What’s In a Name?
St. Mary Grade School. First Grade. Sr. Rosarita sends one of her students to Sr. Stella’s third grade class. Her mission: to procure a pair of scissors.
Sr. Stella, happy at the interruption, stops her class and asks the student her name.
“My real name is Patricia but my nick nack name is Patty.” The class broke into laughter, much to my chagrin. I had no idea what they were laughing at. The nick nack had come from the childhood song, This Old Man, “with a nick nack paddy whack give the dog a bone.” Seemed right to me. My brother sat in the back of class trying to hide from embarrassment. From that time on I was PattyNickNack to the third grade class.
But what’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, Shakespeare tells us. I like my name. I like that it is adaptable to my various moods and life stages, unlike others who don’t want anyone messing with their names.
“It’s one thing that is mine and can’t be taken away from me,” an elderly woman I visited explained when I dropped the Lou off her name, Abby Lou. Life had taken so much from her over the years. She would have no shortened version.
We have a tendency to like to give people names; it’s a way of showing affection or a bond. It can also show you belong to a certain “in-group,” like knowing the password for a secret club. Children routinely give each other nicknames, sometimes affectionately, other times with the meanness of childhood.
God has no qualms about messing with our names. God routinely changed names of those He had called. Abram’s name was changed to Abraham, Jacob to Israel, Simon became Peter, and Saul became Paul. A name change often marked a life change or conversion.
As a child I was Patty. When I went to college I wanted to put childish things behind so I changed my name to the serious, gender neutral, sexually ambiguous, Pat. Practical Pat I was. I ventured into places my female counterparts didn’t dare. I attended Vicariate meetings where I was the sole woman amidst a room full of priests and deacons.
As I got older I decided to reclaim my femininity with Patricia. Patricia–patrician, of noble birth and bearing. I liked the sound of that. No-one would mistake Patricia for a male based solely on the name. No more jokes about the tele-evangelist Pat Robertson.
“You look different on t.v.”
“Yes, the camera adds ten pounds.”
And so my name has changed as I have changed.
When I needed an email address and found that probertson and every variation thereof had already been taken, rather than add an abundance of numbers to distinguish myself from all of the other probertsons in the world, I went back to my childhood nick name. Sure enough, I was the only pattynicnac on yahoo. And so I’ve come full circle. Perhaps there shall be more name changes as I continue to grow and change, perhaps not.
This blog is meant to be about the odds and ends that are part of any life, the knick-knacks that decorate the edges of our life, giving it character and color. It will include random thoughts on life and on writing. I invite you to join me in this exploration, adding your own thoughts, the pieces that are fun as well as sad, as we pass through this journey called life.
So tell me, what’s in your name?