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Thursday, 04 November 2010

It’s All in a Name

By Mimi Torchia Boothby of Watercolors

One of my favorite stories is about my name, why I’m called Mimi and what my name really is.

My mother was 20 years old when I was born. My father was a mamma’s boy and my mother had a difficult relationship with her mother-in-law, my grandmother Maddalena.

My mother was a romantic who loved poetry, particularly the works of Edgar Allen Poe, and she wanted to name me Lenore – you know, from the poem. Before I was born, my grandmother Maddalena asked my mother if she would name the baby after her if it was a girl. My grandmother threatened, “If you no putta my name-a, I no come-a see the baby.”

My mother defiantly did not concede. Soon after I was born, my mother found herself surrounded by loving family. The scene was this: my sheepish father, unable to make eye contact and my rapturous grandmother, overjoyed that she now had a granddaughter with her name. “Thank you for putta my name,” she exclaimed.

My poor little mother did cave in that time, but defiant to the end, my name was Mimi from that day forward, no one ever called me Madelaine, except for the religious sisters at parochial school, or my mother when she was angry at me.

Chapter Two – the rest of the story.
I just got back from Sicily where I met the family of Maddalena’s sister Filippa. I am the first family member to go back to Italy to find this side of the family in almost 100 years.

My great aunt Filippa had two sons that lived long enough to produce children. Antonietta, my hostess for my stay in Sicily, was the widow of one. Like my mother, Antonietta had been a very young bride and lived in fear of her mother in law. She had to get Filippa’s permission to do anything - to buy a pair of shoes, to eat a snack in her own house.

So when her first daughter was born, coincidentally 20 days before I was born, Filippa decided that her first grandchild would be named Filippa.

Antonietta was broken hearted; she had wanted to name the baby Concetta, but her mother-in-law promised her, if you don’t name the baby after me, I’ll never speak to you again. So Filippa it was.

She was then required to give her second child, Concetta, the middle name of Filippa. Finally, she bore a son, and what did she name him? You guessed it, Filippo!

Chapter Three
My mother was pregnant again. Since she’d had an ovary removed before I was born, and since I was a girl, my grandmother Maddalena was quite certain that any subsequent children that my mother had would be naturally be girls. Maddalena tried the same stunt again. This time she wanted the baby to be named Provvidenza, after HER mother.

The Italian tradition is that the second daughter would be named after her mother’s mother - in our case, Lucy. When my sister was born, my mother called her bluff, my sister is named Marguerite. And amazingly, Maddalena did come to see the baby!

When I told Antonietta in Catania this story, she was so relieved and happy to hear that SOMEONE in the family had finally stood up to their mother-in-law.

Two years ago, I finally named someone Provvidenza. We adopted a little feral cat whom we found providentially! We finally have one in the family. I call her Enza.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Thank you, Mimi, for this beautiful post. I hadn't thought to ponder and then write about the names in my family. Definitely worthwhile for someone whose father's name was George Washington Mayo and whose brother's name is George Washington Mayo Jr. I, on the other hand, was named Marcia Ann and not Martha Washington Mayo, thank goodness.

Mimi - Un'altra storia meravigliosa!

This opened up a hornet's nest of memories for me. I was named for my father, grandfather, and greatgrandfather: ie Brenton Halliburton Dickson 4th. Thank God someone came up with the nickname, 'Sandy'!

I loved your naming of the feral cat! They deserve special names, too! :)

When I was born my Mother wanted to call me Nancy but the priest in our parish told her that was impossible because I had to be named after a saint. So,when I was baptised he called me Ann.

That was 82 years ago and all of my life that has been a problem for me. All legal papers are Ann and everyone calls me Nancy.

I once asked my Mother why she didn't say "Nancy" when she filled out the civil papers for the State Birth Certificate and she said,"Oh, I couldn't do that! Suppose the Pope found out."

I think a lot of people have great name stories. Boy Brenton Halliburton Dixon the 4th!! I'd call you Sandy too.

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