meant to see

    in Florida, the person I am
    unexplained, but happy
    Writing left-handed
    because of something that happened
    millions of years ago
    Before my name was pronounced


  10. PJ says

    I believe I can only offer the first layer of explanations. Peter Jackson Smith
    Pete was my maternal grandfather’s (John Stanley Coleman) nickname. He was a Harvard graduate (class of 1919) and lived in suburban Boston for his adult life with his family. He was a bit of a dandy and sat for a portrait photo by one of the hottest photographer’s of the era, Fabian. Who took portraits of the rich, powerful and famous. His son inherited his first name and nickname.

    Jackson is a Northern Irish surname of a family that came to this country in the4 late 1700’s in the NYC area. This was in my paternal Grandmother’s family. The son of the immigrant headed to San Francisco during the gold rush and only made it as far as Chicago and according to family lore bought a farm in what is now inside the “loop” area of Chicago. Left for Florida a few years later and returned to the Northeast settling in Connecticut.

    Smith is a surname usually attributed to England (or sometimes Germanic speaking countries. I have traced my earliest Smith to Thomas, b 1754 in Stonington, CT. Fought in the Revolution and received a pension until he died in 1844.

    The more obvious traditional ”roots” would be from the Biblical character, Peter, aka “the Rock” which Christ built his church upon. I do feel a certain closeness/ resemblance to him as he is portrayed as being very human with the common weaknesses most of we mortals have.

    • Hazel says

      The first layer is good. It shows where and from whom you have come from.

      That is a linear way of defining ones self that comes more easily for men as they are most of the time named for some male ancestor and are informed as to who it is. People tend to name girls in a more whimsical ways that have nothing to do at all with lineage. Maybe a name from a novel that their mother read and liked while she was pregnant with them, or such.

      Thank you for sharing.

    • Judy says

      Very enjoyable telling, PJ. If, BTB, you want to pursue the story of the family farm in Chicago’s loop, we’re at the Chicago Historical Museum weekly and will try to scope it out.

    • Diana says

      The first layer is an interesting story and I wonder about the other layers. It sounds like you have done genealogical research in discovering the meaning of your name. Genealogy is one of my passions.

  11. Andrea says

    Andrea, Andi, Slats, Brat, Sis, Honey, Doll Face, Sweetie, Baby, Mama, Mommy, Mom, Thingy, Bitch: my many first names. JEANINE!! – my middle name only used in an escalated and certain-tone-of-voice when I was in trouble. Macon, Scott, back to Macon, Jones and now back to Macon again: My many last names dictated by both my mother’s marriages and then my own.

    I was born, “Andrea” named after my mother’s younger brother – Andrew – or more commonly – Uncle Andy. One Christmas I opened a present with a nametag of “Andy” thinking it was mine. It was men’s cologne destined for Uncle Andy, not niece Andi, but it didn’t matter. I wanted to keep it. The name was close enough.

    I’ve always answered to any variation of my name that I can recognize. Close enough worked just fine. I don’t correct people’s mispronunciation or blatant wrong name usage. It’s a good thing, because I have been having trouble deciding what my name is these days. For the last few weeks I’ve sat staring at the form on my desk. The Social Security office requires I fill out a very long form to reclaim my original last name of “Macon”. I’m no longer married to the last name I’ve carried for more than 18 years.

    Why do I hesitate to fill in the last few blanks and sign the bottom of the page that will return me to my father and release me from my ex-husband? Is it a practical hesitation as I embark on the staggering amount of paperwork required; driver’s license, passport, credit cards, bills, mortgages? Or is it an emotional hesitation; the last tangible thread of my marriage? A change that will call to attention that my children and I are not linked by a human common denominator any longer?

    While it may be both of these to some extent, I think there is a third reason. Why can’t I have my own name? Why can’t I simply be who I want to be without being titled as belonging to someone else? I love my dad and would be honored to carry my family name, but it belongs to the child I started out as and the girl I was in my youth. I’m not her anymore. What if, as I decide who I am becoming, I give myself my own name? I’ll stick to the first and middle name I was born with, but what if my last name is of my own choosing this time. I have a new life. It seems appropriate that I would have a new name.

    • says

      Andrea, welcome to the Roadmap blog. I could literally hear your voice reading this piece to me. It’s a great elucidation of the name dilemma so many women face. Personally, I hope you take the time to at least dream of what that “new just you” name might be. I look forward to reading many more of your posts and comments in the weeks to come.

      • Andrea Jones says

        Thank you Laura. I do think I will give this more serious thought. I was intrigued when I found out Cheryl Strayed created her own last name after her divorce and the loss of her mother. I had been thinking of this even as I read “Wild” before Mexico.

        • Debbie says

          I have had fun with this all day. My favorite suggestion so far: Andrea Rites (love the double meanings), Second choice Andrea S. Fault. Guess I should leave the humor to you, huh?

          • Andrea Jones says

            Snicker! I like them both. I think we are on the right track. Maybe a I need a, “Rename Andrea Contest.” 🙂

    • Hazel says

      ” What if, as I decide who I am becoming, I give myself my own name?” You are not the only woman who has posed this question. So many of us have changed our last names at least once but some of us have done it numerous times until it becomes a real dilemma. Who am I really? becomes a very valid question.

      • Andrea Jones says

        It certainly is a valid question Hazel. I do keep getting stuck by Juliet’s observation though. I wonder, does a name really define who you become or does who you become define your name?

        ‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
        Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
        What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
        Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
        Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
        What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
        By any other name would smell as sweet;
        So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
        Retain that dear perfection which he owes
        Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
        And for that name which is no part of thee
        Take all myself.

        • Hazel says

          At this point in my life I have decided to use my given first name of Hazel because I have answered to that name all my life; then as a middle name I use my Maiden name (usually just the initial S) of Strawn because I have use it more than 1/2 my life and current married name of Muller. Each of us has to work out the details for ourselves but it is indeed a good question: “who are we REALLY?”

    • Diana says

      You eloquently captured the last name dilemma. I struggle with them same questions as I carry a husbands last name that has never felt like mine.

    • Debbie says

      Andrea – pick your name! I love the thought. It is too amazing that I also posted about the time after my divorce when I reclaimed my birth name. It is a crazy and amazing amount of work – so why not just pick a new one and go for it!

  12. Suzanne Witbeck Wilcox says

    The story of my name is a narration on minimalism, less is more, because my parents didn’t give me a middle name at birth.

    When I was old enough to complain I said, “Why can’t I have a middle name? Something cute and popular like Kimberly or Elizabeth?”

    My parents said, “You don’t need a middle name. One day you will get married and take your husband’s name and Witbeck will be your middle name.”

    This was not what I wanted to hear. First of all, by the time I got married I would be an adult. That is a lifetime for a child. Second of all, what kind of middle name is Witbeck? Third of all, I couldn’t articulate it, but there was something not quite right about needing to get married to have a full name.

    Then I realized that I wasn’t the only one in my family that had reason to complain. My father did not have a middle name. Billings Witbeck. Technically, he didn’t even have a first name. His given name was his mother’s maiden name. So really he had two last names. My brother got a letter for a middle name. B. But without the period because it wasn’t an initial because it didn’t stand for a name. (Remember his middle name was a letter not a name.) And my other brother got a middle name that sounded like an initial but was actually a name. Dee. He was named after my Grandfather, Dee Witbeck. And of course my three sisters got nada. Just like me.

    So I went through 23 years of my life as Suzanne Witbeck. Two words. Then I was pleasantly surprised at the satisfaction I felt upon changing my name after my marriage. I was happy to have a middle name. And I was happy that my maiden name wasn’t completely displaced. You see, I wasn’t strong enough to deny the tradition of taking my husband’s name, as some of my more independent and bolder friends were. And I realized I had become quite attached to my family name and was happy to see it printed on my driver’s license and passport.

    Two years ago my father died and I have reflected often since then about the legacy he left me. I remember him as a man of few words and it seems fitting that he didn’t give me a middle name. In fact, I think I will claim him as my namesake because we do, after all, have the same middle name.

