Wednesday, October 12, 2005

What's My Name?

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

I’m not qualified to argue with that. But what is a rose with too many names?

From 1950 to 1967, there was a television quiz show called “What’s My Line?” A celebrity panel would use yes or no questions to guess the profession of a contestant guest, who upon arriving would be asked to “Enter and sign in please.” The contestant would then write his or her name on a chalkboard.

Years ago, I resigned myself to the fact that I could never be a contestant—not because the show is over—because I would freeze at the chalkboard. I wouldn’t know which name to write.

Names are the most important words we know. My name is the first word I know about me and probably the first one I know about you. In some cultures you know my secret name, you own my spirit too. I guess I could say I am rich in nomenclature. To twist the Mother Goose rhyme, I have so many names I don’t know what to do with them. Anyone in need of one feel free to ask to borrow one or two of them.

Through the course of my childhood and all through my life, I’ve been a serial name catcher. I’ve caught enough names, given by others, that it could lead one to think I’ve lead a life of thwarting the law. Unlike my son who was born with a gene of no tolerance for any terms of endearment, I’m like a magnet for the name of the day, and my empathy gene won’t let me correct it.

I’m not the only one who thinks that I might have a name or two I don't need.

My younger, older brother once called me at work. He had to use a crib sheet to know who to ask for. When he finally got through his first words were, “You know, even though you’re still in your twenties. OZ—he calls his almost-twin OZ and his progeny, the OZlings—and I have started a collection. We figure we need to start saving now to buy a tombstone big enough to fit all of your names.” Even then it was looking like I’d need the person who designed the Vietnam Wall.

I grew up as Maribeth. One name, one word, one special spelling—the wrong spelling. Parents need to quell the urge to give their child a name with a unique spelling. It means years of embarrassing moments that said sensitive child needs to find a polite way to correct people every time they misspell said unique name on important papers. It means I’ll never find a personalized license plate at Disneyland, and when the mail comes and people spell it the usual way, it means I feel as if I’m opening someone else’s mail. If parents only understood, they’d find other ways to express their creativity. But that was my first, first name.

My older, older brother also called me Little Monster and Toots. My younger, older brother called me with a whistle. My father called me Baby Doll. My mom called me Matilda, Petunia, when I was in good favor and Lady Jane or Queen of Sheba when I had engaged in misbehavior.

I was eight years old before I knew my birth certificate says Mari Elizabeth. Imagine my surprise when I found that two years earlier I had named my doll, Elizabeth, after me and didn’t know it.

I tried Mari E. on my very first driver’s license. That lasted until the first time a cop pulled me over. When he called me Marie, my Mari E. days were officially done with. My legal papers ever since have been firmly signed M. Elizabeth.

Friends and cousins kicked it up a notch with Mb., Murb,. Murbee, Maribeff, and my favorite Murbelia. I guess once someone renames you they can’t let go of it. I still get e-mails to these names. There were one or two in college who called me Star for my last name, but that was creepy.

Then follow the unique ones: TBW, a friend calls me. It stands for Tall Blonde Woman. Two Spanish speakers both call me Isabel which means Elizabeth. Each of those make some sense. But I can’t explain why my in-laws—who are 4 foot 11 and 5 foot 1—do not see the irony in their calling me Little One.

My credit cards and this blog call me, ME, which keeps spam down.

The woman who christened me Liz had known me for less than an hour. I was too shy to tell her that wasn’t really my name. About five years later, I told her she was like a second mother because she had named me and it stuck.

I kept Liz because I figured that no one could misspell it. Well that, and I liked the idea of having a name that used the letter “z.” I was wrong about the first part. I get messages quite often for some person whose name is Lynn.

It makes some people crazy that I have so many names. On most days it doesn’t bother me, except when someone asks me “What’s your name?” An answer of “It depends.” doesn't work in most cases.

My brother might be right, I may have reached my limit. If I attract more terms of endearment, I’ll need a schizo-form disorder for the help in keeping track of them.

I didn’t even mention the guy who was sure my name was Sue.
—me strauss Letting me be


Cheryl said...

I like Mari, very much.
And Maribeth.
And Elizabeth.
And Liz.

It was impossible to get anything with 'Cheryl' on it, either, until a decade after Charlies Angels when a new clutch were developed.

Hey - you were, you must admit, born to stand out from the crowd. You wouldn't be a happy sheep.

On that basis, at least you had early training!


mojo shivers said...

