Monday, January 31, 2011

Just call me Meg. Please.

In 1972, my parents named me Megan. We lived in Pittsburgh, PA at the time. Megan wasn't a family name and had no significance beyond the fact that not many Megans were being born then. Along came 2nd grade in Miss Graham's class, and suddenly we were three Megans and a Meg in a class of 20. Now every little girl and her cousin are named Megan.

They also picked Megan as the spelling instead of Meghan since it was simpler. I'm not sure that anyone beyond friends and family have ever spelled my name correctly. It never ceases to infuriate me either. How can you not come close?! At least up north, everyone misspelled it with an "h". I live in the south now. People in NC want to spell my name in so many crazy ways. Meghan, Magen, Meagan, Magin, Meaghean (seriously?), Maygen, Megann. I could go on. They also mispronounce my name 'round these parts too. Instead of simply "Meg-an," they call me "May-gin" or worse, the dreaded "Meee-gan."

So now I go by Meg. One syllable, three letters. So far so good. If I could only find a way to abbreviate my Polish last name that they also can't pronounce and spell, I'll be in good shape.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

It's a family name!

I think that the tradition of "family names" is odd at best, and possibly more sinister than that on occasion. Why, you may ask? Why do you have such disdain for this fine, time-honored tradition? Well, here's a list of reasons.

1. Confusion. If one person in your family is named, say, Chester, why would you want to call someone else the same name? It just seems to be unnecessarily confusing. "Oh, Chester, please come in here and give me a hand with this." So three Chesters show up? It's just cumbersome. We already carry down surnames; the least you can come up with is a different first name. It's a cop-out, if you ask me. Show some creativity, mom and dad!
2. Irrelevance. Many family names sound really stupid to today's ear. The name Mildred was a fine name in our grandparents' generation, but today, not so much.  In two or three generations, Ashley and Jayden will sound like old people names. It's best for them to stay put where they were invented in time.
3. Bad precedent. It seems to me that naming a child after someone else is like a way of honoring the person you're naming her after. It is possible, however, for a child to be named after someone who later goes on to commit some atrocious act, and who wants to be responsible for that? I'm sure most of the men post-1945 who were named Adolf were mortified to be saddled with the poisonous moniker.

My name is sort of a bastardized family name. My name is Gina Louise. My grandmothers were Jean and Louisa. My mom hated both of those names, so she changed them to Gina Louise.  She told me once that the only other Gina she had ever known was a woman she didn't really care for. But in her mind at the time, it seemed like a logical thing. I really don't know why they felt compelled to name us after our grandparents, but my brother was named Charles Arthur, after my grandfathers, who were named (care to guess??) Charles and Arthur. My parents really skipped the whole naming discussion, didn't they? Had he been a girl, my brother, funnily enough, would have been named Melanie or Melissa.
Following their logic, if my husband and I had a girl she would be named Margaret Juanita, or Juanita Margaret, and if we had a boy he would be named Charles Eufemiano, or Eufemiano Charles. Yikes! Thank goodness there are no children in our future.

Yao Ming

We have a 6 year old adopted kitty that we named Yao Ming.  When we picked him up from the shelter, his name was Vermont.  See, the shelter named all of the cats after states and our cat got saddled with Vermont.  Fortunately, the people at the shelter said the kitty didn't know his name was Vermont, and that we could name him anything we like.  This was good, as Vermont is one of my least favorite states.  I have never been there, but it seems like a stuffy, white bread kind of state.  Plus, I imagine all the Vermont men wear turtlenecks, and nothing bugs me more than a man in a turtleneck.

When we got our kitty home we discussed what we should name him.  I of course wanted Satan, the Markitty de Sade, or Chairman Meow.  My husband suggested something less evil so we decided to name him after an NBA star.  We started shouting at the poor kitty names like "Steve Nash" and "Charles Barkley" and "Baron Davis."  The kitty just looked at us like we were crazy (a look to be repeated many, many times over the ensuing years.)  Finally one of us said "Yao Ming."  The kitty looked at us and meowed.  Yao/Meow-it seemed to fit.  Later we learned that our kitty was half Siamese and we felt very proud of ourselves for giving him such an appropriate name.