    • says

      Suzanne, I loved your tale of eventually coming to peace with your name–and all the twists and turns it took you to get there. Thanks for sharing your story with us.

    • Judy says

      Suzanne, what a funny, insightful, and loving story. You made me smile so thank you. PS: I think your name is very lyrical.

    • Diana says

      I liked the whimsical quality to this piece. I enjoyed the play with letters as names and last names as first names, etc. Finally, reflecting that your naming reflected as aspect of your father’s personality.

    • Debbie says

      Suzanne – when I finally reclaimed my birth name, I felt connected to my family and proud of my heritage in a way I never did as a child.

  13. Judy says

    Tell me the story of your name…..

    Instead of Judy my name was nearly Darlene. Instead of Brady it was nearly Ennis.

    My dad, born Keith Ennis, according to Illinois Home & Aid Society documents that I obtained whilst helping him get SSI benefits, was placed in the Mercy Home orphanage in 1911, at two years of age. Genealogy research has yielded no records of his biological parents or the reason for his orphanage placement. We have precious little—only a document explaining that all records were destroyed during a fire including several years of census data. Robert I. and Ellen Flaherty Brady on Chicago’s southeast side, took Keith Ennis ‘into their home’ during the 1929 census. His name was changed to Raymond I. Brady.

    His whereabouts and what he did during twenty years is a huge question to our family. He rarely spoke of early childhood except to say that Pa Brady saved his life by giving him a trade, a roof over his head, and a family. Grandpa Brady was in the building/construction industry, and many of the bungalows in Chicago’s Avalon Park neighborhood were his developments. Grandma Brady, we were told, was a short, round, redheaded woman with clear blue eyes and freckles. She ruled the roost and ordered clothes from Marshal Field’s (a Chicago department store).

    Barry Lopez, in his book Arctic Dreams, said, “Everything is held together with stories. That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion.” Well, this family story is referred to as the ‘doozy’ among my siblings. Here goes: Grandpa Brady and his two sons, Dad and Bernie, collected their properties’ rents, made up the bank deposit slip and drove to the bank. Dad got out of the car, went to the front door and found the bank closed. A guard came to the door and motioned him to the side entrance where he made an after-hours deposit.

    The next day was Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929. And, that’s how we lost the Brady fortune!


    Becoming the family genealogists seemed natural when Mom, Vivienne C. Brady, gave me a handwritten note in the mid-1960s with her English Cherrington line dating back to the French and Indian wars. From that piece of paper–beautifully scribed by her great grandfather–Cicero Kerr Cherrington, I’ve been able to document that two Cherrington sisters married two Guthrie brothers in the mid-1800s.

    When my husband and I were in Scotland many years ago, we had a wonderful adventure travelling the east coast near Montrose, in search of Guthrie Castle. We found it, leaving a somewhat crumbled stone fence trying to get a photo. Our driver, whom we affectionately dubbed, Ian of Guthrie, laughed like hell at the crazy American’s in search of family roots.

    Over the years, I have gathered photos of many of my ‘line of grandmothers.’ Additionally, we have handwritten notes during the Civil War (on both sides and wow). We have Cherringon-Guthrie mustered-out papers from the American Revolution to Viet Nam.

    While conducting this family research, I’d also joined a Jungian study group exploring the archetypes of the feminine divine dating back to the Neolithic and Copper Age cultures 7000-3500 B.C., predating Hellenic history. We read the works of Marija Gimbutas, June Singer, Joseph Campbell, and many other brilliant minds; and, we developed ceremony. One of my favorite ceremonies is the very powerful ritual of standing in a circle, hands held, as each woman names her maternal line:

    I am Judy Ellen Brady daughter of
    Vivienne Esther Cooper Brady, granddaughter of
    Arie Artincie Guthrie Cooper, great-granddaughter of
    Ida Isadora Cherrington Guthrie, great-great granddaughter of
    Molly….Mary Emiline Johnson Cherrington, great great great granddaughter of
    Sara W. Kerr great great great great granddaugter of
    Sarah Westlake 5th granddaughter of
    Margaret Hank 6th granddaughter of
    Mary Coles Matthews 7th granddaughter.

    This ceremony holds such meaning and power for me. It helps soothe the pain between my Dad and me and provides a context he probably didn’t have most of his life. This ceremony always reminds me of the story of Cinque, from Alex Pate’s play, Amistad. In it, John Quincy Adams, who defended the slaves before the US Supreme Court, asked their spokesperson, Cinque, “Who gives you the right to be free,?” Cinque summarizes with this, “I am a free man because of those who have walked before me. They give me strength and courage.”

    # # #

    Like most women of my generation, I followed the custom of taking the husband’s last name upon marriage. By the mid-70s, women were opting to hyphenate their last names, joining their birth name with their husband’s name. I did that for awhile until I got a call from a business colleague’s office asking how best to address the envelope: my name was confusing to them. Explaining that I hyphenated my name, I verified the address and we said goodbye.

    When the package arrived I was dumbstruck: it read, Judy Brady Hyphenated McCloud.

    That was it–I went back to my birth name. So, why am I named Judy Brady instead of Darlene Ennis?

    The story goes, an old girlfriend of Dad’s, you guessed it, Darlene, introduced my parents. I can hear my gentle mother saying to Dad, “No dear, we’re not naming our second daughter after your old girlfriend.” So the compromise was Judy (probably after Judy Garland) Ellen (after Dad’s adopted mother) Brady (nee Ennis).

    One last thing, I Googled Darlene Ennis and by page 10 noted that there were over 4,000,000 hits….hmmmmm, could this be the fiction part of this week’s prompt?

    • says

      Judy, what a fascinating and rich response you’ve posted here! I was especially moved by the ceremony naming the matrilineal line, something I could never do more than a couple of generations.

      • Judy says

        Laura, thank you for your kind response–always greatly appreciate the writing validation. As far as the ritual naming the matrilineal line, I agree to it’s power; and, fully realize how lucky to name so many generations. Any chance you will do a writing workshop in Chicagoland?

        • says

          Judy, I’m sorry, no workshops in Chicago. I’m afraid you’ll have to travel to me–or with me–to benefit from a retreat. I’d love it if you decide to do that sometime. I have time in two out of three of my summer retreats right now–Scotland…and I just had a couple of openings in my trip to Bali in June.

          • Judy says

            Oh that I could join you this year, Laura. Another time. Happy travels and writing to you all.

    • Diana says

      How fascinating that you have been able to go so deep in your research. I love the reciting the maternal line ceremony. It is such a gift that you had so much information from your mom. Tracing maternal lines can be very frustrating with all the last name changing by women.

      • Judy says

        This research has taken nearly 20 years of verifying and travels. Fortunately, there are Scot Clans who keep really good records and share information. And lucky too, that wars didn’t change boundaries, etc. The path that led to information of two Guthrie brothers who married two Cherrington sisters was a goldmine find. It opened doors to finding our mother’s cousins so that I could fill in the info on ‘our lost tribe.’ It’s been quite a journey, Diana.

    • Ilana says

      Wow Judy- That was a really great story. I really liked hearing the narration of what your dad went through. I am left wanting to know more about that missing twenty years. Nice job. I also liked the part about the ceremony. I can trace my maternal line back to my great grand parents but unfortunately, I can trace mental illness and child abuse of some kind or another back almost that far on both sides. At this point it would be too painful for me to recite all the names. Still, I was very touched by it and hope one day to be able to recite all those names the way you did. Thank you for sharing. IM

  14. Dianne Brown says

    I was named Diana for the Greek goddess of the forest and the hunt. My mother liked the name, but she had to tack on Susanna as my middle name because I had to have a saint’s name in order to be baptized in the Catholic Church. So I was Diana Susanna—or Diana Sue as I was called sometimes, but most often just Diana.

    When I was in elementary school, the Nuns rewrote my name as Dianna because it was less pagan and mythological. And that was the way I spelled my name for years, only to change it later to Dianne, as the two-syllable name was what I was always called.

