Posted by: patti | January 3, 2009

Names

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m struggling with my names.

It began last April.  I’d just completed the two hundred hours of study to be certified as a yoga teacher, and when the girl at the front desk presented me with that official certificate, I caught myself just in time:  I almost told her she had the wrong yogi.

As a new teacher, I am raw, shaky, uncertain — qualities I am generally good at hiding.  Teaching yoga exposes a basic insecurity in me, expresses an uncertainty I have not felt since I was fifteen years old.  Teaching will be good for me, but that’s another story.

It’s my name that surprised me after two hundred hours of surprises.

“Patricia Fitzgerald” read the certificate.  Patricia. Fitzgerald.

That’s my name, of course.  But it is, and it isn’t.

I should explain, or, more accurately, introduce myself.

I’m Patti.

To more than half the people in my life right now, I am Patti Fitzgerald.  That’s the name that goes in the masthead of the magazines I work on; it’s the name that appears when I publish a crossword in a newspaper.  The friends I’ve made through my work as a puzzle editor don’t know any other name for me.  And my ten years of work as a puzzle editor, well, trust me when I tell you that, too, is really another story.

When I got married ten and a half years ago, I took my husband’s name, legally, willingly, joyfully.  I loved the symbolism of the new name, the union of families, the new start.  I was twenty-five.

I don’t regret taking his name any more than I regret taking him, but I never let go of my maiden name.  In the writing I’ve been doing for all of my literate life, I’ve been Patti Varol.  Those ten letters are my writing self.

I’ve been submitting short stories and chapters of my novel to publications for almost the same ten years, and those submissions are always signed with my ten letters.  I’ve felt guilty using my former name as my public name, but for years I’ve justified it in two ways.  First: when I started writing, my name was Patti Varol, and getting married didn’t change me or my writing, it only changed some legal documents.  Second:  I’ve never actually been published, and may never be, so what does it matter, really?

That first justification is laugh-out-loud funny.  Marriage changed me, of course, and that changed my writing.  Period.  I can call myself anything I want, but I am not the same person at thirty-five as I was at twenty-five, and Terence has more to do with that than anyone, anywhere.

The second justification is just as ridiculous.  Of course I want to be published, and I will be, and I’ve staked my claim with my ten letters and that’s final.  The very notion that I had to justify my choice of name — maybe that’s too big a story for me.

The thing is, when I write, when I teach, when I think about it at all, I am Patti.  Just those five letters.  Well, four, but one makes an encore.  That second t is there so that the I, my beloved I, can bow out my name and save me from the pedestrian –y ending.  The -ti is there to spare me from the dreadful “Pat.”

Never Pat.  Never.

I am, of course, a Patricia.  But only when I’m in trouble:  you can hear it, can’t you?  My mother, my father, my grandmother, Monseigneur Feldhaus, Sister Paula — the tone of voice is the same.  Patricia, you can do better than that.  Patricia, tie your shoes, stand up straight.  Stop hitting your brother, Patricia.  Explain yourself, young lady.

Patti, though, Patti isn’t in trouble.  Patti is fun.  Patti is hilarious.  Patti is flighty sometimes, but that’s okay.  Mostly.  Patti is short and sweet.

And then there’s Tapricia:  My mother used to call me Tapricia.  Terence winces when he hears that story, winces at the cutesy-poo sound of it.  But Terence didn’t know my mother when she was the type of woman who would make silly nicknames for kids.  He knows the mother who frowns when her granddaughter Sophia is called Sophie.

But it was my mother who gave me this I on the end of my name, and it was my mother who called me Tapricia.  And it always made me laugh, belly laugh as only a little kid who had no idea language was so personally elastic, can laugh.  Her father, my Puppa, rubber-banded language all the time, but when she did it, with me, to my name, just for me, I would howl with delight.  And she didn’t do it often — maybe she only did it to hear that laugh, when she needed it most.  I could ask her, certainly, but her answer could change this story.

It’s so possible, I want it to be possible, that I learned to love language, the play of words and sounds, because, once upon a time, my mother called me Tapricia.

We make sense of things by naming them, just as we make sense of things by telling stories about them.  We name them, then we want to explain the names we’ve chosen, and stories are born.  Every creation myth begins with that basic fact:  there’s creation, and there’s the naming of the creature, and it is almost impossible to separate the name from the story.  Does the thing exist because of the name, or does the story exist because the thing needed a name?

We seek meaning everywhere, and in everything, and what we don’t find, we invent.  Well, I know I do, but that is definitely another story.

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Responses

  1. Look at Sean Combs, aka puff daddy, aka puffy, aka sean john, aka p. Diddy, aka diddy… Did his name changes make him better? No… We still knew he was the same guy stealing better music than he could make… Sorry… Sampling

    While our names are important, they are not our identity. Our identies lie within our hopes and dreams.

    George Carlin, the best wordsmith I’ve even seen (sorry patti), constantly challenged the labels we put on things and people. For better or worse, language evolves and reflects the current zeitgeist.

    A more smarter man than me once wrote – ‘would a rose by any other name still smell as sweet’… pardon my ignorance if the quote is inaccurate, but you still get the gist of it.

    I’m just glad you don’t go by what I used to call you – Senorita Poopy Pants…

  2. Maybe you could convince Google to let you borrow their Mail Goggles feature for your comment space.


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