In William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Juliet asks Romeo “What’s in a name?” She goes on to imply that a given name means nothing.
Not so, Juliet! What’s in a name? I’ve come to find out: plenty!
Recently, I made an ill-fated visit to the DMV to apply for an enhanced driver’s license. I put together all the necessary documents — or so I thought.
Because I am widowed twice, I had to bring in my first husband George’s death certificate and my certificate of marriage to Frank. These documents served as proof that my name was changed legally from Marszal to Iannelli. This task alone was disconcerting. Who wants to go through the heart-wrenching “dead” file?
Along with the name change documents, I brought my birth certificate, U.S. passport and current driver’s license.
Not good enough!
My birth certificate didn’t jive with the rest of my documents. It read: Celia Constance. However, all my legal documents for as long as I can remember, read “Celia L.” When the supervisor asked what the “L” stood for, I stared at her—dumbstruck.
She nodded sympathetically when I explained that my mom probably gave me the name Lucy or Lucia at confirmation and it stuck. If you are of Italian heritage, you know what I mean. There are frequent name alterations that result in confusion.
You think Mom and Dad would have known better.
Dad, whom everyone called Charlie, was named Salvatore at birth. Kind of a stretch, don’t you think? My parents found out this not-too-little tidbit when they applied for Dad’s passport. Apparently, when he came through Ellis Island, his name was changed to Charles.
Mom’s given name was Annunziata, she shortened it to Nancy when she attended grammar school. Mom wanted to be “Americano.” Knowing Mom, I get it. With a name like Annunziata, it wasn’t likely to happen. Besides, Mom said, the teachers were Americano and massacred the name Annunziata.
When I was in high school, I changed my name to “Cookie.” Don’t ask, don’t know. I guess it sounded cooler than Celia or I inherited the name-changing gene.
One evening, while gathered around the dinner table, Dad complained of getting several wrong numbers. He said they were looking for “Cookie.”
Fork in mid-air, I said, “ Dad! That’s me.”
“Cookie? Your name is Cecilia. We named you after the patron saint of music at baptism. “
See what I mean? Italians are famous for arbitrarily changing their names. My birth certificate says Celia and my baptismal certificate says Cecelia.
That said, after the motor vehicle office fiasco, I searched through my documents to decipher where the “L” originated. I came up with nada.
My grammar school, high school and college diplomas all read “Celia L.” My marriage certificates also read “Celia L.”
Puzzled, I called my sister who is closest in age and asked if she remembered my middle name.
“Ceil,” she said. “At our age, if you can’t remember your middle name, what makes you think that I can?”
Mom was probably praying to Saint Lucia at the time of my confirmation. (Back then, confirmations happened right after your First Holy Communion.) Maybe she thought she would earn some brownie points with Saint Lucia.
Following Mom’s train of thought, I Googled Saint Lucy/Lucia and bingo! Lucia of Syracuse was a martyr and the patron saint of the city of Syracuse (Sicily) — and virgins.
Mom’s family was from Syracuse. The virgin thing? Mom had four kids at the time of my confirmation, after which she had two more. The virgin thing remains a puzzle.
Don’t get me wrong, Mom was a great, feisty lady. However, I am lucky I can remember my own name, let alone my middle name. As the oldest of six, Mom regularly confused our names. She sometimes had to run through all our names to get to the right one. Mom never called me anything but Celia.
Dad on the other hand called me Cecilia, pronounced phonetically in Italian as: Che-Che-lee-a.
Unlike Mom, Dad came up with a system to remember our names. He called me “number-001.” (First born!) My siblings were called “number 00 “ plus their birth order.
Along with my parents mudding the waters, I am culpable in the name game. After the Cookie faze passed, friends took to calling me “Ceil”. I let it stand.
When my grandson Luca was born, I wanted to honor and carry my first husband’s surname. I changed my name on non-legal documents to Celia L. Marszal-Iannelli.
I suppose W.C. Fields is correct when he writes: “It ain’t what they call you. It’s what you answer to.”
In my case, all of the above!
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