    When I was in the second grade, we had our Confirmation, and that time I had to choose another saint’s name for my third name. I chose Rose. Later I changed it to Rosanna. You got it! Diana Susanna Rosanna. And listen, that was a few years before Rosanna Dana on Saturday Night Live.

    I married, and then my initials were: DSRGL. After two years we divorced, and I changed my name again, making my initials DSRGLW.

    About 6 years later I remarried, and then my initials were DSRGLWA. That marriage lasted about 4 years and we divorced.

    Five years later I married my present and last husband making my initials DSRGLWAB.

    I went down to Social Security when I turned 62 to initiate my monthly Soc. Sec. checks. The lady that helped me and I had a time laughing at all my names that I had used in my years of being on the deduction logs. Not only that, she found a name I had entirely forgotten about. That added an “H” in the string somewhere.

    The thing is, all the time I changed my name like dirty socks, I never changed it from Diana and its variations. Diana, Dianna, Dianne, and Diane—they all mean, “divine.”

    This does not include any of the several nicknames I had to bear through all of my most formative years. Even through all of that, I always knew my name—my real name was Divine.

    • says

      I loved the long string of initials that traveled with you through this piece, but I especially loved your last line–the Divine. That was a nice surprise.

    • Diana says

      How cool that you get to choose a name for confirmation. Funny about the “Diana Susanna Rosanna” of classic (i.e. when it was funny) SNL days.

    • Ilana says

      Divine- Awesome! I loved the empowerment of how you changed your name to what you wanted. You chose to keep all the names you collected through your life. I admire your personal entitlement and courage. The last line, as you can tell, thrilled me. Nice job! IM

    • Judy says

      Dianne, Loved this story, loved the many laughs, especially the SSI piece. With clear twists and turns arriving at that lovely last line…my real name was Divine. Thank you for the telling.

    • Debbie says

      You had me at “Diana for the Greek goddess of the forest and the hunt”. I was such a fan of Greek and Roman mythology as a child and Diana was one of my favorite Goddesses. She was wild and beautiful! And now I also know the etiology – she was “divine”. I also got a kick out of all of the strings of letters from your changing name. Thanks for the memory and the laugh!

  15. Ilana says

    If you speak Hebrew, Russian or German, Please do Not translate. Protect my Anonymity.

    My name? Interesting question, that. I love the stories about my many names but here I have chosen to keep them, all but one, a secret. So how am I going to tell you their stories? Simple, with an agreement between us. I’ll tell you what they mean and what they mean to me. But if you speak Hebrew, Russian or German, please do not translate. Protect my anonymity. Agreed? I know you can’t answer before I proceed but I trust you. So I will begin.

    My first name is the Hebrew word for Rose. I was named after a love song called, “Night of the Roses”. My mother marched down the aisle to it on her wedding day. For years I begged her to sing it to me, teach me the tune but all she remembered of the song was its name. She had wanted to name me Tamar but my father had waited until she had been up all night giving birth and then simply told her, “Her name is [Rose].” Exhausted, she agreed. It wasn’t until later that she realized the romance in my father’s motives. Ironically, the Tamar she was naming me after, from the bible, was raped by her brother. This I learned from my mother as an offhand comment and although I study Torah (the first five books of the old testament) diligently, I have been lucky enough not to bump up against that story yet.

    When I was 19 I went on a trip with United Synagogue Youth to visit the concentration camps, death camps and ghettos of the holocaust, ending the trip in Israel. We lived very religiously; studied several hours a day and sang as often as we could. I finally learned the words and music to “Night of the Roses.” in Hebrew, of course. It is a very beautiful song. The words are so full of tenderness and the melody is lilting and sweet. I know it by heart, sing it often and consider it “my song”. On September 3, 2000 I walked down the aisle to marry my beloved Zander to a harp playing “my song”.

    I love my song and I love my name. I don’t let anyone use it though. There is an easy nickname that comes from chopping off the first three letters of my name. That’s what everyone calls me. Everyone except for one person, my Grandpa Zack. I loved the way it sounded in his unique voice and the way he emphasized the syllables. It sounded like he was saying “I love you” every time he said my name. Grandpa Zack once tried to call me by my nick name. “Grandpa” I said “you are the only person in the world allowed to call me [Rose] and you are NOT allowed to call me [my nickname]. He smiled his beautiful smile and never tried to call me by that name again.

    My second name is the one I have shared with all of you. Ilana. It is the Hebrew word for tree. I was named after my mother’s beautiful aunt Ida. I’ve seen pictures. The woman could have been a model. She died in a drunk driving accident for which she was responsible. I like to remember the story that she was the only one hurt but I don’t know if I invented that part or not. She was a lovely woman with a very unhappy life. It was explained to me that her husband was unfaithful and she drank to dull that pain. The family had long ago excused her drinking and forgiven her for the accident. My mother wanted to name me after her but didn’t want to saddle a girl born in 1974 with such an old fashioned name so she wanted another name that started with the letter I. I was born at 8:17 on a Saturday morning. My father, who never goes to services, went to synagogue to ask for an aliyah (an opportunity to bless the Torah) to honor his daughter’s birth. The girl being Bat Mitzvaed (so she was the one leading services as a rite of passage) was named Ilana. It was perfect.

    Aunt Ida was indeed loved. All three of her sisters and all three of her nieces spoke very highly of her. However, the name has become so much more important to me in the last year and a half. It started when I began posting here as “Ilana” and received such support from this community under that name. More recently, I began thinking of that inner child I once hated and am now working so hard to reconnect with, as “Little Ilana”. Because of this, because of you, the name has become so precious to me. I am Ilana and I’m slowly, learning to love Little Ilana.

    My next two names are hyphenated. They are my official Hebrew names. The first one is the Hebrew translation of the name “Sarah”. This is because my father’s aunt Sarah died so close to the day I was born that his father, known to you all as Grandpa Solly, brought a photo of her newborn namesake to the funeral. I am told that people found that very comforting. I know very little about aunt Sarah except that she always had a pot of warm milk on the stove to make hot chocolate for my father. Also that when he was three she gave him a soda cracker and followed him around the house with a broom rather than taking it away or insisting he sit still while eating it. The second part is the Hebrew word for life (If there’s anyone out there who does speak Hebrew, to clarify, a kamatz hey was added to the end to feminize it.) This is, again, after aunt Ida. Her “Hebrew name” was hyphenated as well. It was the Yiddish word for beautiful (sounds a lot like Sarah) and the second half was the same as mine. Confusing? I apologize. Working around giving you the actual name is difficult but I am determined. Please, bear with me.

    Next is my maiden name. The most important one not to tell you as it is the name I share with my older brother, my abuser. Again, I beg your mercy not to translate this. If I am ever ready to expose that bastard for what he is I need it to be my decision alone. To continue, though; this name is the Russian word for bear. At least it was, originally. When my great grandparents arrived at Ellis Island it was changed because, for whatever reason, the people doing the paperwork didn’t like the original spelling. Think Vito Andolini who turned into Vito Corleone in “The Godfather”. Same idea. When I was a child we had a family joke. Whenever my father was affectionately teasing me he would hold his hands up like a bear and say “Yar.” Mine, like so many, was a family of contradictions. There was a lot of abuse but there was also love and affection. “Yar” was always a purely good thing, a sweet, innocent and healthy expression of love. When I married my lovely Zander I legally dropped my middle name, Ilana and took on my maiden name as a middle name.

    Finally, there is my married name. It is the German word for sugar. I am so honored to receive this name passed down by people I consider true heroes. Zander’s grandfather, Joseph, was a rabbi in Nazi Germany. He and Grandma Leah were newlyweds when the Nazis stormed their town on Kristalnact. Countless women were raped (I’m sure men too but no one talked about that.) and families were destroyed. More than 91 Jews were murdered and 30, 000 were taken to concentration and extermination camps. Jewish businesses and homes were destroyed and looted. Synagogues were burned to the ground, among them Grandpa Joseph’s. On that night, November 9, 1938, the Nazis came to his home. “We are looking for Jews. Do you know of any?” The courageous young rabbi lied through his teeth. “I am new to the area. I don’t know anybody.” He replied and they left him alone. He was, indeed, new to the area and his paperwork had been lost in the system. That’s why they did not know he was a Jew.

