When I was born, I was given a name very like the one you know me by. Joan. I hated it. It seemed such a thud of a name, unmusical, ugly, plain. Although, I am told, I decided when I was five that I was not to be called Joanie, but only Joan. This may have had to do with Joannes and Joanies in school, of which there seemed to be a great number. Although I was always the only plain Joan.
My mother had wanted Patricia, which I loved, but my father vetoed that, because of a "fat girl" he didn't like in school with that name. And in proper Catholic naming tradition, and by baptismal requirement, a saint, in this case St. Joan of Arc became my patron, and I her namesake. Silly martyr. Although reading the Twain biography reconciled me to her. A rather clever character, however much a nutjob. Still, I dreamed, unlike most other girls, of changing not my last name, but my first.
I wasn't very good at naming then. Not much for the dolls I was given, I usually didn't bother naming them. When asked by adults the name of my doll, I dubbed them all Theresa. Perhaps after St. Theresa, perhaps one came already named, and I just used it as a convenient catchall. Raggedy Ann came with her own name, as did Pooh and Tigger (not the Disney versions, but a bear and a tiger certainly.) Topo Gigio himself, from when I had my tonsils out, did not need my faltering imagination to be named. My brothers named our black cat Midnight. I chose Frances as my confirmation name, but it never quite fit, and it became a footnote in my lost paperwork. Likewise a host of other names, long forgotten. Nor was I was ever nicknamed.
Much later, bellydancing, I was peer pressured (at age 34) into listing a more exotic dancer name for a festival. I tried, I really tried to develop something like Sharavar, or Lalafalala, but they all slid off like an untied scarf. And I looked at my name. I knew how it was supposed to sound in French, after all my original last name was a mash of French into illiterate French Canadian, lots of extraneous letters. I had learned the phonetic alphabet long ago. So, out of that play, and a reckless disregard for proper spelling, I discovered an alluring shade of Joan.
Shortly after that, and with no discernible connection, I was dubbed Justjoan. And I started naming personalities that came to me. The bear Sebastian. The penguin George. The iBook Isabel, and iPod iCapod. Names that stuck.
When we brought Midnight home, we knew the name did not fit such a unique and powerful personality. We brainstormed and free associated. Then, on a walk, I remembered that D, with the middle name Israel, had, when we were in Saudi Arabia, asserted that if asked what his middle initial stood for, would say it was for Ishmael. He had read Moby Dick not long before. I reminded him of this, and asked if Ishmael might not be a good name for the cat.
No, not quite.
Well, how about Moby?
And for reasons not at all obvious, a black cat after all, it fit. Yes, he mostly stayed submerged under the couch, bed, bathroom cabinet. And at that point, we had not realized just how big a cat he was. When we call out his name, he looks at us, and his tail perks up. So, yes, he seems to agree.
I have found, unlooked for (and freakish for a chick with a pathetically poor memory for names) a talent for naming.
I believe now, that I was named very well. The prism of my life has found more color than I imagined as a child, in that simple name. I found that there is another St. Joan, a scholar. She lived a long time.
Labels: childhood, custom, Moby