Friday, April 2, 2010

Hi, I'm Mary (fill in the blank)

With Easter upon us, I am much reminded of the origin of my saint-name (the Blessed Mother) and the fact that people insist on calling me by it despite my having what is essentially a double first name, versus a first name and a middle one that I don't use. It's a very Southern thing, plus Mom's family has the added bonus of being largely Roman Catholic.

My mother's family has a very short list of approved names. I am not the only "double Mary" in this outfit- we currently have a Mary Alice, Mary Elizabeth, and a Mary Margaret as well. The other acceptable names for girls include Sarah, Melissa, Rebecca, and Ann(e). Since this is a huge family, things get complicated trying to keep everyone straight. My mother and my younger sister both have the same first name, so they're differentiated among the family by either double names or calling my mother by her family nickname, "Sister".

The men have just as little choice: George, Charles, Robert, Thomas, William, Philip, Samuel, John, Joseph, and Benjamin, with a middle name of either Edward or Houston.

I thought this was really sort of weird until I figured out the naming convention in Hopkins' family. His true name alliterates completely and has a very musical cadence to it, in the finest old Southern tradition. Most of the men in his direct line bear the same first name, with the variation falling to the second name, which is by and large how it's done in Mom's family. Ironically, I had one of his relatives-by-marriage as my sixth grade teacher, who refused to use anything other than students' first names. He's never been called by his (wish I'd been there for that set-to the previous year- I never asked if she made an exception in his case) and I won't answer to mine. I finally lost it toward Christmas and informed Miss Avis that I wasn't the Mother of Christ, and therefore she should call me by my full name. Yeah, I got sent to the office. Sixth grade was not kind to me.

A couple of years ago, one of my first cousins passed away from breast cancer, and I spent most of the evening patrolling up and down the line of mourners talking to my gazillion relatives. One of my second cousins felt compelled to explain to me, apropos of nothing, that her name is Mary Margaret (she's called Molly, named and nicknamed for my great-grandmother). I laughed and said, "Oh, honey, I know. I almost got that one, but Daddy wouldn't agree to it. We're both named for the same ancestor."

I think, somewhat indirectly based on that conversation, that she named her daughter something tasteful but not familial because she was tired of the family names. Her niece is named for me, carrying my middle name as her first, although it came from Dad's side of the family and not Mom's...they got away with it because it was from a blood relative, anyway.

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