    He and Grandma Leah risked their lives to go out the next day and comfort the families of their congregation. Then Joseph’s parents proved themselves as heroic as him. They turned over every penny they had to their children to finance their escape. They made no attempt at escape themselves and were sent to a ghetto to eventually die in the holocaust. But their children, Joseph and Leah, escaped to England and later America where they raised three children. Both of their sons became rabbis as well and the older one is Zander’s father, James. Joseph held a pulpit in America for 20 years. When he died he was still their rabbi. He was so beloved by his congregation that they named a lecture hall and a lecture series after him. They also have on display a very special set of Torah scrolls. It had been rescued by one of the congregants back in Germany on that fateful night in 1938. The man had unrolled the scrolls and wrapped the parchment around his chest when he escaped in a fishing boat. This man then found his rabbi and returned the Torah to him.

    Such amazing stories and such courageous heroes and it all comes down to me. I am very angry with Zander’s parents right now. We both are. Recently, they hurt us very badly and for the crime of standing up for ourselves we are being punished. Worse, they are punishing our children as well. It is cruel and vicious what they are doing but I cannot allow current circumstances to diminish my pride at being connected to this great family. I hope we’ll work it out, that the anger of today will eventually subside and pain will ease. I still take pride in being a “Sugar”. I still love being a part of this family. That is why I chose to share their story regardless of my hurt.

    So there it is. My full name is “Rose Tree Sarah-Life Bear Sugar.” Thank you for letting me share my stories with you. Oh, and Little Ilana thanks you too. 😉

    • Dianne Brown says

      Ilana, what a great name. Thanks for sharing your names and your story of them. I loved it. It was….”sweet”….as in Sugar.

    • says

      Fantastic piece, Ilana. I wondered if you would be able to post this week, but you found a way around your privacy concerns. Very well done, indeed. And such a rich tapestry of stories!

      • Ilana says

        Thank you, Laura. I knew, when I saw it that this prompt was going to be tricky for me but I have not backed way from a single prompt since my first one on November 15, 2011. I am pleased with the way it came out. 🙂 IM

    • Diana says

      Amazing that your were able to be so revealling while maintaining the privacy you desire. I like how you are able to seperate the hurts of the present with regards to your husband’s family and still be proud of the accomplishments of his ancestors and proud of the name.

    • Terry Gibson says

      Great job Ilana and so creatively done. I’ve fallen in love with your extended name in translation.

      • Bing Shaw says

        What an amazingly rich and beautiful story. Equal parts love, pain, and pathos. I also love your name in translation.

    • Debbie says

      Ilana – what a rich history you have in each name! Thank you for sharing some of it with us – and somehow still protecting your anonymity.

    • Ilana says

      Thanks you all for your supportive comments. I would have liked to answer each one individually but time got away from me. I do appreciate them, though. Thank you for letting me share my history, thoughts, feelings etc, with you. It makes me feel so… I can’t think of the word but I am touched. IM

  16. mariah says

    There are two ways that folks react to my name. The smirk on their faces as they blurt in satisfaction and jest, “aaye, Mariah Carey! Do ya sing?” (how clever of you!) or “Ah! They call the wind Mariah, you know…”, usually from the sweet souls who quote the song from the old Paint Your Wagon western. I still haven’t seen the movie, but I secretly delight in devilish gusts of wind and have tried several times to plink out the song on the piano. My last name, Sanford, is of course commonly mistaken as Stanford; not the university, just the pencil.

    My mother discovered my name at her baby shower, after playing a name game. Someone had written Mariah and my mother liked it; she had reached her apparent goal to have one of those gimmicky-family names; her, Maris, my sister, Marina, and me, Mariah. M-A-R-I. We would always joke that my father Dave should be dubbed Mark instead, to humor the gimmick further. My sister and I have grown up responding to any blend or combination of our two names together, as our mother searches her tangled tongue for the name she’s trying to say.

    Saying my name always felt strange on my own tongue. It’s a name adorned in soft petals with no “bite”, no contrasts, syllables watery and vague. Some of my friends joke and string the vowels together, such as “M’rAH!”
    Last September I began traveling through South America with my best friend, and almost immediately I dropped my name in favor of the Spanish equivalent, Maria. It rolled off my tongue with ease and grace, the rolling “R” like a perfect little button between my tongue and teeth. This was to be met with excitement from any friendly Peruvian taxi driver. “Maria! No? Si? Ah, si!”

    It’s a name more common than rare. I love the concept of middle names because that’s where you can have fun, that’s where moms don’t have to worry about their kids being teased in school; give ’em a safe first name and go wild on the middle one. I love finding out middle names. My own is Michelle, not too exciting, another song attached to it. Though I do wish it was more common to answer with one’s full name when someone asks, for “Mariah Michelle Sanford” does have a pleasant lilt to it, like a poetic sway of the hips or a bite of whipped cream.

    • Diana says

      Mariah, I like the “mother searches her tangled tongue” line. My sister’s and I are all “D” names and it still tangles her tongue.

    • Judy says

      Love this piece. Lilting–with such economy. We can tell you love language and this reads effortlessly. What a last line…like a poetic sway of the hips or a bite of whipped cream. Very nicely done.

    • Debbie says

      Mariah – your last line made me think of something I learned at the Commonweal retreat last year – one of the other attendees had us all writing our names, in cursive, with our hips as a warm up exercise. Warming up to what – I am still not sure! But it is a fun distraction to remember when life gets too serious!

  17. ~Karen says

    He looked like Jesus to me with his sparkling eyes; dark, wavy hair; slight goatee and heart-warming smile. He radiated a presence that was calm and reassuring to me, instantly melting my 14-year old teenage romantic heart with the soft praline center. And he was a man! Probably only 19 or 20 years old but he was a grown man in my eyes who carried himself with a serene confidence in contrast to the horn tooting serenading, outrageously forward and swaggering macho Italian males that seemed to surround me and my girlfriends every time we dared to step outside of the Florentine pension hotel and into the liveliness of the street. Being blonde and sweet young things we naturally attracted a lot of attention. These encounters proved to be a marked assault on our innocent natures and included the occasional and unexpected bum pinching as we walked through the streets to meet with my new friend. He rescued the three of us with a drive into the countryside beyond the city limits where we wandered freely in the olive groves and enjoyed the warm sunshine while feasting on succulent sultanas the size of grapes. Later we spent the evening wandering across the Ponte Vecchio (it’s name means “old bridge’). And it was here my friend – I’m sad to think I can’t even remember his name but I’ll always remember the feeling – revealed to me the secret of my name.

    I was not at peace with my surname. It’s awkward. Geisler. Not many people can say it properly first time and it’s tough to spell (and yes I‘m well aware that the rule is “i” before “e” except after “e” but not when it’s German and it’s my name). “But your name is special and meaningful”, he protested. “ Yes, it’s German. It comes from the word ‘geist’ like ‘poltergeist’ which means ‘ghost’ or ‘spirit’. Your name means you are a ‘follower of the spirit’”.

    I loved it! He kindly offered me an olive branch and eagerly I grasped it. My whole perspective on my name shifted; my identity took on a whole new meaning. I transformed into a spiritual being. Suddenly my life had purpose and meaning. With his gift of words, he became my savior, liberating me from all the years of suffering through schoolyard taunts of “Gizzler”, “Geesler” and “Guzzler” and bearing the heavy weight of growing up in England with a German name (and please don’t even think about mentioning the war.)