It's too late for me. I'm already set in my ways to give my children unique names. Personally, I come from the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to baby names. I want her to know she is unique and that there is no one else that will quite match her. I have a name all picked out that I am fairly sure no one else has named their kid (save one), but sounds very lovely nonetheless.

ME Strauss said...

Hi Cheryl,
I don't think I know anyone who is totally satisfied with the saname their parents bestowed. In college I had an entire rant about how many numbers named me. :


ME Strauss said...

Ah mojo,
A father-not-yet-to-be speaks and I suppose the woman involved in parenting this child has already agreed to this name? I swear the longest conversation my husband and I had was about what to name our son--ever girl's name was one he had dated. :)

Jennifer said...

Wow! That's quite a history of names! How do you keep yourself straight?!?! :)

And to think there are days I wish I hadn't been named the boring Jennifer Marie (note: I still don't like my name.) My name was and is Jennifer, but growing up I can't remember a time when I was actually called Jennifer. My parents had their nicknames (none of which I liked!) and when they weren't using nicknames they called me Jen). My parents are the only one I let call me Jen. (I don't really have much of a choice. I once told them my name was Jennifer and they laughed and said only when I'm in trouble).

I think Jennifer (like Elizabeth) is a name that people think they have the right to shorten! It still doesn't seem to matter to people when I correct them that my name is Jennifer (not Jenn, not Jen, not Jenny or any other variation...)

I like Mari Elizabeth. Of course I like unique names...maybe cause I've always hated my unoriginal name.

PS: I love the 'Queen of Sheba' name :)

ME Strauss said...

Hi J. Jennifer, Queen of Sheba's morning friend,

I think I've only met one person who like her name and she liked every single, minute detail about herself so much that she wasn't very likable as a person. I've always thought that Jennifer was a musical name, like Zachary.


Jennifer said...

That's a new take on it! I've never thought of it as musical :)

ME Strauss said...

Of course you wouldn't think of it as musical it's YOUR name. :)

Have a good day at work. :))

zilla said...

I thought you were pulling a practical joke -- in order to read your post I had to highlight invisible text and copy it into Word, sort of like holding a sheet of writing in invisible ink over the toaster to get the secret message to appear.

Is that not flattering?

Introducing Myrtle to Moose's new girlfriend last night I said, "Who are you today, sweetie, Mary or Katie?" She said she had no idea anymore.

Her name is Mary Catherine. Her father wanted a Katie and, having been one of a gazillion Jennifers all my life, I wanted her to have a way out.

I like Liz. My sister's best friend is Liz. We call her Liz-woman. Like you, she is tall and blonde. She is a biologist who expatriated to Australia. Scuba is her passion.

I've never met an uncool Liz.

Indeterminacy said...

I sometimes spend as muich time thinking up the right name for the characters in my stories.

Liz is cool. There's Liza and Eliza, too. I onced worked with someone who had a long Polish name with a Z in it. Everyone just called him Z, and that stuck.

ME Strauss said...

Now you have sparked the mischief in me. I'm going to have to figure out how to put a mystery message into a post like that.

But alas, no, being always the forgotten one. No one told me the g-baby was here. YEAA!!! and Congrats!

ME Strauss said...

Hi Indie,
Yes, that has a little bit to do with where I was thinking of going with my next post. That names seem to be tied to personality. Sometimes when I change a name to write for the blog even. I have trouble finding one that fits the person well and doesn't distort his or her character.
I likes Eliza. It was my g-ma's name.

easywriter said...

My nick name when I was little was Charlie Dumbo. Gee, thanks Mom...and they wonder why I'm the way I am. :o)

ME Strauss said...

Oh Easy,
Now THAT'S what I call a term of endearment. :)

I called my son "my little alien child." His initials are ET.


The Mushroom said...

That which one has to cut and paste in order to read is often worth the effort.

I like my first name, hate my middle name (my mother says I was named after her father, but her father went by PJ or Barney so even he didn't like it), and have no use for my last name. I made up my own name at age 15, which I haven't officially changed it to (along the same lines as why a popular black comedian named his daughter something rather plain, "so people wouldn't know she was black until the job interview"... I want to be taken seriously in the professional world even if I don't want to be taken seriously in the real world). I prefer Mushroom, and the people who prefer me call me that... oddly, except for my spouse, whom I have half a dozen cute nicknames for and she refers to me as "Pissant".

I did once change my taken name, from Mushroom Mandrake Ketchup to Mushroom Malappris Mandrake, but that was for legal reasons. Just a rite of passage.

