Names

I’ve had a difficult relationship with my names in my life. Growing up as a boy, my last name was not viewed as terribly masculine. One teacher in my high school, returning a corrected history quiz (0/5) early in my junior year, gruffly said, “Flowerday, eh? After this grade your name should be Mayday.” 

The resulting laughter from my classmates was a strong motivator, as I was determined enough to score 84/85 for the rest of the quarter. Mayday indeed.

My German teacher liked my name, and when we had to adopt German names for class, Blumentag sounded a lot better to me than the English rendition. But then again, German is such a delicious language. Everything sounds macho auf Deutsch, even flowers.

The story of my given name is part of family lore. My parents were unable to conceive for almost thirteen years after they were married in 1945. My mother’s doctor was a close friend and while the details of the medical condition/treatment were never shared with me, my parents held Dr Todd in very high regard–eventually I came along, plus a sister and brother to follow. I never knew the man, as he tragically died in a traffic accident around my first birthday. I sometimes wished I had a different, more mainstream name, but that wish has faded as I’ve grown older. I’ve grown accustomed.

When I was being instructed for baptism, Father McCarthy suggested I needed a saint’s name. He suggested Thomas, as it was close to my own legal name. I don’t know how it came to me, but in some  kind of a Zechariah moment I counteroffered “Joseph.” And so I had a baptismal patron.

Years later a friend preached on the two Josephs at a daily Mass–the husband of Mary and also the patriarch of the book of Genesis. She spoke of them both being dreamers, and I immediately attached myself to the notion of “Joseph the Dreamer.” As I’ve explored that through the years, I’ve tried to come to terms with both the good (a devoted obedience to God and care for a spouse and child) as well as the not-so-good (an arrogance that sets teeth to clench and nearly justifies dropping an obnoxious soul into a well).

The young miss seems not to care too much for her name, as she occasionally changes it depending on her environment. At the library where she volunteers, she is identified as “Brie.” Last year at camp, it was “B.T.,” and when she introduced herself to the new pastor last summer, it was as “Taylor.” I don’t always understand females, especially the young adolescent brand of them. But I understand a certain reticence to a name. I understand that very well.

How about you readers? Have you a good or troubled relationship with your given names or even the saints associated with them? Do you wish you had a different one? Have you changed your name ever?

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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7 Responses to Names

  1. Chase says:

    When I was a kid in upper elementary, I used to like to ask my folks, “Why did you name me a verb?!” Of course, I think everyone grows into their name at some point. If my name wasn’t Chase would I still be Chase?

  2. What a delightful post, Meister Blumentag (I use Sud-Deutsch mostly, but I kinda like using the fricative Hoch Deutsch for the “g.” GRRRR.
    I’m the usual, named after grandfathers, one whom I knew from birth ’til his death in ’70; the other the North Carolinian patriarch of the Cumberland Railroad (Daniel)whom I met when I was one. I’ve always liked being Charles, better even Charlie. Never Chuck. Chuck’s barbeque. Not my scene. Patron Saint: who else Greg da Great. That works out nicely with the Christian names.
    Naming children in the last two generations is, indeed, another story…
    Delightful post.

  3. Liam says:

    I loved my Germanic given names, named for a recently and young-deceased uncle, who was named it seems for his uncle. But my names were only one side of my family and personality. So, when I was in high school, my sister and I added Irish names for things that resonated with the other halves of our personas, and I’ve retained that as a nom de plume, as it were, since it is a variant of my middle name.

  4. Randolph Nichols says:

    Be happy you weren’t named Randolph. A family surname with roots in Virginia, even close friends call me Randall or spell it Randolf. And of course as a child of WWII, I harbor unpleasant memories of gradeschool classmates who made the most of its phonetic kinship with Adolf.

  5. I was named for my maternal grandmother. My father was raised as a Jew broke with tradition and named me directly for her, not using the first initial as the connector. (although he longed to be Catholic, there were some obstructions for a twice-divorced Jew in late 50′s/early 60′s)

    As a kid being called “Frances” out of the home and “Frannie” in the home, I hated both. In my head I would constantly make up other names for myself, often calling on the saints, with Therese, Bernadette and Elizabeth at the top of the list. Then there were the times I wanted to be “Cindee” or “Traci,” but those were less frequent.

    Mostly my inner church nerd instincts ruled however and I would continually scour books about the saints for a better name!

    In the 7th grade I decided to tell people I was “Fran” and that has stuck!

    My middle name was Rose for my mother and my confirmation name, Catherine, for my maternal grandmother. At some point I disliked them all for one reason or another.

    Rossi was my innocuous last name – I say that because it is the most common Italian surname and we are a dime a dozen. That said, my father was estranged from his father’s family so I know none of my Rossi relatives, but have spent a lifetime surrounded by Rossis!

    I am rather fond of my married name. We are, to our knowledge, the only ones with it in the US. It is distinctive! No one can spell it, no one can say it, but no one forgets it! It is “Spill-sin,” by the way.

    Once at church when I was explaining it to an older lady, she pondered it for a moment and said “Um! Like going to confession – to spill your sin!” That was kind of cute, I thought!

    Thanks for this fun post.

  6. John Donaghy says:

    As a kid, my parents, relatives and friends called me “Jack” – partly to avoid confusion with my father who was John. I was not junior, though, since he had his mother’s maiden name as his second name (John Slook Donaghy) and I was John Albert Donaghy, named – I presumed – after my paternal grandfather (whom I never met)or perhaps my father’s oldest brother.

    When I went away to high school I had myself called John. And so I answer to two names.

    But it gets more complicated, here in Latin America. My first extended time (2 months) in El Salvador was in 1987 and the folks there in a parish in the city of San Salvador called me “John” (even though I had wanted to be called Juan).

    For six months in 1992 I worked in the rural parish of Suchitoto where I was known as Juan – soon folks were calling me Juancito, or Hermano Juancito.

    A little later a good friend, mother of a Salvadoran godson of mine, from my first extended time was talking with a woman from the countryside who was the daughter of a family I often visited. The one woman was talking about a John and the other about a Juancito. Soon they realized it was the same person.

    Here in Honduras it’s been even crazier. Some folks from the Catholic University call me John or Mister John. Others call me Juan or Juancito (especially some kids). Others, including a Spanish Franciscan sister who lives down the street calls me Juanito.

    I prefer Hermano Juancito – which is sort of like Brother Johnny or Jackie – because the kids in the countryside gave me that name and it has a tone of familiarity that I treasure.

    So call me what you want – but as my father, the punster, might have said, “Don’t call me late for dinner.”

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