Lynne’s response to What’s in a Name where she told her husband Ralph’s name story reminded me to tell my own name story.
I am the youngest child in a large and boisterous family. Italian tradition had been (and maybe still is) that the first born son is named for the father, the second son for the father’s father, and the third for the mother’s father. The first born daughter is named for the father’s mother, the second born is named for the mother’s mother. After that, parents have free choice. So, essentially, unless there are many children, the selection of a name is out of the parents’ hands. When I was born, the name tradition had already been satisfied.
Most of the babies in our family were delivered by a midwife at home. My mother was 40 years old when I was born, and her doctor insisted that she deliver in the hospital. When it came time to complete the birth certificate, my mother, who was fluent in two languages (English and Italian) and could read and write a little in a third language (French) was deemed illiterate by the head nurse. The reason? My mother spoke in a pronounced Italian accent.
Nurse: “What do you want to name the baby?”
Birth certificate entry: “Eleanor”
We return from the hospital. “What’s the baby’s name?”
My sisters react in horror: “Eleanor? As in Eleanor Thomas? We don’t like that name. We’re not going to call the baby ‘Eleanor.’ Her name is ‘Diane.’”
And so, I became Diane.
Fast forward to my eighth grade graduation. I receive my certificate. My name is listed as “Eleanor.”
“Look, Ma,” I say. “They put the wrong name on my certificate.”
“No, honey, that is your name.”
I was thirteen years old before I knew my legal name!