What's In A Name?

It's not what I'm called but that I am being called by a force larger than my ego identity. 

by Katherine Ingram, M.A. • More.com Member { View Profile }
Photograph: iStock

I don’t know who I am anymore. I think this as I lie in bed, too early for a Solstice night, a night I said I would be dancing naked around a bonfire but am not. Instead I am lying naked in bed at 8:15 p.m. with my son’s teddy bear, Schleppy, lying on top of me: a transitional object in reverse, given out of the love and anxiety of a too-fastly growing almost 9-year-old boy.

I have had many names, all of them from men who were not completely comfortable in their own identities, yet whose names I hotly took and claimed as my own: Scanlan. Nicholas. Flaherty. None fit me just right. None, when I put them on, made me look in the mirror and say, “I look good in this.” Actually, I liked the second one, but I was forced to donate it to Good Will when it got a bit too tight, when it finally became unseemly to continue to wrap myself in it once I met someone else.

The whole name business is like trying on jeans at the Gap: frustrating, sweaty, walk-out-and-leave-them-in-a-pile sort of irritating. Why does nothing fit, I wonder as I walk out, hair slightly staticky and frayed looking, perspiration on my neck, feeling frumpy and pissed off. Surely, somewhere there is a name that is mine.

I stand — or more precisely lie — at this lovely, liminal age of 48 unsure of what to say when I introduce myself. I have been married (this third time) for a dozen years. I took my husband’s name to simplify and unify our little family. It seemed, as they say, like a good idea at the time. But this past year I began using my maiden name more and more. Writing my first book, a memoir about my second marriage that ended with me being widowed, I vacillated about what to call myself. Was I my then-married name, Nicholas? Or was I my now-married name Flaherty? Or am I my maiden name, Ingram? 

I chose the latter.

But even this causes me to question how that is anymore my name than the rest. It, too, came from a man, albeit a man who helped create me. That was followed by Scanlan, a name that hailed from Ireland but came to me in the form of an abusive, brown-skinned Polynesian who looked oh-so-beautiful but could offer little more than his own legacy of alcohol-induced rage, violence, and remorseful, drunken, obsequious apologies laced with passionate resentment. That marriage lasted nine months. The scars lasted some time longer than that. It took many years and a boatload of therapy to even be able to admit that I shared that name at all.

And there was marriage number two, the blue-blood dilettante, the kind, funny, wealthy, generous and deeply damaged soul who beguiled me with the strange and heady mixture of East Coast refinement, worldliness, wit and sensitivity. The pilot who looked like Andy Garcia but who could not find a way to be comfortable in his name or his skin. I wanted his name, Nicholas, wanted him, wanted us, but his life ended in an uncontrolled inverted spin seven months after we were married in that big beautiful wedding, leaving me his name but no identity.

Four years later there is the handsome, silver-haired 20-something opera singer. We meet in a production of “La Boheme.” He is Marcello, the starving, fiery artist. We marry. He legally changes his name from his father’s adoptive name, Stevens, to his mother’s maiden name, Flaherty. Our name is Flaherty. No one can pronounce it correctly, including our own children. (It’s “A” as in “apple”) My brother proclaims it the Worst Name Ever, asks me why I don’t keep Ingram or Nicholas. This serves only to piss me off.

I hug Schleppy to my chest, musing. I think about all these names — an inordinate number of names really. It was hell when we went into the bank to sign all the mortgage documents. A hundred pages to be signed and each page required that I sign as all of my prior incarnations. Katherine P. Ingram. Katherine Ingram Scanlan. Katherine Ingram Nicholas. Katherine Ingram Flaherty. Katherine Nicholas Flaherty. Katherine I Nicholas. You get the idea. I sigh out loud just thinking about how annoying and ridiculous it was, how much better and easier it would have been had I just kept my maiden name from the start. Why was I so eager to adopt these men’s names? I toss the sheet off, too warm, unable to sleep.

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