Looking at how people are named in family history can sometimes tell you so much more. The ladies in my family have a habit of changing their name several times throughout their life, and I am no exception; however, I have learned from the masters. It was only when my Nan died I realised her name was not Pearl at all – it was Evangeline Florence.
My birth name is Rosemary. My mother always called me Rosemary but other family members called me Rose and occasionally Rosie which I truly dislike. Rosemary was a popular name at that time and there were quite a few songs written about my name. My mother called me by my full title, Rosemary Jane, when I was in trouble, so I associated my birth name to mean I was up for some punishment.
When I travelled to the city to commence my nursing journey, I became Rosemary. In the system of trainee nursing in that era, you mostly were in trouble if someone summoned you by name – so it seemed perfectly reasonable.
Family History Writing
However, in my retirement phase and my emerging career as a personal historian, I have changed to Rose – it seems right. It’s short, rolls off the tongue in a pleasant way and I notice people’s eyes sparkle as they look at me and I repeat my name at their request. Pleasant thoughts of fragrant rose gardens and joyous times spent running and giggling around the formal garden paths are delicious childhood memories that obviously come to their mind. So, I mustn’t be in trouble I think. No-one bothers to go near Rosie these days except my annoying youngest brother who still calls me that out of his sheer delight.
My aging mother can’t understand it. “Rosemary is such a beautiful name”, she says to me.
“You changed your name” I remind her. My mum was born Gloria May and throughout her childhood was known as Maisie, a name she totally despised. Mum did come from a time when people were never called by their original name. Aunt Betty was Elizabeth, Aunt Millicent was Milley, Aunt Slim came from Wendy, Aunt Aqua came from Jan and Aunt Soos came from Suzanna.
When Mum reached middle-age, she felt she had dealt with Maisie long enough, so she became Gloria. This didn’t go down well with the family and Gloria seemed so formal after Maisie. She suffered many miserable and embarrassing explanations as to where the Gloria came from. So she changed once more, only this time to the more acceptable name of May. It suits her as she sits in her old recliner, sipping on her milky tea from her favourite dainty china tea cup and saucer covered in pink roses, her floral hand-crocheted rug drapes gently around her knees.
Family History Albums
Mum browses the multiple family albums I have made for her with people’s names printed so large underneath each photo. She shakes her head when she sees a child with a name she has never heard of, but in a true great-grandmotherly way, she moves her lips as if practicing the pronunciation in case they turn up at her Aged Care Home.
She reflects on times gone-by but also the lives of young family members. Her aging memory encouraged me to do an album with each family having a few pages of photos showcasing their lives, their favourite activity or celebrating some recent success. It helps tease Mum’s mind to focus on that family and raise memories of the energy and joy they brought her as they chatted about their daily lives on their last visit.
Family Name Decisions
My sister’s decision was difficult for Mum to understand. It is beyond her as to why my sister moved her husband and two children to Canada in a house swap arrangement for over a year. “Why move from your beautiful house near the beach to all that cold?” she would say. “I don’t like the cold” she adds in her feeble thready voice. Mum has never seen snow and the Canadian snow and mountainous terrain are so foreign to her.
To increase Mum’s agitation, my sister moved away with the lovely name of Therese, and came back with Terri – a man’s name in Mum’s view. It is some years now that my sister has been called Terri and her eyes still become wet and sorrowful when unthinkingly someone calls her Therese. “My name is Terri,” she cries with a shrill in her voice ‘and don’t EVER call me Trees again”.
“Well, at least they spelt your name right” a younger sister wimps. “I only found out on my 50th birthday when I got my birth certificate to register for my Adult Education Degree that my name is not my name. I love Vivianne, the name my mother gave me at birth. Who is this Vivien my father registered at the local Court House of Births Death and Marriages – Vivien is a boy’s name?”
Poor Dad took to his grave guilt for not knowing how to spell a name he had never heard of. “I did my best” he signed as he realised he had messed up again.
Family History and the Media
“I’m happy”, the baby of the family sits back and gloats. “I got Kittie from a TV show and I quite like it”.
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