    I might have been born a ‘William’ or a ‘Katherine’ but I became ‘Karen Jane’. I remember looking it up in the “Baby Naming” book my parents had used and discovered ‘Karen’ comes from the Danish for “pure”. Jane is an old English name. The name reminds me of Jane Austen, my mum adores her books so I’m not surprised she chose it; there’s ‘Jane Eyre’; ‘Tarzan and Jane’; Jane Goodall…and of course there’s always good old “Plain Jane”. When I was little, I was given the nickname “KJ” used mostly by my mum and her close family. Mum told me I had problems at school with learning my ABCs because I would recite “A,B,C,D,E,F,G,H,I,K,J…” My mum laughed when my teacher suspected dyslexia. As a teenager, I lost the ‘KJ’ to become “Kaz” which turned out to be a cool name for the lead singer in a punk band…

    My mum’s maiden name is Gray, a straightforward, simple and very English name. It has crossed my mind to change my name more than once. I’ve considered doing it in honor of my maternal lineage and my matriarchal upbringing. Karen Jane Gray. It flows easily. It’s easy to spell and easy to say. Come to think of it, I’ve been contemplating this possibility for years. But I’ve held back in case it might hurt my dad’s feelings. There aren’t many Geislers around. But my dad called me recently, eager to tell me the news that his German carpenter had told him what the family name means. Before he could go any further I stopped him eager to share my name story. But that didn’t stop him: “No way, man! That’s bullshit! (He is American after all.) That’s not what it means. Hans said it translates as ‘goat herder’”.

    Brilliant! Thanks a lot, Dad for shattering my romantic illusions of my identity.

    Now where is it? I know that legal form is lying around here somewhere. I’ve made up my mind to file it. But wait…How would people know me? Could they still find me, track me down on Face Book or Linked In? What about my reputation? All the connections I’ve made in my life? Do I simply disappear?

    Maybe that’s a good thing. I can start a new life.

    • says

      Karen, loved this post. And I think Karen Jane Gray is a great pen name. I can see it on your book covers. Maybe take it as a writing name first and try it on for size. I loved the ending of your piece as well. Keep us all posted on what you decide!

      • ~Karen says

        Thanks Laura! Yes what an excellent way to begin by wearing it as my pen name. I’ll try it on for size 🙂 ~Karen Jane Gray

    • Hazel says

      Loved this piece, especially, “Now where is it? I know that legal form is lying around here somewhere.” I really laughed at that one.

      Thanks for sharing.

    • Judy says

      You hooked me with….melting my 14-year old teenage romantic heart with the soft praline center. Love the vivid images, the language, and the adventure of this piece. The pen name–Karen Jane Gray–go for it!

    • Debbie says

      Stepping into a new name can be a very liberating way to start a new life. I like the first interpretation of your name the best! This was a delightful post that drew me lightly through your deepening consideration of possible changes. Thanks!

    • Terry Gibson says

      What a great story, Karen. My Mom’s maiden name was also Gray; it does add to a fine pen name, doesn’t it? Your delivery here was so well paced, poetic (praline center), and natural (like having a conversation). When your Dad was about to hurl a thunderbolt of insight into the name issue, already sorted by you, I held my breath and groaned when those few words slipped through. I love your response to it. Really enjoyed this. Thanks!

  18. Diana says

    I was hooked from the “He looked like Jesus to me” beginning. What a sweet, romantic gift he gave you with “follower of the spirit”. You touched on the importance in the meaning of a name translating purpose and meaning in the bearer’s life.
    The Italian setting with the olive groves took me to a place I want to be.

    • ~Karen says

      Thank you Diana! Meaning of names is important and creates a sense of identity. Your name is for Diana, the goddess of the hunt. Powerful 🙂

  19. Diana says

    The story of my name is one of legend and lies. Depending on whom you ask the story will vary. I recently asked my mother why I was named “Diana”.
    “Oh you’re named after a goddess. A goddess of animals….or something. All of you were named for goddesses.” she says.
    And so the lie stands the test of time. The goddess story was not assigned to my name until I was 9 or 10 years old. While paging through our World book Encyclopedia, I land on the Ancient Greek and Roman mythology section. My eyes focus in on the entry:
    Diana: Roman Goddess of the Hunt; protector of little children. Greek counterpart; Artemis, the twin sister of Apollo.
    Next to the entry is a Renaissance marble sculpture of a woman. She was athletic, regal and wild. She stood legs apart, shoulders up and back, bow in one hand, and quiver strapped to her back with animals worshipping at her feet. I was enraptured.
    “Look, Mom!” I gather the volume and rush into her bedroom.
    She looks up from her Agatha Christie novel, scans the entry and picture.
    “Uh, yes. Uh, yes. A goddess. Yes.” she stammers, formulating the story on the fly. “Yes. I named you after a goddess”, she proclaims.
    I, the short, plain, asthmatic, perpetually “new kid” in school held to that story for years. I became obsessed with Greek and Roman mythology through middle school.
    The goddess story is a lie. My mother tells lies. She is not a pathological liar, as she does often tell the truth. She is more of a chronic liar, telling lies when the truth would suffice. She is capable of discerning truth from fiction, but often chooses the fiction. She will tell some lies so often and for so long, she will be certain they are truth. Such is the case with the goddess story of my name.
    With her recent recounting I see she has included my sisters, Dot and Dodie in the goddess naming story, asserting that she named us all after goddesses. Funny, I don’t recall a goddess Dot or Dodie.
    “Yes”, she says. “I named you all after goddess”. As if saying it with great authority will make me accept and believe it.
    “Mmmmm”, I say with my lips. In my head, I say, “Yeah right. The goddess Dot and Dodie. Don’t you know I can goggle that and in the speed of hyperspace, I will know that you are a big fat liar. I’m not a gullible 8 year old anymore.”
    “Oh okay”, is my outward response. My mother will never change. What motivates her to lie so brazenly is a mystery to me.
    The legend comes from my Dad. I was born in the early 60’s. He loved the Paul Anka song “Diana”. I derive my first name from a 50’s pop tune.
    My dad is a transparent person. I think his story maybe close to the truth. I know both of my parents. I know what procrastinators they are. My mom is a world class procrastinator, taking the delaying of action to high form. My dad turns in lesser performances and is merely national class at putting off today what will never be done.
    Being the procrastinating duo, I think I arrived without them having selected a name. Under pressure to fill in the blank “Baby’s Name________________”, on the vital statistic form, they came up with Diana Denise. Denise was probably the name of the nurse holding the clipboard, tapping her foot, waiting to fill in the blank.
    Denise, my mother says, she choose because she liked “how it rolled; Diana Denise”. No wonder I feel no attachment to this name. It is on my birth certificate; therefore it is on my passport and driver’s license. I never use it. Ever.
    Moore, my maiden name, I was told is German. It is not. It is Irish. Through genealogical research, I have traced my Moore ancestors from Northern Ireland to Tennessee. They were part of the influx of Irish in the 18th century that left Northern Ireland in protest to the Church of England and Church of Ireland. They came here for greater religious freedom. Upon arrival here, they found the coastal land settled or expensive, so they migrated to what was then the American frontier of Tennessee. I am of bonafide hillbilly descent.
    They gladly joined the American rebellion against the British and fought in the American Revolution. After the war, when the government imposed a whiskey tax to pay for the war, they took up arms in protest in the “Whiskey Rebellion”.
    I am from a line of people not afraid to engage in a little civil disobedience. Cool. I can own that.
    I am Diana Moore.


    • Ilana says

      Diana- Before I go on about your piece, loved it! I want to say that I have always loved the name Diana. It sounds so graceful and elegant to me. I loved how you showed us who your parents were and how you, as a child, responded held up against your adult response to them. Your word choice drew me in from the first sentence and held me to that beautiful crescendo “I am Diana Moore.” Bravo! IM

      • Diana says

        Thank you for the the wonderful words. I think embracing the goddess story during childhood helped empower me during a time when I felt small, weak and invisible.

    • Hazel says

      Thank you for sharing this wonderful story of how you were named. I loved that you find the civil disobedience the part that you can own.
      Very well written.
      Thanks again.

