Saturday, May 9, 2015

Inch Sixty-Two: Naming Rights

What's in a name?

That, of course, is the question Juliet famously poses during her balcony soliloquy, concluding that a rose by any other name "would smell as sweet."

That may well be (and there are many writers who have disagreed with Shakespeare over the centuries), but I would have given anything to be have given a different moniker than the one my mother saddled me with 59+ years ago. Oh, I have borne it all these years, but not without complaint.

My name came up recently because a friend reading my unfinished manuscript commented immediately that the characters based on real people (such as my children) are called by their real names except for the character based on me. That character is called Hannah.

You bet I'm Hannah in the novel. I wasn't about to write an April into the script.

Growing up, I longed for a normal name. I went to school with Beckys and Teresas and Brendas and Kims and Debbys (not to mention Debbies). I would have gladly gone by Sara or Hannah or Jane. But no, I got April. My mother was apparently at her most lyrical when she chose my name. Heck, I never even acquired a nickname. ("Ape" does not count.)

I never contemplated legally changing my name to something more tolerable. I think I knew, even at my surliest ages, that I did not need yet another battlefield with my mother. I certainly did not want to go through the rest of her life being criticized for such a betrayal.

As I thought about the name issue, I realized I have several friends, all women incidentally, who use either a middle name, nickname, or another name all together. Katrina uses her middle name. Cindy was named Cynthia. Margo, it turns out, adopted as her name her 7th grade French name (spelled, I presume, "Margaux") and gradually erased her birth name. Both of my grandmothers despised their first names and used their middle names, so "Eulalia" became "Clare" (a choice I thoroughly understand) and "Maggie" became "Mabel" (a choice I do not understand at all).

Do women have name image issues, like our body image issues? Do I have a name image issue? Apparently.

When I converted to Judaism several decades ago, I chose a Jewish name for the conversion. Even then I did not choose the name I really loved, which is Tova, but instead chose Chaya. There is a strong custom in European Jewish culture not to name a child after a living relative, and I wanted to save Tova for the daughter I eventually never had.

There's nothing wrong with the name Chaya, but it's not Tova.

Recently, though, I chose to name myself once and for all the name I hear as my name. I had to choose a user name for an account. I am so tired of variants of my name as a user name and equally tired of another name (and its variations) I have been relying on for years. But Tova with some additional characters and words? Mayhap that would work.

There is a passage in the Ray Bradbury short story, "Dark They Were, And Golden-Eyed," where the son of the main character asks to change his name:

"What's wrong with Tim for a name?"
Tim fidgeted. "The other day you called Tim, Tim, Tim. I didn't even hear. I said to myself, That's not my name. I've a new name I want to use."
Mr. Bittering held to the side of the canal, his body cold and his heart pounding slowly. "What is this new name?"
"Linnl. Isn't that a good name? Can I use it? Can I, please?"
Mr. Bittering put his hand to his head...He heard his wife say, "Why not?" He heard himself say, "Yes, you can use it." "Yaaa!" screamed the boy. "I'm Linnl, Linnl!" Racing down the meadowlands, he danced and shouted.

I know just how Linnl felt.


see you there! said...

I have a Granddaughter-in-law named Sara and their daughter is named Hannah. Both names I like.

Several members in my extended family have changed their names. Its ok with me but it takes some getting used to to remember.

I was called by my middle name as a child and except for school that continued into early adulthood.

Tova it is! You get to be who you want to be.


Laurie said...

Though I think April is a nice name, if you feel like a Tova, then there you go. When I got divorced (for the 2nd time), I decided I did not want to use any of my previous last names, but instead wanted to honor my feminine ancestry, and chose my maternal great-grandmothers name, which feels like it suits me.