Last week I wrote about a day spent in my kitchen with my mother and the Angel Baby. That afternoon, a friend dropped by for tea and later sent an email saying how she’d enjoyed her time with three generations of Glaser women. That set me thinking about names – their importance and their meaninglessness.
For us to be “Glaser women” is to define us by virtue of my mother’s marriage to my father. As far as we know, that name reaches back to a Heinrich Karl Glaser from Ulm, Germany sometime in the mid 19th century. Seeing as my mother is French and Irish, all by way of Canada, this name describes nothing of her origins; it just sums up the last 35 years she has spent married into my dad’s clan.
Plus, by virtue of my own marriage three years ago, Glaser has been swallowed up to be just a middle initial for me. Both Moira and I are known to the world as Goudy and so we align ourselves with a bunch of strangers whose histories I cannot know.
After all of the discussions about what we would name our daughter, it seemed that there was nothing more important than the word that would proceed her into the world. To make her “Moira” was to honor all of the Maries and Marys in the families, but it was also to make her a unique creature. We were offering the first word in a long and yet unwritten life.
What a paradox – to have one name so carefully chosen and another to be an accident of history.
No matter how far I can reach back, each successive grandmother is identified by the man her own mother married. These men were key, of course, from their initial microscopic contributions to the ways that they supported and loved the web of women before us. The men who are in our lives now, who gave us these names that start with G, they are incredibly vital to the people we are, but when we are a tiny community of women in the kitchen, we need a new name.
It seem that patriarchal titles look back, always with one foot lagging in generations of sires we have never met. To sit with my mother and spend a day marveling over the brand new life in our midst makes me realize that there is a way in which matriarchal time always looks forward. We take strength from the women who came before us, but we look at the world with fresh eyes with the birth of each baby. What unifies us all is not a shared name, but a shared creation. In this case, a little girl named Moira Jacqueline. So for now, until the next babe enters the world, we are all Moira’s Women.
Even if you are not a mother or even a woman, how does this change your life, to tell time and find a name by looking into the future rather than pulling around someone else’s past? What if the keys to identity were not already written but were always being born fresh into the world?
What a great post, Marisa! You trigger a lot of thoughts… Moira’s women… Yes, and Glaser women as well…
If Moira ever marries in Latin America, she will keep her maiden name. In fact, were she to live in Puerto Rico, she would be known until death by her maiden name… So, some parts of the world are in strange ways possibly a bit less patriarchal. Even though, patriarchy has a way of meddling in so many parts of life…
What has happened to women’s choice to keep their maiden name when they marry or use a double barrel name? Is this completely gone? It was very big in the 70s.
I had not thought at all about this when I got married and took my husband’s name. But then, I was not crazy about my father’s name…
Thinking about it, and maybe it’s my way of eluding the whole question of patriarchal rights, when God+de calls us, I am told, it is by our first name. Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? And the first thing God+de does is to give us a new name!
In fact, not long ago, a good ‘holy’ friend of mine asked me how God+de calls me. Important, she said. Since your mission is defined by it. Ah…
Ever since I live in Puerto Rico, I find my name is Clara rather than Claire and, frankly, I like Clara much more…
One last point, I went through a numerology phase in my life and looked at the meaning (literally) of one’s name at birth and birthday. Of course, this implies ‘reincarnation’, coming back again and again to reach enlightenment. But the vibrations of a woman’s name changing when she gets married are said to have a major impact. Not at first, since the vibrations of the first name take a while to dwindle until the vibrations of the new name pick up…
I end up where I never intended to go. Sorry about that.
Thank you for your post. It could keep me going for a long long time. A great topic to have around your kitchen table with your mother and your friends.
Mmmmm. Neat post.
I readily took my husband’s last name when we married. (Went from Luecke to Ottman.)
I am fascinated by names, their origins, meanings, connections.
I go through periods where I want to change my name. Not as an affront to my heritage, but merely to express who I uniquely am in this world. It’s such a brave statement of independence.
Your last paragraph is fantastic!