Friday, December 18, 2009

What's in a Name?

When asked "What is Elise's middle name?" I usually smile as I answer "Kathryn, after my mom." It's not the name that makes me's the story behind the name that cracks me up.

My mom's first name is Hilda--an Ethnic German name meaning "Battle woman", which I think is appropriate for a woman with her heritage. Yugoslavian born, she was given a common name for the time. Her mom used to call her Hilde, with the distinct pronunciation difference. I wonder if her birth certificate would have actually shown the alternate spelling rather than the "a" With birth certificates of that time destroyed, we will never know. Those documents simply do not exist--anywhere.

My mom's middle name is Kathryn, which does not in my mind jive with her first name. Totally not ethnic German; in fact, Kathryn is Greek for "pure". My mom did not know why her middle name was Kathryn -- although I think I have an explanation. Maybe. My grandma had an older sister who died at the tender age of 6 months. Her name was Katharina. It wasn't until my mom discovered a little booklet with birth and death dates--and dates of their internment in the camps--that we even knew she existed. By the time we knew of Katharina, my grandma had died, so there was no one to ask the details. It makes sense to me that my mom was named after her deceased aunt.

Being so young at the time they emigrated from Yugoslavia, my mom never was able to explain how they could make "legal" travels without proof of who they were. My grandma wouldn't explain, either. My mom seemed to believe that there were a lot of falsified documents along the way and it was only by God's grace that they were never caught--and able to declare naturalization as citizens after they came to the United States. I wonder if my grandma gave my mom a more Americanized identity and intentionally changed her middle name from Katharina to Kathryn. Just a theory, I suppose, but Katharina translates to the American Katherine. Totally plausible if not substantiated.

One day while in my last trimester of pregnancy with Elise, I was visiting my mom at my parent's house. She asked me to grab her driver's license from her wallet. Glancing at the license, I notice her middle name was Catherine. Red flag for me -- her granddaughter was going to be named after her.

"Mom, that is not how you spell your middle name." I said, matter of factly."You know I am naming Elise after you and we are spelling it the way I know it to be."

"Oh, honey." she responded. "I never remember how to spell my middle name. It never mattered before."

"Well, it matters now since I am naming her after you. At least after the part of your name that you like." adding with a smile. My mom never liked her name, which is probably no surprise. She even went by the nickname Kitten in high school. Thankfully, her nickname did not follow her into adulthood. At one point as a young adult, she had considered changing her name, but did not want to offend her mom--and she wasn't trying to alter her past so figured it was best just to keep it "Hilda." I recall a horribly stupid television show called The $1.98 Beauty Pageant. It ran back to back with the equally horrific The Gong Show. My mom was horrifed when one of the contestants was a fat slobbish housewife named Hilda Olsen. Yeah. That was not my mom's favorite moment. It wasn't funny at the time--and truthfully, I don't think she ever found the humor in it.

Fast forward to early to mid 2007. My mom was completing a "Grandmother Book" for my sister's daughter at a request by my sister; hopefully, putting onto paper the Grandma her young daughter would never otherwise know. Fortunately my sister had the forethought to do that since her daughter would barely be two at my mom's death. Because she was working on this book, my mom called me on the telephone one day.

"Honey, now HOW do you spell my middle name again?" she asked.

I remember smiling on the other end of the receiver. Well if nothing else, my mom was consistent. And we all know the answer to that question now. Everyone except maybe my mom herself!


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