May 02, 2008

Poetry Friday: The Name of the Rose

I’m nobody! Who are you?

Are you nobody, too?

Then there ’s a pair of us—don’t tell!

They ’d banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!

How public, like a frog

To tell your name the livelong day

To an admiring bog!

-- The Belle of Amherst

We've had a ridiculous amount of fun this week with names -- pen names, Hobbit names (shout out to Pansy Danderfluff, yo!), blues names, and other silliness. Thinking about how eagerly we entered into this got me thinking about names in general.

When I was small, my sisters played 'Jean and Patsy (!)', which was their version of playing House (why didn't we ever play 'Home?' Anyway.). I loved the names they used, but struggled to find a name of my own, and without a name, I was told I couldn't play. (Ah, the gullibility of childhood. Now I know I would never be allowed to play ANYWAY, on account of being four years younger than "Jean," Queen Bee and Rulemaker, but I lived in hope back then, didn't I? *sigh*) 'Jean and Patsy' were the COOLEST NAMES EVER (!!!), and they were TAKEN, alas. So, I dubbed myself Stephanie -- who always ended up the "babysitter" of the dolls, i.e., the one left holding them when Queen Bee decided she and my other sister would be playing something else. I changed my name multiple times in the game, but I could never change my low status. Eventually, I began to imagine stories for Stephanie that were better than anything Jean and Patsy ever did. In time, my imagination trumped my feeling of being left out.

Emily Dickinson hits the nail on the head when she says, "I'm nobody, who are you?"
After learning to deal with not being asked to play, writers and introverts sometimes forget how to enter into the game. Privacy is a privilege, and being Somebody is a dreary prospect, as is being obliged to keep croaking one's status and importance to an 'admiring bog.' How much a luxury it is to sink into namelessness. What's in a name, after all? If you can put an invisible identity in front of your real name, isn't it still you, by any other name, and still just as sweet?

When I was a kid, I thought it hilarious that I had an uncle named 'Bookie.' No, not bookie, like someone who takes bets, Boo-key. My uncle's real name is Robin, but does anyone call him that? Nope. That regrettable name was sculpted by the fingers of admiring relatives pinching his toddler cheeks, poor man.

Baby names, family names, names you only answer to when your mother calls you by them -- those are the insulations -- the mac and wellies, to extend the metaphor -- that though you may whine about having to wear them, protect you from the cold and wet of the bog. They can be magic talismans to take with you into the real world.

The poet Traci Dant has the right of it in 'Twice Named.'

A Twice Named Family

I come

from a family

that twice names

its own.

One name

for the world.

One name

for home.

Lydi, Joely, Door,

Bud, Bobby, Bea,

Puddin, Cluster, Lindy,

Money, Duddy, Vess.


we are

a two-named family

This poem is printed in its entirety at The Writer's Almanac. Click through (will open in a new window) and scroll down to Thursday to read the rest.

Maybe you didn't have a nickname given to you in love (most of mine were hideous and derisive - all part of being the little sister of The Queen Bee and Rulemaker), but you can still have an alter ego who animates your hidden side, and has adventures of their own (Vivianna Isabella Tentadore lives!!).

By any other name, you will still be who you really are.

Poetry Friday is at Big A, little a, where the ball is rolling down the long aisle toward graduation -- minus a few late papers and that sinking feeling that not everybody is graduating and moving on! More poetry of all kinds awaits you. Dive in!


Sara said...

Oh, I love this post. Naming is the best fun, isn't it?

My brother and I used to play "Jack and Joe, the Working Men"--and yes, we used that full title every time we played AND we wore hard hats (long before Men at Work did.) I can't remember which was more to be desired, Jack or Joe, but I remember jockeying for the privilege of getting to choose.

We also all had nicknames in my family. I was PW for Phantom Whistler, because I used to aimlessly (and tunelessly) whistle around the house. My sister and I also came up with names for each other, involving bears, which we still use today. Lots of naming going on...

Cloudscome said...

Well you know I am into having multiple names. Funnily enough most of my best friends have had several alternate names, although I haven't found that out until after becoming fast friends with them.

When I was in college my best friend and I began calling each other "Hairy and Izzy". We had a whole story going for those identites. We used to leave each other notes all over campus (on the library bell tower bell, for example) signed "Hairy loves Izzy".

Cloudscome said...

AND I have an Emily Dickenson poem up today too. We are really riding the same wave girl!

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

This was my first Dickinson poem! I'd read it in a YA book called I'm Nobody! Who Are You? by Edna Barth.

John Mutford said...

We weren't a nicknaming family, though as I'm named after by dad, I was "Johnny," and he was "John" and some family still call me that. Hated it as a teen, okay with it now.

Only after having my own kids did I put a lot of thought into names.

What a great post this was.

a. fortis said...

I love this post, and the poem. When I was younger, I had a collection of Emily Dickinson poems for kids called "I'm Nobody, Who Are You?" I've always enjoyed this one.

I have never had much success getting anyone to call me anything other than my name. In 5th grade I tried really hard to get my best friend to start calling me "J.B." (I thought initials were the coolest, and those were my middle and last initials), but she refused.

Later, in high school, there were a couple of annoying guys who called me by an unwanted nickname that was a play on words with my last name (nothing too awful--the nickname was Bagel) and that really drove me up a wall. I love the idea of a self-chosen pen name, though, which I guess is why I still go by aquafortis as my online handle, even if you all know perfectly well who I am! :)

Liz in Ink said...

Oh my lord. We're a name-to-the-power of ten family. We really really really like nicknames. Well, okay, we don't like all of them. Dodobird was never a favorite, for example. Likewise, Baghead. But Pie? Hunnabear? Lizard? Yes, it's all good...
(Like this post, which I adored...)

Kelly Fineman said...

Excellent post and comments all. You must, of course, look at T.S. Eliot's "The Naming of Cats" from Old Possum's Book of Cats, wherein cats have three names each. Or just listen to the opening number from Cats by Andrew Lloyd Weber.

Mary Lee said...

The nicknames we GET (at least the ones given in love and not sibling meanness) are such precious gifts.

Kelly, I used Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats to name my 20 year-old cat Jennyanydots! ("Her coat is of the tabby kind, with tiger stripes and leopard spots.") After all these years together, we have more nicknames for her than I would torture you with here. The older she gets (and the crankier and skinnier and more demanding) the more we find ourselves calling her Kitten, as if to turn back the clock. We're sometimes tired of her senility, but we're not ready for her to leave us!

a. fortis said...

Mary Lee, I'm immeasurably reassured to hear that you have many nicknames for your cat...we have two cats and both have a number of nicknames (some of them unflattering but affectionate!). Kitten is one, but the younger cat often gets referred to as Goblin or Monster or Sassmouth, for reasons I'm sure you can guess... :) The older, larger one, sadly, gets called Sausage a lot...

TadMack said...

Liz, we were *both* called Dodobird? Okay, what are the chances of THAT? Our eldest sibs both went to the Queen Bee & Rulemaker School of Sibling Education.