letters across the universe

What’s in a name?


Grandpa, I always liked having your last name.  It was hard to change it when I got married.  As my maternal grandfather, I shouldn’t have had your last name.  But I guess there are some benefits to having an unwed teenage mother after all.  Sharing your last name made life a little easier for me in school.  I never had to awkwardly explain why I didn’t have the same name as you and Grandma or my mom.  Our last name, although not one of the “old” names in our little town, meant something.  People knew who we were, they knew to whom I belonged.  For a child who oftentimes didn’t know where she belonged, that meant a lot.  Granted, it wasn’t always a good association thanks to my notorious uncle, but I tried to make it become something better than it was before.  People eventually knew who I was – what I added to the value of our name.  

It’s an odd thing, giving up your maiden name when you get married.  I was happy to do it – it was important to Andrew and it was romantic and symbolic to me.  But it takes a toll on your identity.  I was no longer the girl who was going to be famous and change her name ever so slightly just to make it easier to spell and pronounce.  Nor was I the girl who would trick an upperclassman into believing her absentee father was an NFL player, or a late-night talk show host sidekick.  I was just a girl who still referred to herself as her maiden name in moments of frustration or exasperation, but nobody knew me by that name anymore.  I find myself fascinated with our name.  I’m intrigued with our ancestry, although not to the same extent as you.  I love thinking about my distant relatives, an Irish-English couple who came to America during the potato famine.  I miss having that moniker.  Seeing your name in an obituary and on a headstone makes me miss it even more.

Beyond our surname, you were a fan of nicknames.  Do you remember what you called me and my younger cousins for years when we were little?  Princess, Pumpkin, and Pooh.  Pooh was the most fitting, for that baby girl was truly a tiny teddy bear, full of belly laughs, dimples and cheerfulness.  She is like that to this day – one of the most good natured, funny and kind people I know.  Pumpkin worked well too – what better name for an autumn baby with ginger hair?  It really only scratches the surface of Pumpkin though.  There’s so much more to her.  I hope you saw it.  But me – I was “princess.”  Was it because I was firstborn?  More likely because I was a prima donna?  High maintenance?  Was I somehow special in a way that your daughters were not?  I think there’s some truth to that.  It makes me sad and confused to think in that way, but there’s something to it, isn’t there?  I was different.  I don’t know…maybe I’m making it all up in a desperate attempt to understand why some people got the worst of you and I got the best.  We can talk more about that later, but please, for now I hope you understand that I know I got your best and I thank you for it.  I will take the sobriquet “Princess” with gratitude, because regardless of how or why you chose it, you treated me as such.