Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
The Name Game

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At the beginning of her sophomore year of high school, my daughter changed her name.

I learned about it through a nosy colleague of mine:

"I was at the school for the prospective students' night when this girl comes up and introduced herself as 'Texas' And I thought: 'she looks like Marie-Pierre's child.' But this can't be, can it? Tell me her name isn't 'Texas?'"

She paused, waiting for me to either run away in shame or set the record straight.
What's in a name? Shouldn't my daughter be able to choose her own? Her legal name is Isabel, picked because it could be pronounced equally well by my French family and her father's Mexican relatives, but none of us has ever called her that. Early on, we nicknamed her "Lola," short for the "Dolores" she wasn't. "Lola" was cute and fun. It fit her zany disposition and our literary bend. Her brother pronounced it "Lo-la" with a mouthful that required a short pause between the two syllables. I occasionally gave it a French twist as in "Lolie" but was as likely to call my daughter "Bunny," "Angel," "My Little Pie," "Honeysuckle Berry," or "Baby Wallow," a nickname I concocted before I had learned that "wallow" was a verb and not a noun (by then it was too late and endearing to discard).

"Lola" was for home. Everywhere else, my daughter was "Isabel," a name she never took to.

Was "Isabel" too feminine for the daughter who would build a 6-foot dining room table in her dorm room freshman year of college? Was it too formal, too ensconced in the frills and laces of old queens for someone who would later cover the ceiling of her new car with the names of her two hundred best friends (printed in indelible ink)? Was it too contrived for the vastness of an optimistic spirit bent on rebuilding the Taj Mahal with a handful of popsicle sticks and two rolls of duct tape? Or did one too many "is a bell" jokes finally tilt the scales toward a new persona?

Whatever the motives, I can accept my daughter's decision to pick a name that better reflects who she's grown to be. But "Texas?"

"Texas" is as foreign to our multi-national family as quiche is to our biscuits-and-gravy next-door neighbors. It is as country, American baseball, and chili-dog as we are urban, world soccer, and organic granola. It screams Ford trucks and over-sized belt buckles in ostentatious rebellion to our sober Hondas and black clothing. It is as loud and exuberant as we yearn to be restrained. It is all we've never wanted to be.

Before "Texas," softball games were already a mysterious and boring experience that required a great deal of maternal sacrifice (why sit in hot bleachers watching a complicated game I did not understand when I could be reading the New York Times at the nearest cafe?), but now I have to put up with my daughter's bigger-than-life persona as well. A team mother approached me the other day. Because I wasn't wearing the school colors, she must have wanted to make sure I wasn't spying for the other side.

"Hi there, I'm Amelia Smith, do you have a daughter on the team?"

"Yes. Number thirty-three."

She was staring at me.

"Isabel?" I advanced.

Silence.

"Texas?" I offered.

"Oooh! You're Texas's mom! It's so nice to meet you. We love Texas! She's so sweet!"

She waved for her husband. "Jim! Come over here, this is Texas's mom."

I felt like the mother of a minor rock star, shaking hands with a small group of parents intent on telling me what a great person my daughter was, what a wonderful personality she had, and oh so helpful and cheery. And what a wonderful cook! Had I heard she'd been picked as a judge for the upcoming chili cook-off? Yes, I was proud of her as well. And yes, I confirmed, I truly was her mother, even though I am a foot shorter than she is and less than two-thirds her size. And now could somebody explain to me what a cook-off was? And since when had my daughter become such a charming individual? Was this the same child who would snarl like a mountain bear if I as much as approached her bedside before noon on Sundays? The toddler who had shunned the playground for fear that the other kids would eat her up? How could have our subdued family produced the life of the party?

After the game, Isabel and I walked together toward the bus.

"I am glad you came, Mama-llama," she said.

"Mama-llama" is the name she made up for me after she went to college. It replaced "Mami" which was becoming too childish for this phase of her life. I am not sure what the "llama" has to do with me. At least I am glad I wasn't tagged with a cold generic "mother" as I had heard some of her friends label their mothers. And I am not ready to stand on the equal footing of a first name.

"Everybody's calling you 'Texas,'" I said. "Texas-this, Texas-that. I feel I gave birth to a cowgirl."

"It's my name now."

"How about 'Virginia' or 'Georgia'? That could work."

"Don't be bitter."

But my daughter isn't the only one with naming privileges. Last spring break she walked into the living room holding the Nintendo DS.

"Who's Jocunda?" she asked.

"That's my screen name," I said.

"What kind of name is that?"

"I don't know. I could have called myself 'France' but I thought 'Jocunda' was more creative. Sort of 'La Joconde' with a little pepper."

"You can be so weird sometimes."

Jocunda, mother of Texas; brilliant.


Born and raised in Dunkirk, France, Marie-Pierre Stien misspent her youth reading in bed. For many years, she wrote after the children were put to bed and the last load of laundry was folded. She recently built a studio in the garage and started to wake up early for the sake of her art.


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Love it! My daughter's name is Cecelia, she will often only respond to "Jessica", and I call her "Chickaloo", "Sweetpea" and "Baby-pop".
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