    • Debbie says

      Diana – I really enjoyed your post. You were skillful in allowing us a glimpse of your parents and your child’s life all the while tracing through the impact and history of a name. Nicely done!

    • Terry Gibson says

      Diana, what a great story teller you are. I have total reverence for the age of the internet–being able to research facts we were given about ourselves. All of that information from a genealogy site–at our fingertips. Fantastic. Loved your mother’s staunch pronouncements that all her girls were named after goddesses and being of ‘bonafide hillbilly descent.’ I enjoyed this story a lot!

      • Diana says

        Thank you, Terry. Whenever I feel that anit-authoritarian itch up my spine, I know I have my hillbilly ancestors to thank.

  20. Judy says

    Goddess Diana Moore, love your telling and structure. You really gave me a belly laugh with this line….‘Denise was probably the name of the nurse holding the clipboard, tapping her foot, waiting to fill in the blank.’ Thanks. Have you checked out It might reveal more of your maternal lines birth names.

    • Diana says

      Hi Judy,
      Thank you for the feedback.
      I have only been doing research for about a year. Ninety percent of my information has come from In that time, I have spent most of my energy on paternal lines as it is easier. Delving into maternal lines is planned for the future. I can see how one can spend decades doing genealogical research.

  21. beverly Boyd says

    If I had been given the name my parents had first chosen for me, I would be Donna on this post. But my father’s name was Don and they were concerned that people would think they hoped for a boy. In those days they didn’t know before the birth the sex of the baby. As it was, they probably would not have named a boy Donald. Dad had never liked that name. He would have preferred to be called by his middle name, Robert. Unfortunately his parents gave that name to his younger brother! My parents decided to use another name they had considered for a girl. Beverly was one of the popular names of my generation. In fact, almost all the Beverlys I know are within three years of my age. So I grew up being called Bevie and then Bev, except when my mother was upset with me. Then it was “Beverly” spoken with narrow eyes, pursed lips and determinedly chastising voice. If she was really mad it might be “Beverly Jean” or even “Beverly Jean Boyd”.

    For years, even well into my adulthood, the sound and tone of her voice when she said my full first name could put me on high alert. What was she upset about? What had she found out about? Was I going to be in trouble? Sent to my room? Grounded? I didn’t think I’d get spanked, which might have been preferable to feeling like a bug held down by a pin, which was often the nature of these sessions. After answering hesitantly, trying not to make my “Yes” sound too anxious, her question was usually something like, “Do you think the children would rather have hamburger or meat loaf for dinner?” Yet, no matter how many times this happened, I couldn’t help that initial gut wrenching response from my growing up years. Sometimes I felt cheated that “Donna”, the name that was supposed to be mine, was given to my sister. “Donna Mae” and “Donna Mae Boyd” did not sound nearly as threatening, though Donna assured me they were. And I didn’t particularly like “Bev”. It was somehow too short…too sensible…not at all mysterious, or romantic. Bev Boyd. There was not enough “There. There!” As much as I really liked Beverly, I couldn’t seem to shake the muck off of it enough to claim it.

    I was about forty when I went to my first twelve-step program. It didn’t take me long to learn that when I said my name, seven or eight…or eighty people chorused happily, “Hi, Bev!” It didn’t make me like Bev any better, but it gave me an idea. If I said, “My name is Beverly” those same people would chorus, “Hi, Beverly!” In no time hearing my name was a pleasure and I started introducing myself that way outside of the meeting rooms. Because my husband was in the Navy and we moved frequently, very few people even know me by the short version of my name except family and old friends.

    Still, sometimes people will “nick it”. I politely let them know my name is not Bev, but Beverly! As a result I am almost always careful to call people by the name they introduce themselves by. Calling me Barbara, or Evelyn or some other similar generational name doesn’t bother me as it seems a natural mistake. I good-naturedly let them know I have often been called that name. Shortening the name I have given them is presumptuous! Oh, Well!!

    It has been hard enough to know and claim my identity. Being willing to insist on using the name that I feel best suits me and using my own name on this blog is an important part of that.

    • Diana says

      Hi Beverly,
      I loved how you expressed that the tone and manner a name is said can have a dramatic impact on us. Does it just automatically come with motherhood that mom’s can say a child’s name in a manner that can strike fear to their core? Then as an adult you show us how claiming our given name and not letting people shorten is integral to establishing your adult sober identity.

    • Judy says

      You nailed the image and the sound of parents using all three names—I heard myself saying, “oh oh, here it comes!” I was hooked with that beginning and enjoyed the entire piece; especially reclaiming yourself and strong name. Nice.

    • beverly Boyd says

      Diana Laura and Judy,
      Thank you for your supportive responses. The journey of my name (at one time I had created an entirely different one. It’s nice to know I don’t need it any more.

    • Terry Gibson says

      Beverly, I enjoy your stories; I’m remembering a recent one that also included your parents. I knew lots of Bevs growing up and I think I always liked the full ‘Beverly’ as well. I love how you didn’t like people ‘nicking’ your name. Also, I relate to being highly attuned to how my name was called. Your description of being “a bug held down by a pin,” fits so well. Thanks Beverly!

  22. Judy says

    My niece Megan just sent me an update on our developing family tree. She found two new family members, however, not in our direct line. You ready? Their names are Happy Weed and her mother Olive Branch. My head is spinning with story possibilities.

    • Diana says

      Wow. It sounds like these relatives were born too soon. They could’ve been hippies.
      I love that “Wow, truth is more unpredictable than fiction” feeling with family history discoveries.

    • beverly Boyd says

      Don’t you wonder how some people name their babes.
      I had a College friend whose name was Aderf. It was her mother’s name, Freda, spelled backwards!
      Another friend whose last name was Noyes and his wife named a son Lesley. Fortunately they realized their mistake and changed in within a few weeks. Earl said he had gone through life being called “noisy” and he wasn’t going to have his son being called “less noise.!

  23. Michael says

    I was named Joseph Michael at birth. Named after my paternal grandfather, an orthodox rabbi, who had passed on well before I showed up. On the surface of it not a bad name, I suppose, but one that as I became aware of such things, didn’t like at all. My family called me Joey. I hated the diminutive and, Joe, even worse. My grandmother’s brother was named Joey, and that made me feel less than, as well. No one addressed me as Joseph so I don’t know had I would have felt about that.

    In junior high, some smartass decided to create what came to be known as a Joe rally. Everybody going, “Joe, Joe, Joe, Joe.” I put on a brave front, smiled and acknowledged the crowd but inside, well, it didn’t feel good.

    The summer between junior and senior high my then step-father, with my wholehearted agreement, adopted me and when we went to court, I asked to change my name from Joseph Michael to Michael Joseph. The judge agreed and in an instant, I was a new person. For the first time in my life I felt connected to my name. And while it was a tad difficult that first semester in high school, I weathered it because I was proud of my name and knew I could make it through anything after that.

    I’ve never regretted my choice. I take pride in my name and introducing myself to new people. When asked, I tell them I prefer Michael over Mike but will answer to either. Some of my friends from long ago will, on occasion, call me Joe but it’s done with love. My best friend in life named one of her sons Michael Joseph and that always makes my heart smile.

    It’s good to be Michael. It’s good to be me.

    • Gayle says

      I remember you as both people. Joe, who matured too quickly for the junior hi crowd, and Michael, who has been my forever friend for over 50 years. To me, your name means integrity, loyalty, and unconditional love…and I am proud to have a son with your name. Thank you for sharing your story.

    • Diana says

      What an amazing gift to get the opprtunity to change your name to something more fitting and then to have a loyal, loving friend name a child for you. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Debbie says

      Michael – I am fascinated by how you knew so young that you didn’t like your name and were ready to change it. Good for you! Thanks for sharing this story with us.

  24. Debbie says

    It was finally my turn after waiting forty-five minutes in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles. I stepped forward , placing my soon to expire driver’s license and newly minted divorce decree on the counter in front of the uniformed clerk. “I need to renew my driver’s license and I want to change the name back to my birth name”, I announced in a voice that sounded a lot more confident than I felt. In the two months since our “no-fault” divorce became final, I often found myself bewildered by the financial and legal ties that still remained even though we were no longer legally man and wife.

