Every Saturday in 2013 I’ll be sharing a post for the Mom Before Mom project. The goal is to tell the stories of life before motherhood, the stories which root the woman in every mother. So much of memory keeping is focused on capturing our children’s experience but what of our own? Who will capture the mother’s journey as a woman? Who will honor our journey if we don’t honor it first? Every week I’ll be answering a question, journaling my life stories. Read along or write along with the wonderful bloggers linking up every week.
Prompt #1: How did you get your name? Did you always love it? Have you ever wanted to change it?
As a kid, I always had great hopes of finding my name on those useless personalized tourist souvenirs. Nine times out of ten, I’d leave the souvenir shop empty handed. My parents missed two important memos – 1. Souvenir companies only spell Carla with a “K” and 2. They print thousands more of everything with the names Jessica, Jennifer and Brittany (in the ’80s). This pretty much sums up how I felt about my name growing up.
Carla, with it’s five ho-hum letters, never wowed me the way other names did. I didn’t need a “wow” kind of name. I just wanted something a bit more common or a bit more different or a bit something less under the radar. Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t dislike it; I just wasn’t impressed by it. I fancied long names embodying a bit of the fluffy haired 80s feminine mystique I was fascinated by – Veronica and Jacqueline and Victoria, Josephine, Gwendolyn, Samantha. Names that captured my romanticized vision of my future self (think Charlie’s Angels meets Knight Rider meets Pretty Woman meets The Breakfast Club).
I see now I was hoping a certain kind of name would lend it’s characteristics to me. Josephine would save me from my clumsy, awkward self and grant me powers of grace and elegance. Veronica would replace my contemplative self with an opinionated, self-assured, quick to answer version. Gwendolyn would make me a magical fairy creature and Samantha would make me a character on Who’s The Boss but you see where I’m going with this.
At the heart of this lackluster relationship with my name is the fact that I didn’t grow up with a story about my name. I’m a storyteller so it’s how I connect to things. It’s how I work things out and make sense of the world. I’m also a romantic which set the stage for very high expectations for the origins of my name. It’s almost like I assumed the more syllables in a name the more interesting the back story would be. There’s some convoluted, childish logic which convinced me my two syllable, five letter name couldn’t possibly have a good story.
And I wasn’t so far off the mark. My father, who I hadn’t seen since I was eight years old, paid me a surprise visit my sophomore year in college. I was so emotionally stunned I didn’t know what else to do but throw questions at him. One of those happened to be a question about my name. This is what I learned. My mother and him considered Natalie and Natalia. They chose Carla. He couldn’t remember why. I was raised to be polite so I refrained from saying, “Really? You can’t f*ing remember? WTF!” The emotional weight of his visit kicked my name issues to the curb and I just sort of put the information in my mental Filofax for another day.
I went through a phase where I really wanted a great nickname but none ever stuck*. I went through a phase where I wanted to tell people my name was Sam because of Samantha Micelli (Cut a girl some slack, ok? Dark skinned Latina role models weren’t so popular back then so I cuddled up with the next best thing – brunettes). I even spent a whopping five minutes thinking about changing my name. When I couldn’t come up with one I thought suited me perfectly, I gave up because I knew it was a search that could go on forever.
So no, I haven’t always loved my name. I’ve grown to appreciate how perfectly it captures me. Do I think it’s the most perfect name? The most beautiful and inspiring? No. It might be those things for other people but for me it’s a good ole friend I’ve grown in love with over the years. She knows me well and has stood by when I’ve lost sight of myself. And she doesn’t lend herself to me as I once thought Josephine and Veronica would to make me all those things I aspired to be. It’s my life which lends itself to the name, giving it meaning.
*Because if I’m going to talk about my name I should also mention nicknames. I had to two which lasted for any considerable amount of time First in grammar school, the kids called me Jesse after Uncle Jesse on Full House. My hair was cut short like a boy’s and was fluffy and looked very, very much like a John Stamos ‘do. The other was an affectionate term family friends called me from time to time and was later revived in high school with no regularity – chinita. Don’t quote my translation but the term was used with love to describe my almond shaped eyes. My grandfather is El Chino and I was for a short time La chinita. Both make me smile today.
Next week’s prompt: 1/19 What did your childhood bedroom look like? Give a tour. How did it change as you matured?