Memoirs ~ What’s in a name?

Maureen was always a great lover of shoes and was nicknamed Maureen Pork Shoes by Daddy, ‘Pork Shoes’ referred to the sort of porky crackley noise that the heels made as they clicked and clacked on the ground, similar to the tap, tap, tapping of tap shoes only better. Shivie was dubbed ‘Shivie Shoestring’  because it rolled off the tongue beautifully and Maureen couldn’t have a nickname without Shivie having one as well, and me, well I was Lollipop later to be called Lolly due to my having a head of unruly curls which everyone said (at least the older generations) was like former child star Shirley Temple, today I am just Lolly as the ‘pop’ has long been dispensed with and Sammy was Salmon and Shrimp, now where did that come from?  Like my dad I have given my children pet names when they were small, just terms of affection really. Name calling, whether it is a nickname, pet name, a label or something more sinister is often part of the fabric of our lives. As children, we become familiar with the saying ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’. Whoever made that one up was obviously never on the receiving end. Children can be cruel to others with no thought to the damage they may inflict. I am no angel and have been as guilty of name calling as the next kid, and I too have been many times on the receiving end.  I was four eyes, glasses girl and sick mouth which referred to me being a sicky baby; both the latter names were taunts by my own sisters. The other I was called in school; it is therefore no wonder that I deliberately broke my national health glasses or left them at home on a regular basis. Even between brothers and sisters there is at times an innate cruelty that exists. Perhaps it is some sort of survival mechanism, a sort of survival of the fittest mentality. Some of us eventually learn that we have been wrong to cast names as if they were stones at vulnerable targets, some of us do not.  Maureen and Shivie’s nicknames have long since been dropped, though never forgotten, just put away in the past with memories of glimmering dresses and seriously sparkly shoes; my nickname has stayed with me like an old friend.

Our names are chosen usually before we are born though sometimes after. Names are perhaps our first label after boy, girl, son or daughter. A first name is like a wish, or in some cases a curse consciously or unconsciously bestowed on us at the beginning of our journey in life. It helps define who and what we are. Often we are named after a favourite relation as a mark of love or respect, and sometimes we are named after places, saints and celebrities. Sometimes we are given names that are unusual or made up but for whatever reason a name is given, it is part of our identity. It is often hoped that certain traits and positive gifts and attributes will somehow rub of on our offspring. Sometimes we like our names and sometimes we wonder how, if our parents loved us they could ever have given us such a name. Sometimes we wish we were called something else, and some even go on to change their names to ones they wished they had been called from the start. At other times we are called names that are other than our own that focus on some caricatured aspect of who we are and what we look like. 

I use to wonder how I had come to be called Liola. To my knowledge nobody in the family had the same name. My parents had disputed how it should be spelt, my mum wanting the Spanish spelling linking it to St Ignatius of Loyola and my dad registered it with the Italian spelling which upset my mum no end at the time, and that remained a bone of contention from time to time thereafter, although not in a serious way you understand. Sometimes I’d wish it had been spelt in the Spanish way as I could have had a more creative flow in my signature because of the ‘y’. Aunty Eva used to write Lyola in all her cards, and Cousin Britta always thought I was Leola until I corrected her many years later. I have been called Leila, Lola and all manner of deviations from the correct spelling and pronunciation. For the most part I have said nothing, purely out of politeness but then as I got older I decided that I would like people to call me by the name I had actually been given. However, there were and are, always those who persist in calling you what they are or were sure they had heard no matter how many times they were or are corrected.  Sometimes people hear what they want to hear, and not what is actually being said. Of course those closest to me would always be allowed to call me Lolly if they so wished.  On that point my younger sister has always called me by my proper name, and has only ever called me Lolly on one occasion; that’s fine too.

A few years ago I heard, quite  by accident that the Italian Playwright Luigi Pirandello had penned a stage play called Liola, although there was a grave accent on the ‘a’. I was intrigued thinking that I may discover that my namesake was a beautiful heroine in some fine romance or literary masterpiece; someone I could perhaps look up to and aspire to. After much searching I managed to obtain a copy on loan from the local library which ordered it in especially for me. A shame it was in Italian; I did n’t understand a word and had to go googling to find out what the play was about. The play was in fact a comedy about a rogue gardener who had numerous romantic liaisons, not quite what I’d had in mind. Recently I found out why I had in fact been called Liola. It was because my Mum  admired a girl of the same name at school who was a really good piano player, and who went on to become a Nun. I am therefore named after a piano playing Nun, so there is a story after all.  The need to find some meaning in my name is to do with my journey of self -discovery. I believe we all at some time in our lives need to make sense of who we are in terms of finding a purpose to our existence. Well, it is true enough of me. I have always felt that there is some greater purpose for me being here but to date I am no clearer as to what it is that I am meant to do. I am still waiting for some sign, some signal from somewhere. Maybe I am totally arrogant to think that I am destined for something more than I have. Perhaps it is better to just be, live in the here and now and fully focus on what we have right now, cease worrying about what has been and what might be. Maybe I am mistaken and am only fooling myself. Only time will tell whether there really is a plan. Perhaps all the signs are there already and I am too blind to see. 

© Liola Lee 2010

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