My father, my sister and I enjoyed a close familial relationship, but we also shared a bond that went beyond our bloodline, a commonality we didn’t so much celebrate as endure. We each had an intense dislike of our given names. In a world chock full of Toms, Dicks and Harriets, there wasn’t much room for a Bruno, an Aurelia and a Lenora. Our names were met with everything from consternation to ridicule.
Of the three of us, my sister got off easiest since her despised appellation was her middle name. My dad and I had to tough it out with first names that had to be repeated, spelled and explained on a regular basis. None of our names were bestowed upon us with ill intent, just the opposite, in fact. We were each named in honor of someone else. My father was born on October 6, St. Bruno’s Day, so like good Italian Catholics, his parents named him after that saint—despite the fact that St. Bruno was actually German. At any rate, my father went through his entire life hating his first name and likely resenting that his brother Peter got the “normal” name in the family.
When it came time to give my second oldest sister a middle name, it really wasn’t a case of my father venting his name rage on his progeny; it was just to keep the grandmother game even. Since the oldest daughter in my family had already snagged Maria, my maternal grandmother’s name, as her middle name, it was only fair to give my paternal grandmother’s name to the second daughter. And so my second oldest sister was saddled with the middle name Aurelia, which made her cringe and all the other kids snicker every time the nuns called her by her full name as was typical in Catholic schoolrooms of days gone by.
Then I came along, and the naming ball was back in my mother’s court. Just my luck, my mother had a favorite cousin named Lenora, a name that captivated my mother with what she termed its “musical lilt.” (In what passed for preteen wit, my standard response to that back in the day was “only if you are tone deaf.”) Fortunately for me, my mother was also charmed by the diminutive Lee which her cousin used, so I was officially named Lenora, but called Lee by family and friends. Now, I admit I do like Lee, despite the number of times I heard “but that’s a boy’s name” when I was growing up. (I had a small meltdown on my fifth birthday when the bakery delivered my cake, topped with a blue plastic dump truck instead of the pink ballerina figurine I’d eyed in the display case.)
But all my life in any “official” setting, from classrooms to job interviews to doctor’s appointments,” I’ve had to bridge the Lenora/Lee divide. When calling for a doctor’s appointment, it usually goes something like this.
“And what is your first name again?”
“Lee, but you’ll have it in your records as Lenora.”
“No, just Len-ora. But I go by Lee.”
“No, just L-e-e.”
“Isn’t that the spelling for a man?”
“You know, I’m just gonna go ahead and remove my appendix here at home.”
So imagine how shocked, no, make that shocked, stunned and slightly horrified, I was when my daughter, six months pregnant with a little girl, announced that she and her husband were considering naming the baby…Lenora. Now most grandmothers would have likely squealed with delight over having their first grandchild named for them, but the first words out of my mouth were, “Why do you hate your baby?”
My daughter sighed and replied matter-of-factly, “I really like that name. It’s a little unusual, but not oddly unusual. I think it’s really pretty.”
If she said it was musical, I was going to scream. Off key.
“And,” she continued, “we would call her Nora.”
Now, “Nora” I could get on board with. In fact, I even considered changing from Lee to Nora at one point in my life. My only suggestion was to name the baby Nora flat out to spare her a lifetime of Lenora/Nora confusion. That’s what they decided to do, and I couldn’t have been more thrilled to think that my granddaughter would forever carry a part of my name, a good part at that, with her.
That’s when my daughter upped the ante and added that she’d long ago determined the baby’s middle name.
“That will definitely be Aurelia,” she announced decisively. “It’s perfect.”
Again, I was stunned. And speechless. And suddenly weeping. In that moment I realized what my daughter, one who plays her emotional cards pretty close to the vest most of the time, was doing. She was quietly, without fanfare, carrying on a family tradition of naming children in honor of someone greatly loved and respected. She was gifting her daughter with an extraordinary name in honor of two extraordinary women who were now gone from our lives, but never from our hearts. My beloved grandmother and sister were no longer with us, but our family would soon have a new little Aurelia to love. I don’t think I have ever been prouder of my daughter than at that moment.
“And just so you know, Mom,” my daughter said with finality, “if the next one is a boy, his middle name is Bruno, no question.”
“No question,” I replied, smiling through tears.
Shakespeare long ago asked, “What’s in a name?” Thanks to my daughter, I now know the answer. It’s love.