    The zenith of which had occurred last week, or so I thought, when the application to increase the paltry credit limit on the one credit card secured in my name had been denied. Denied?? Upon investigation, the explanation offered was that I already had too much credit for my income on the other three credit cards I had. Huh? Sifting through all of the legalese finally revealed the fact that my ex-husband had requested a credit cards in my name on his account, somehow attaching his account to my credit history as well.

    I was advised to have my ex-husband sign a form stating that I was no longer a signatory on the account and had no access to the credit. Access to the credit?? I had never even seen or known about two of the credit cards supposedly for my convenience. I wondered, for a moment, who he had really given them to – then pushed the thought from my mind. Flaming with indignation, I had to endure yet another dinner in his presence as he attempted to cross-examine me on the details of life without him. Finally, at the very end of the evening, with great flourish and pomposity, he had signed the necessary forms.

    The officer before me cleared her throat pulling me back from my reverie. Looking over the top of her glasses, she asked in the tone of a bored bureaucrat, “Ma’am, do you have any other paperwork from the divorce?” Confused, I shook my head, “No”. “Well,” she inhaled, “there is nothing in this paperwork that states you are allowed to change your name.” What? What did she say? I was so stunned I could only stand there with my jaw working up and down soundlessly. After what seemed like an eternity I was able to croak out, “What are you talking about? I am divorced, no longer married, and I am taking back my birth name. It is that simple.”

    Heaving a bored sigh, and looking at me as if I were a simpleton, she responded in her most patient, “what planet are you from” kind of voice, “Ma’am, you can’t just decide to change your name back to your birth name. You have to get permission from your husband as part of the divorce documents.” “What?” I sputtered again. “Did you say I have to get permission to use the name that I was BORN with?”, my voice taking on a shrill tone of indignation and disbelief. ” I have to have permission, PERMISSION? – are you SERIOUS?”

    All my senses were on high alert. I felt like the animal that finds itself suddenly caught in the unseen cage yet refuses to accept the situation, throwing itself against the bars again and again. Behind me I heard the shuffle of feet abandoning ship, as other weary people decided this line was not going to move quickly after all. Again and again I attempted to explain to the DMV officer that I was not trying to change my name. That happened when I got married. I was only wanting to resume use of the name I was born with. Time and time my logic was rebuffed with the ever more infuriating response that I had to have permission to use my birth name.

    At some point during this exasperating exchange, the DMV clerk must have signaled to a co-worker that there was a “situation” developing. Suddenly a large, uniformed man appeared behind the counter as reinforcement. Looking down on me, he asked sternly, “Do we have a problem here?” Overwhelmed with feelings of frustration and embarrassment, I looked directly at him, pulled myself to my full five feet four inch height and responded, in a most un- southern, unladylike way, “Yes, there is a problem here. These rules are all fucked up!” Grabbing my paperwork, blinking back tears, I turned away walking as quickly as possible to my car. Dissolving into heaving sobs, I thought, well at least when I get arrested it will be with HIS name, not mine.

    Several hours and a few cocktails later, after calming down, I placed a call to the attorney who handled our divorce. A mutual friend, with no idea of the dark secrets of the marriage, he seemed genuinely surprised I would want to return to my birth name. Thirty years ago, in the South, even the decent guys were mired in the myths of southern womanhood. Though it would be no problem, he assured me, for a few hundred dollars, 90 days of advertising in a legal journal in case anyone wanted to make a claim against me and I could change my name to anything I wanted. I hung up the phone defeated. I didn’t have the extra money and couldn’t get any credit because the financial world already thought my husband, now ex-husband, was taking care of me with his shared credit.

    I was twenty-seven. A very naïve twenty-seven year old who was afraid of her shadow, and of her ex-husband and what he might do in the 90 days of advertising in legal journals that his ex-wife wanted to change her name, to shed his. Plus there was no money. So I a couple of weeks later, I went to another DMV office and renewed my driver’s license under my married surname. I took back a little piece of the poison I thought I had expelled with the divorce. For three more years I wore the name of the man who abused me.

    Finally I had the money, enough time had passed, the stalking had decreased. Of course, they didn’t call it stalking back then. Just kindly concern. I found a different lawyer, advertised for 90 days and was granted permission to once again assume the name of my father, the name of my birth. With shaking hands, I signed a brand new Social Security Card and stepped fully into my new identity.

    One day, a few weeks after my name change was final, I got a jury summons in the mail from the county. On it was my old married name with my new address. I took out a large black pen and wrote across the front of the jury summons, before dropping it back in the mail the next day – “Deborah L Harris is dead”. And so she is.

    • says

      Wow, what a painful, challenging, and ultimately liberating story. I had no idea you’d have to go through all that to change your name. Thanks for sharing it with us. You told it beautifully.

      • Judy says

        Debbie, Wow, what a last line. Powerful, well told story with twists and turns to spiritual, economic and legal equality. Damn that English Common Law that made women and children chattel property! So sorry to hear you had this experience, but so happy to read tat you gained freedom and identify after all.

    • Terry Gibson says

      Debbie, what a tale. The way you describe the frustrations in DMV remind me so much of my own struggles with bureaucracy. Nothing like the red tape of trying to become an entity unto myself again, but leaving in tears and ready to explode with anger, yes. I can see you standing up to the big security guy and love those words ‘un- southern,’ and ‘unladylike way.’ Your ending to this piece was perfect. And, let me say, what a ‘scrappy’ thing to do; I’d be scared silly that a Sherriff would come and get me, for decades. 🙂

    • Ilana says

      Bravo Debbie!!!! It was a painful story but I could, not practically, I could, hear the drums on that beautiful crescendo. “Deborah L Harris IS dead.” Congratulations on the hard won victory! IM

    • Andrea Rites says

      Sniff, sniff! I am not thankful for my divorce, but I am blessed to be doing it in a time and place where no one blinks at my making my own decisions and doing things my way. I wish your freedom had been as easy.

      • says

        Andrea, welcome to the roadmap blog. It’s good to have you here. Since this prompt was one from a prior week, there are not too many people coming back to read it. You might want to check out the current week’s offering. Hope you post more soon!

  25. Diana says

    This was a great story of the struggles women have had to go through to have their rights. I love the irony of having to get permission from your ex-husband to take back the name you were born with. It is as if the previously married you never existed.
    I love you ending of striking the name on a jury summons and sending it back.

  26. Terry Gibson says

    As I read these stories, I felt a bit depressed about my own circumstances. The others’ are so fascinating . What would I have to say? For starters, this is my very rough first draft written late at night because I couldn’t stop and just go to bed. With that aside, I vowed to challenge myself on that because it was too easy to go down the same overly-worn path. I wanted something new and will really try to find it.

    My full name is Teresa Dawn Marie Gibson and I have been called Terry for as long as I can remember. I don’t mind my full name. I think it sounds good together and there is a tiny tale attached to each element.

    Teresa. I never liked being called that, although I had to use it as my signature and always heard “Teresa?” called the first time I saw a new doctor or in roll call in a new university class. I also didn’t like being called that because it sounded way too formal for the laid back person I am. Yesterday, I checked it on Google and found the obvious reference points: Mother Teresa, now a beatified Saint, who chose the name after Saint Theresa Lisieux, also known as “Teresa of the little flower.” I knew about both of these women and probably learned it in Catholic catechism class.

    My father named me, his first daughter, after Teresa Brewer, a singer who first came into the spotlight at only five in 1936 on the Major Bowes’ Amateur Hour and as a teen, hit it big with the single “Music! Music! Music!” which became so popular, people played it on every single jukebox everywhere. I am amused and a bit irked by this quote about her: “Though some find it disconcerting to hear her cutesy, slightly nasal Your Hit Parade-style delivery in a jazz context, at her best she can swing with a loose and easy fervor [horribly sexist], aided greatly by the distinguished company she often keeps on her records,” which included Count Bassie, Duke and Mercer Ellington, Steve Grappelli, and Earl Hines.” Just now, my partner found two of her songs on iTunes for me and hit play. I immediately recognized the tunes and knew the words for both songs, which made me cry because I learned something new about my father. No doubt, with Dad enamoured by her, I heard that music hundreds of times. Anyway, she was fiesty; I like her!

