Sunday, May 26, 2013

What's In a Name?

I was named after my father's favorite cousin.  He used to spend summers with her on the farm in Reading, PA.  He hated it.  Getting up at 5am, cleaning up after the animals, watching them get cooked for Sunday dinner after he'd grown an attachment for them.  To this day he refuses to eat goat on account of a lost friend that got eaten.

He was a city boy at heart and missed the streets of uptown, even with the cool breeze that they never got in the city.  The hardened worldview of the rest of his cousins didn't help and he found solace in my namesake's kindness.

It wasn't what he wanted, of course.  He wanted to name me Zoe.  Not Zoey- with the harsh "zo" leading into a light-hearted "e" sound at the end.  That was too whimsical for his tastes.  No, he wanted just plain Zoe.  One syllable, one sound, no compromises.

Some days, when I'm feeling detached from my life and my mind wanders into the periphery I can imagine myself as a Zoe.  I think about the clothing this alternate version of me would wear, the exotic friends she'd have to go with her exotic name.  I imagine they'd frequent poetry readings and go to adventurous restaurants that plain old Beverly is entirely too intimidated to try.

But my mother wouldn't have it.  She needed something touchable, something lyrical, something she could wrap up and snuggle.  That's what she wanted from me more than anything, a healthy child she could love and envelop.  Zoe wasn't it.

As the story goes, Beverly was the first alternative my father suggested.  It wasn't a common name at the time, it's still pretty uncommon now.  In all my life I've met one other Beverly in my age group, and she was from India.  From what I understand Beverly had its hey-day in the early 1900's as a result of a book by George Barr McCutcheon and then, like most popular names, died-out.

I've run into quite a lot of Beverlys my parents' age or older, though, so it never quite left the pantheon.  But I see a whole lot more "Morgan"s running around nowadays than I do girls with old-English derivatives.  That's fine with me, I never quite lost that once rebellious desire to be different.

I met my namesake, a few times.  Once when I was entirely too young to remember.  Say 2 or 3, before memory takes hold.  Once during a trip to Philadelphia, where she still lives, when I was 10 and we visited the museum she runs.  And Once when I moved down here for grad school.

My roommate at the time was a very tall, very gregarious black man studying civil engineering at Drexel University.  As I had no other friends in the area he was nice enough to become my go-to companion so I took him to see my cousin (Beverly's son, whose name I cannot remember) playing a show at a restaurant out on the main line.  My namesake came out to our table briefly to say very nice things about her amazingly talented son and give my roommate a variety of vaguely guarded dirty looks.

When I spoke to my dad about this, it was in an air of confusion.  "She seemed kind-of racist, maybe" I said cautiously, not wanting to insult his favorite cousin.

"Oh, yeah- definitely.  All the Koziers are.  Plus, I'm sure since you're living with him she thought the worst."
He said it as if it were common knowledge, like the fact that crime is high in certain neighborhoods, and everyone knows this, so you don't go there for a nice night out.  I was appalled.  How could my namesake be this snooty, judgmental woman I met?  Why would he name me after such a person?

"Because," he answered simply, "your mother wouldn't let me name you Zoe."

I'm proud to say I'm doing more with the name than my namesake did.  At the very least, I'm being a hell of a lot nicer with it.  I've grown very fond of the way it sounds when tested out by strangers trying to make sure they heard me right.  And I like how most people, once I'm no longer a stranger, automatically fall into calling me the diminutive Bev.

I've never wanted to change my name, either.  I never thought I'd be more comfortable with a different set of letters in my signature.  And after all these years the name has become as inextricably linked to me as my own skin or the sound of my voice.

It's my name, and regardless of its origins, or the many other people who've worn it, this one is mine.  And I will carry it with me till the day I die.

9 comments:

  1. Sounds like you sure made it your own indeed and yeah, wouldn't like the far stuff either.

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  2. You have made your name your own. I like it.

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  3. I like your name. I know a lot of Bev's (or Beverly's) and they're all nice - just like you!

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  4. My twin sister and I got my parents' second choice of names as well, but that's because they were convinced we were going to be boys and when they had girls, they had to come up with new names ;P. If we'd been boys, my sister, sorry, brother, would have been Kenton Hadley, and I was to be Benedict Adam - I don't think my mother had worked out that would mean we'd have been Ken and Ben! ;)

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  5. We get comfortable with our names :)

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  6. People who know me well often shorten my name to Jule or Jules -- to me it sounds like a hug.

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  7. I have met many people named Beverly and all of them good people! Lynda (above) is correct: our names seem to settle in.

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  8. I LOVE the name Beverly. I know one other person by that name and she's wonderful too :)

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Thank you for your comment! I will love it and hug it and pet it and call it George. Or, you know, just read and reply to it. But still- you rock!