Identity: What’s in a Name?

Our family is a conglomeration of sounds. There’s the run of the mill Nana, but we also have Deeta’s, Dita’s, Mare Mare’s, juniors, Big Danny’s, and little ones. Hell, we even knew a Goober, a stuttering John, and a Gaggi (don’t ask). Our identities were crafted by baby talk and of names mispronounced by too-small mouths.

I remember sitting on a friend’s bed and sharing stories when I offhandedly started talking about Dannyboy. I could tell he was confused. “You always call him Dannyboy?” Apparently, he was unfamiliar with the famous Irish song. I explained we have Dannyboy’s and Big Danny’s, and a whole other bevy of names too long to get into. “It sounds like cave speak, Me Big Danny, He Danny Boy,” he laughed. Deeta also got funny looks. “Is that name Indian?” they’d ask. No. It’s baby talk

Some of us were never given names. Not legally anyway. An infant girl, with no name chosen, has “Female” written on the dotted line. Who knew? In the end, she was named after her mother, but never on paper. On paper, she remained Female. Sometimes we called her Fehmahley, but only when we were trying to be funny.

Some people in our circle were always referred to by their first and last names. Always. JoeyPorg, for instance, was always said that way. JoeyPorg, one word. We also had a KennyLanney. Again one word. His name was always mentioned with a side of warning. We stayed away from KennyLanney, who always went shirtless in the summer and used to wash his sweaty sun-browned body in our pool. We didn’t very much like that. Not one bit. StutteringJohn, also one name, was a prolific and infamous liar. Good-natured, but don’t expect the truth from him. If anything he said was real, he’d be on the FBI’s most-wanted list, and a few others. I was warned to never go shoeless around him. He liked feet, I suppose.

And some of our names were changed. Some names were a connection to a past so broken and unacquainted with they existed only on paper and as a labeled reminder to the mailman as to whose box this is.

These names might as well be written on our birth certificates because we are known by no other. These are the names we sign our cards with and print on envelopes. In our spoken and shared history, these are the only names we’ve ever known.

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