Watching the Golden Globes, I had a moment of kinship when Anne Hathaway received her award. Looking at the inscription on the statuette, she called the moment “bittersweet.” Why this reaction? “You spelled my name wrong,” she said plaintively. Apparently the E had been omitted from Anne.
My empathic twinge was because of what I did with my name in my12th year (many decades ago). Legally “Ann” on my birth certificate, I added E to make my name look more elegant. I was inspired to do this because a cousin, Helene, had put accent marks over both E’s in her name to “make it French.” (Rivalry flourished in my family, but that’s another blog.)
My new spelling of Anne drew wrath from my father, who erroneously declared this was Annie. I think his pride was hurt because I’d been named for his departed sister. Nevertheless I stood up to my father (a rare event) because it felt so important to have a spelling that gave my insecure adolescence a new self-image.
“What’s in a name?” Juliet famously asked. “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” For the flower, but not for many of us. My aunt, who had been christened Rose, hated her name, probably because her feisty personality included a lot more interesting facets than sweetness. So as an adult she renamed herself Bobbe (a family surname). It fit so perfectly it seemed unbelievable that she’d ever been called anything else.
Many people rename themselves to detour around an ethnic identity (Ralph Lauren instead of Lifshitz?) or are given new names by movie moguls (Archibald Leach transformed into Cary Grant, an undeniable improvement). But for some of us the name resonates for subterranean reasons. In my theatre days I was friends with an actor named Milton Schneiderman. He went to court to have it changed. The clerk asked him if he wanted a shorter last name, tactfully suggesting one that would fit more easily on a marquee. But it wasn’t his last name that Milton was shedding. “I want to be Mitchell Schneiderman,” he declared.
Writers have the power to choose the perfect cognomen for each character they create. How aptly Margaret Mitchell named her heroine Scarlet. Would she have seemed such a conniving creature if she’d been Susie? When I was writing my memoir, “Widow’s Walk,” I included a vivid description of a difficult relative. Changing her name to protect myself, I dubbed her Villa. The thin disguise failed to fool my family. ”For villain?” my savvy niece laughed.
I once heard about a Native American tribe that allows children to choose their own names when they reach puberty. Given that latitude, I wonder what each of us would choose. Though that freedom sounds tempting, those of us who are plagued by indecision would have one more choice to agonize over. Easier to blame or bless the parents who made that decision for us.
Yet I have never regretted my slight embellishment. After all, it’s one more letter in a byline!
Web address: annehosansky.com
Books: “Widow’s Walk,” “Turning Toward Tomorrow” and “Ten Women of Valor.” A short story is in the current issue of “The William and Mary Review.”