I hate Michelle. Why I have taken so long to make a stand on dropping her is only understandable when you consider the inertia of appellation – how resistant people are to calling you by something other than what they have always called you. I’ve found open hostility to the very notion of changing this part of oneself, but how many people truly love or even like their names? And how many parents truly tried to give their unborn babies something unique and wonderful rather than simply easy and traditional?
I was reminded of this fact the other day when a friend, whose name Alma (meaning soul) is as pretty as a name can be, said that she was in a yoga class where everyone was invited to rename themselves whatever they liked and Alma was the only one to decline the offer, saying “I love my name!”
I think people’s resistance to others changing their names is suspect – a kind of jealousy at the hubris or perhaps it is simply laziness, calling your friend something new takes thought and effort that you don’t want to expend. Or is it some bottom line fear that real change may happen as a result of a name change – no matter what Juliet says, a rose named turd would start to stink?!
There is power in a name, but there is more power in the naming and, except in fairly rare instances someone else named you and for the rest of your life others keep it up. Personal as it may feel to the wearer of a name, it is not exactly owned by him or her. Strange to think that your parents – wonderfully flawed humans at best, tyrants and dingbats at worst – put this thing on you without having a clue as to who you were or what you were about.
I mean if my parents had a good reason for naming me Michelle ok fine maybe, but they didn’t. My mother claims she wanted “Valdessa” which would have been wonderfully out of left field, but she says they settled on Michelle because they thought it couldn’t be shortened – ask my dear childhood friend Olga what she calls me and she will say: “Shell” which is not bad – Thankfully no one has ever dubbed me Shelly. (By the way, to rub salt in the boring name wound, my lifelong best buddies are named: Artemis, Indigo and Olga).
On the other hand, my middle name Leona is nice, right? Forget about Helmsley, Leona is the name of my Grammy – my father’s mother – whom I credit for my artsy bent and predilection for sparkly clothing. We used to make Christmas ornaments together and I still have some of her ballroom dancing outfits and rhinestone jewelry. But Leona had a pretty hard life; worked her ass off as a cleaning lady and a single mother, which brings me to her husband, Alcidos Godin, whom my father never met.
Alcidos Godin, a French Canadian, came to this country and found that Americans called him God in, as in “is God in there?!” instead of French Godin as in sculptor Rodin. Al added an “o”. I thus was born and received my PhD as a “Goodin”, which is not a horrible name but not nearly as good (pardon me) as Godin, so that’s how the “o” discrepancy plays out, case you were wondering.
Alcidos Godin worked construction on the Golden Gate Bridge as well as the Bay Bridge and died after falling off the old Main Post office on Market Street in San Francisco. He died four days before his son was born.
That’s right!: My Grammy Leona had to mourn the death of her husband and celebrate the birth of her son in the same week.
So here’s the thing:
If you can find it in your heart to let go of Michelle and let her rest in peace with the first lady and the Beatles, I would be eternally grateful.
One exception goes out to those dear ones who have always called me Michelle-Leona”: , I love you and your willingness to waste so many syllables on unworthy me, but if you are stingy, please call me Leona, or Godin or even Dr (don’t get sick) G… Professor is cool too. You can even call me Ishmael.