Friday, January 28, 2011


In 1998, my only child was born.  The entire family worried silly because the doctors found a problem with her kidneys in-utero – her little organs weren’t functioning correctly and her life was in jeopardy.  Three days after learning this news and seven weeks before her due date, we drove to the hospital to have our baby.   When we arrived at the hospital, I was already in labor.  It felt like a stomach ache but certainly nothing like you might see by watching those films they show us in baby classes.  I figured the stress caused me to go into labor.  More worry.
We arrived at the hospital and I was hooked up to a lot of machines with wires attached to every available place on my body.  A couple hours later the doctor said the baby was “struggling.”  Struggling translated to an immediate caesarean.  As I lay on the table with John by my side, doctors of every specialty had already been called in and a medical helicopter ordered to fly my brand new baby to Oakland’s Children’s Hospital as soon as she was born.  Overhearing conversations around me I wasn’t certain I would even have a chance to hold her before they whisked her off to save her life.
She was born itty-bitty with a very big voice.  There were cheers and tears from everyone as they assessed her then laid her in my arms.  We hadn’t wanted to know if she were a boy or girl so, in the midst of all the worry, we were joyous to have this little surprise.  Our little Peanut - our baby-bump name for her – was a girl.  She immediately calmed down and as I lay there convinced I would never be able to let anyone take her from me, doctors began shaking hands conveying their gratitude and saying goodbye to each other.  Goodbye?  Wait!   Doesn’t she need your help?!!?
We were taken to our room and after a battery of tests they brought her to us.  She was just under five pounds, could fit a little too easily in the palm of John’s hand, and was cute as a button!  Imagine our overwhelming relief that she was safe.  She was okay.  She could be with us instead of being flown far, far away.  The very day we left the hospital, and for many years later, we would be frequent visitors to hospitals and labs and she would have to endure horrible, horrible tests and procedures, but my baby did not have to be taken from me.
Her little steel bassinet with the number 18 clearly labeled on the outside, but faded from time and goodness knows how many babies before her, was delivered to our room.   We took pictures of our tiny little baby wrapped up like a burrito lying in bassinet #18.   More than a number it was a sign.  To those who don’t know, my precious little miracle was my eighteenth pregnancy but only live birth.
We are not a religious family so when we named her Hannah, I had no idea the Hebrew meaning is “gift from God.”  Hannah wasn’t even on our list of possible names but the moment they laid her in my arms she went from baby-bump Peanut to Hannah.  Hannah Lee Smith.
Hannah is now, as she would profess, almost thirteen.  A pre-teen.  I don’t know when six months from your birth date has turned into “almost” but she is right.  She is almost thirteen.  She is our miracle baby. 
And as we circled the Hoover Dam in a helicopter tour last year during a family vacation, I sent my thanks to the baby gods that this, twelve years later, was Hannah’s first helicopter ride.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


My dad convinced my mom that it was a good name. He had heard it while living in South America. Darien is a Portuguese-derived place name common in Panama.

For thirty years I never met another Darien, although I learned about Darien, Connecticut, and Darien-other-places.

Then, my dad saw a Darien license plate. So I knew there were some others. Then, I heard a mom refer to her little daughter by name: my name. That was the first time I met someone who shared my name.

Recently, there has been a spate of Dariens. There are three of us at my high school these days: the librarian (me), a student who enjoys frequent conferences with the administrators, and an unassuming, pleasant student who flies under the radar.

Admitting that I am a librarian brings up the embarrassing but obvious fact that I clearly should have selected a different profession.  But, I didn't. I sometimes introduce myself as Darien the Librarian. I have found that among "mature" people and theater geeks, my name is easy to remember because they make the obvious connection to Music Man. Unfortunate, but useful.

My favorite Darien is someone I've never met, who contacted me on Facebook. He is a teenage musician living in Kentucky. We send each other kooky comments from time to time. We have the same first name, the same last name, and the same nickname. Boy Howdy!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Cellar Door: Names

My real name is Shoshanah. There goes my secret identity.

My name was never really an issue for me. I rather liked it, until I worked at Sears and was required to wear a name tag.