And if I have a daughter, which I won't, her name will be Dracocia Gertrude. Dracy Trudy! She can call herself whatever she wants and I will call her that too. Problem with naming anyone is that the names are given before the people are people. Some people become their names, other people (usually named Tiffany) are quite the opposite of the implication their names give.

zilla said...

Seriously, am I the only one who had to copy & paste to read the post? It still doesn't show up on my screen!

Me thinks Liz doesn't really need me to inspire mischief ;-)

ME Strauss said...

Hollo Mushroom and welcome,
What a well-thought and beautifully written comment. Your logic is as compelling as your wisdom on this issue and I appreciate you adding it to your discussion.

Your point about naming people before they are people is one well taken. I was thinking about writing about that tonight, but perhaps now I won't have to.

Now I'm left wondering what your daughter, which you won't have, would have thought of her name. :)

ME Strauss said...

I have heard anyone else say anoything. My friend who reads in the morning surely would have said something--she found some typos.


fineartist said...

Hello ME, I understand what you are saying here. I have a first name that I do NOT use. It causes me to go flush and break out in hives when it is used, so I use M. Lori instead.

My official middle name is Lorraine. In kindergarten they called me Rain. Being the little fruit that I was, I went home during the first week of school and demanded that my mother change my name, to something less weird, like Sandy. She said sandy reminded her of dirt and would Lori be okay? Then she told me my REAL first name. I cried. I settled on Lori, but coveted the name Sandy for the rest of the year.

My dad calls me Snooks, my brothers call me sissy, and my grand loves call me Nana. I think Nana is my favorite.

I have missed your words. Love and peace, Lori

ME Strauss said...

Hello M. Lori, Sandy Rain,
Names are the most important words we know. You just did a beautiful job of explaining why. Our names are in some way hotwired to who we are.

Thank you, I miss it when you're not hear to listen,
M. Elizabeth

fineartist said...

Oh man, I forgot to tell you what my children call me. My daughter calls me momma, she will be twenty-six next month, and still it is momma. I like that.

My youngest son calls me Mom, sometimes mommy. My oldest son heard Samps calling me mommy once, he teased him incessantly about it and Samps said, “She LIKES it, pfftt.”

My oldest son, has been known to refer to me as the pit viper, particularly when he is angry with me.

I cannot bring myself to tell what my first name is, but I was told by my mother that I should be glad for it since they had debated naming me Moira. I wasn’t glad then and I am not glad now, at least Moira would have been unique, though I shudder to think what the nicknames would have been. Yes, I know that in nineteen sixty-six the name Rain was pretty unique too, but there was a beautiful white headed girl in my class whose name was Sandy…and the boys were fond of singing Rain, Rain go away….and well, you can imagine the rest.

ME Strauss said...

I can't find the word to say how touching, loving, beautiful, revealing of a special thing, it is that your kids still use such special names for you. It's a testament to how close you've been.

I was thinking throughout this week about how because names are so important they are one of the first places kids go to tease. At five years old, they hardly know they're being more than clever, unless they're the ones who are on the receiving end.

Take heart in your first name. I think of the episode of Major Dad where his wife Polly wouldn't tell her middle name until the very last line of the show. It was a great hullabaloo and made a big deal of--what was wrong with her? Until she said it. Her middle name was Ester.


Betty said...

Hi Liz,
I think I'm envious, but I'm not sure. I only had one name all my life until "mama" became an alternative. Now, I am oddly offended when my son tries to call me "mom". I am not mom, I am mama. How can he not know that?!

ME Strauss said...

Hi Betty,
You're Whirling Betty now!
Do you think there's anyone who's just plain satisfied with his or her name? I guess it would be like being satisfied with yourself I guess.

As far as Mama goes . . . How could he not know that?


Theresa said...

I'm pleasantly surprised! Havent had time to come visit your blog but when i did I realised we both posted on 'names'. haha.. Thanks for putting a smile on my face!

ME Strauss said...

Hi Theresa,
I've been so piled under with work. i think the reason I chose names to post on was that I was beginning to forget my own. I'll come over and read about yours.


garnet david said...

By any name you will be ME, another of myself, a NewMe, as in, you NewMeBetter, but I will call you Liz. And your blog will always be ME You, MEYU.

At least you've had choices, I've alway been a chameleon with one name.

ME Strauss said...

Oh Garnet,
Do not argue for your limits. You are as big as the sky. You make me small by comparison. UMEU WEI

Mark said...

Lizzy Bizzy you are to me... fo shizzy!

ME Strauss said...

You are a wonder and a joy,