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?