I worked in the hardware department, and it wasn’t exactly high society that came to see me. I was used to people learning my name and commenting, “That’s unique” or “That’s pretty” or, my favorite, “Where’d you get that name?” My mother gave it to me. The implication, however, was that I had changed my name in order to be unique or different. Lots of people in my life have asked me if I “made up” my name. That was mostly just comical and I didn’t worry.

Something happened, though, when I started working at Sears in Pueblo, Colorado. Almost every single day, someone would say,

“Shoshanah. Hm. Is that an Indian name?”

It seems like a harmless enough question. It’s not an Indian name. It’s a Hebrew name. That’s what I told people. But some people didn’t believe me. They would say,

“Are you sure? It sounds like an Indian name.” And then I would say,

“No, no. You’re thinking of the Shoshone tribe. Shoshanah is a Hebrew name.” Sometimes, they would still look at me, incredulously. These people did not know the definition of the word, “Hebrew.” “It’s Jewish.” I would say. “My mom is Jewish.” If they didn’t know what Jewish was, God help them.

It’s not the worst conversation you can have, day after day, but just having the same conversation, day after day like that, it can make you want to kill someone. Totally unreasonably, I know. But nevertheless.

The thing that really got to me was that some people actually thought that I didn’t know what I was talking about.

Sometimes, it was a little bit fun, though. I was training a new guy one day, and I told him that, before the day was through, someone would say to me,

“Shoshanah. Hm. Is that an Indian name?”

When it happened, he was really happy. We had an inside joke.

Mostly, though, it was incredibly annoying. I realized that people in this world starve to death and I shouldn’t want to kill people for thinking Shoshanah is an Indian (well, Native American) name, but I just couldn’t help it. I just wanted to punch them all in the face.

It got really bad. After a while, I stopped wearing my name tag, and even my Sears smock. I went to work incognito and sort of lurked. It was clear my days were numbered.

Now, I live in the Midwest, and only one person here has asked me if Shoshanah is an Indian name. I no longer felt the urge to punch that person in the face. A few people have said, however, that they thought I was Black before they met me in person. I’m White. And I’m not even really Jewish.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Marla: Names

When I was a child I didn't like my name. It wasn't magical enough, it didn't sound beautiful when spoken aloud. My name was too connected to my life, a life that at the time, I wasn't very fond of. My parents divored when I was three and I lived 95% of the time with my mother in a sneeze and you miss it northern California town. One time when I was about seven, I was flying back from visiting my father on his farm in Pennsylvania. I was used to flying as an unattended minor. I was an expert. But this time, as chance would have it, my father put me on an earlier flight then agreed upon. While in the air during that foggy neither here nor there time a stewardess asked me for my name. Without missing a beat, I replied: Julie. When the plane landed, no one was there to pick up Julie. No one was there looking for Marla because of the flight mix up. And thus, Julie found herself in a suburban foster home with TV, and white bread, and everything that Marla wanted but didn't have. It took almost a week for my mother to track me down and convince everyone that she was a capable parent. When she came to get me pick me up, Marla was nonplused and Julie wanted to stay.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Idea Here

This blog is different from other blogs. This is a new community writing experiment. It's not really about me but about a lot of people. For the first 100 people who email me at, I will enable you to author this blog as well. Each person who volunteers to be a member will be given the opportunity to write on a given topic, once a month. If you are uninspired about that particular topic, then just skip it, and maybe write on the next month's topic.

Take a general subject like, "Taxi Cabs." Lots of people have a story about a taxi cab. All of the different blog authors, over the course of the month, could, if inspired, relate a true story on the topic of Taxi Cabs. The next month, new topic. Mothers. Community gardens. Shooting stars. Growing up. Think the Sun magazine's "Readers Write" section. The interesting thing about the Reader's Write section of the Sun is that, even though the topic is the same for everyone, none of the stories are even remotely similar. It's amazing.

The first topic for February will be "Names".

Just write when inspired. Write once a year. Write twice a year. Write once a month.

Blogger allows up to 100 authors.

True stories.

Sign up!* Go ahead! It'll be fun.

You're still alive and not dead! Tell your story.

It's less trouble than keeping your own blog, and it may turn out to be much more interesting.

* If you want to be an author here, please email me at with the email address that you use for your blogger account. Then you can post things yourself here without my intervention.