what’s in a name?


My name is Frances.  I am the fifth Frances in line on my mother’s side of the family. All of the other ladies named Frances were “old maids.” I broke the pattern by getting married and I guess that gave my sister permission to stop the tradition. She named her daughter Debra.
My sister is  two years older than I am and could not say either my name or the word, sister, so she called me Deda. I spell Deda that way because in New England, words ending with an “a” are given an “er” ending. She really pronounced it “Deeder.” Words ending in “er”, as in father and mother, are pronounced Fatha and Matha. I often wonder where this strange accent came from . We did encounter it again on a trip to New Zealand. I assume someone somewhere has researched this and could tell me.
I was Deda until I started school and then formal names were used by the teachers for everyone. I did the same to my first graders. I had a little boy called CJ by his friends and family. I told him he needed to learn to write his real name. There was another Christopher in the class who had long since been called Chris and wrote his name as Chris. So poor CJ learned to write Christopher in huge letters across the top of all his papers. He never complained. I wonder what he is called today..
In middle school I acquired the name Van. There was another Frances in the class and she was called Franny. I recall a discussion with my new classmates my first day at the new school in the middle of the winter on what they were gong to call me. It was an all girls school and there were only 10 or 12 in the class. I was asked about a middle name and a suggestion was made. It was the consensus of the group that I would be called Van since my middle name was Van Cleve.
My dad often called me Santa Claus. In fact the only time he used my real name was when  I was in trouble. Someone once told me that was what middle names were for, so you could really emphasize when a child was in trouble.

scrap of old monogrammed napkin

Monogrammed jewelry was popular in my generation and it was always frustrating to have four initials. If it had been done properly it would have been Van C. When my parents gave me a set of silverware as a wedding gift, they had it engraved with four initials. I am sure they paid extra for it but it is there.
It wasn’t until my sister had children that the Deda was dropped. I think she thought Aunt Deda was not OK. It would have been fine with me. My mother always addressed her letters to me as Deda Dear.
With motherhood I became Momie. I always liked the way my mother spelled it. I was a junior counselor at a Girl Scout camp one summer when my own daughters were on staff at the camp. They were desperate for camp help and asked troop leaders if they could spare a few weeks. At camp all the counselors had Camp names like Squirrel or Owl. In my case my daughters knew they would have trouble calling me anything but Momie… so they adapted it to Momboli. I was in a mall some time after my weeks at camp and heard “Momboli” being screeched across the food court and there was one my of my little campers.

Christmas 2009

Grandchildren brought the next era of name changing. One family calls me Grandma, the calls me Nana. I think it had to do with names used by grandparents on the in-law side of the family; I will answer to either one . Now at holiday time the grandchildren are here and I am Nana and Grandma. The two little ones have a grandmother called Mémère -with the French pronunciation: “memay.” These two have Mémère living near by and see her often enough that I’m occasionally called Mémère as well.

So call me Frances,  Deda, Van, Momboli, Fran, Grandma, Nana, Mémère…I don’t mind… I love it all. Or as my dad used to say, “Call me anything but don’t forget to call me for dinner!”

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4 Responses to what’s in a name?

  1. Sarah says:

    Quite proud to carry the Frances on — even if its just a middle name 🙂 (Steve did the middle name nickname trick with me too — I now answer to Frank!!)

  2. Ruth says:

    Thanks for sharing. Your first two sentences are powerful and anchor the entire slice.
    Happy writing,
    Ruth

  3. Lisa says:

    I was just thinking the other day about how our names change over our life time. One year I had a boy in my class who was forever calling me Grandpa (his custodial “parent” was his grandfather.) We got quite a laugh out of it. I have different names for different situations. Some people know me by many of my names and forget which one to use!

  4. Ruth Ferris says:

    Your writing reflects the love and wonderful memories some of your names evoke.

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