    What I learned about him, my aha moment, for lack of another term, was: my Dad loved JAZZ. He and I had several things in common but discovering Jazz–something I love more than words could say–was one of them, makes me deliriously happy. In my early 20s, I felt inexplicably drawn to the Ottawa Jazz Club and I sat there for hours, letting the rich soundscape of trumpets, trombones, bass, the ever-sexy saxophone, and singers with sultry voices, woo and coo me into relaxed places and quiet, almost friendly, thoughts about Terry and the much ‘work’ I had to do.

    These were wonderful, precious hours, where I was safe–from the people who always bothered me, those unrelentless ones who sometimes followed or stalked me (by today’s law), spurned on by the knowledge that I was defenceless. They all knew I was so terrified of more brutality, that I couldn’t or didn’t defend myself; I was a blow-up doll with a real pulse but perfect in what mattered most–no screaming or yelling for help, no physical struggle (although most tried to summon that from me), and I was ashamed enough, I never breathed a word to a soul. Besides, I planned to do myself in within the month. Sooner, if necessary.

    The next are Dawn and Marie, my middle names. I don’t know who picked the former for me, although I assume it was Dad; he ran the show, but no matter who chose it, I loved the name ‘Dawn.’ This is especially great because it doesn’t have a lot of negative baggage attached to it. However, ‘Terry,’ the name spat and hissed at me (with hatred and in a threatening manner, by Mom and stepfather); yelled at me by a boyfriend (just before knocking me out cold (having assumed being five minutes late was proof I cheated on him); thrown about in lust and ridicule by known and unknown rapists, and finally, (probably the most painful), whispered in hushed, humour, and an I’m-so-superior-tone, by my sister, mother, grandmother, and most girls who were my classmates all the school). Yes. Dawn was and is untarnished. I also love it because when I hear or think it, I am immediately yanked in by the enduring image of a bright new day, saturated with possibility. On good days, I like to see myself that way, because I think I am at this point in my life.

    I chose ‘Marie’ at my confirmation; although it was traditional to choose ‘Mary’ after the Virgin Mary, I thought Terry Mary sounded stupid. This was doubly enforced when Steve, lovingly, dubbed me ‘Terry Berry,’ something to which I refused to add ‘Mary.’ Although I have no photos of the day I chose ‘Marie’, I remember one on this important day in a young Catholic’s life (a coming of age, of sorts). I wore a ‘robe’ of some sort, and on top of that, a huge white lace doily-styled ‘poncho.’ I looked sad but my eyes shone fervently. God hated the ugly filth of me, so I decided I would be a nun, to hopefully, clean my body and soul forever. In that moment, it was set; I was going to be a nun and travel the world being of service to people. I didn’t think I was inspired or special, or in possession of any great truths the world simply must know this very second (still true today), but I have great empathy (being a tortured child will do that) and love for others.

    Just now, I remember how I looked up to Grandma Ryan, my stepfather’s mother, who was a loving woman, faithful Catholic, and treated me like I was her real granddaughter, not just some ‘burden’ her son ‘took on’ by marrying Mom, and whined so loudly and longly about.

    My surname is and always has been ‘Gibson.’ Mom despised my father after his violence and I do not blame her; he was a monster then. She called him ‘the thing,’ which we were made to call him too; if we ever used the word ‘Dad,’ and we weren’t referencing her current husband, we’d be beaten on the legs with a belt he specially made for this purpose.

    According to Mom, all ‘Gibsons’ were drunks, violent, evil, lazy and spoiled rotten (the latter, because my grandparents had a highly successful business and their four sons–one of whom molested me when I was really little, 3, 4 or 5–and two daughters, had everything just handed to them, no work required). I was deeply ashamed I came from these people and knew I would amount to nothing at all. When I secretly felt ambitions brewing inside, I was careful not to show a thing on my face, never to display my love of books or writing to anyone. I knew they’d assume I felt I was ‘better than’ them and I’d be hurt in one way or another for it. Books were my secret passion about which I never spoke.

    Steve and I both talked of changing our surnames and I may still. That action would feel freeing to me, especially after the lingering threat of violence toward me personally by a violent family member who lives close, has done time in jail for violence, and issued me this strong promise two years ago. Sometimes, I wonder if I might only feel safe by moving south and changing my name. Despite that, a part of me still wants to retain my father’s name (as he was a good compassionate man in the last years of his life), and more so, because it was still Steve’s surname at the time of his death.

    I want to be a Gibson who has/had integrity, was ‘good’ (not in an oh-look-at-me-I’m-so-great kind of way), or tried to be the best person I could, and accomplished much, despite my beginnings. Also, my brother’s daughter learned to hate me too–my sister’s handiwork, which Steve got too sick, to possibly and quickly enough counteract the onslaught of lies and accusations. However, I am still her aunt and she knows her Dad loved me very much. By adding two more nieces to that mix, with the same feelings, we have a no win situation for me and thoughts of any legacy.

    When I approached this prompt, I wanted to find the names of adventurous, fiercely independent and passionate relatives (strong, principled men would’ve been a good start, but especially women from generations ago.) This was not the case but I am keen on searching for my great great grandmother, one “Mary O’Rourke” from Scotland, when I’m there in August.

    The last thing I want to share on this issue is this: although I’ll grieve until my dying breath that I have no children (and no financial ability to adopt or I would’ve done so decades ago), I can only hope that one day, my life will have meant something, anything. I get giddy at the thought that I could be the person to some future generation, that someone might look me up as their so-called mentally ill, wacky, strange, funny and ‘funny’ aunt, who became a compulsory school assignment. May I garner enough interest to make someone, anyone, who will hazard a peek and a bit of time on to learn that I could even make people laugh without dropping my pants.

    Sorry, I’m trying to be positive but sadness and some bitterness keeps creeping through here. Memoir work is really taxing my emotional energies these days, that and regular daily events that happen to all of us.

    • says

      Your life means something right now, Terry. Right now! You don’t have to wait. You already are making a contribution to this world just by being you.

      Thanks for sharing this story of your names. You took us on a very powerful ride, and I love that you’re reclaiming your names and casting off the negative associations.

      • Terry Gibson says

        Thanks Laura. I’m a bit embarrassed that my mood hit a couple really low points here. Writing through the pain…and will reemerge better for it. That’s genuine hope today! Thanks for this prompt. The exercise taught me things about Dad that were right in front of me all along, only they got noticed through Roadmap. Woo Hoo to that!

    • Diana says

      Your story brought tears to my eyes. I loved the whole story, but was especailly touched by the section on how you learned to love jazz and the jazz club became a safe haven.
      Your stories and comments are leaving a legacy.

      Your life and words have enduring meaning.

      • Terry Gibson says

        Diana, I so appreciate your words! The Jazz Club. I loved having a fresh memory of sitting there all alone, pushing the cigarette smoke out of the way with two hands sometimes, just to get a look at the singers and band. Feeling safe and unbothered there was the best! A legacy. I guess I’m at the time of my life when I think about such things and can sometimes only see emptiness, and feel that I missed a huge ship everyone else seemed to find their way to. Working on this too. Your kindness is welcome and uplifting, Diana.

        • Diana says

          Children can sort of be the tangible obvious legacy.
          Your stories are an awesome legacy. I would love to hear more about the Jazz Club. Just your brief descriptions take me to that place.
          Also, your uplifting feedback is a legacy. I know your feedback has bolstered my writing confidence and has helped me keep writing and keep posting.

  27. says

    “Tell Me the Story of Your Name | Roadmap” ended up
    being a really excellent blog post, . Keep posting and
    I will keep reading through! Many thanks -Sonya

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