Monday, March 28, 2011

Why My Name is So Weird

"What an unusual name you have! What nationality is that?"

I used to hear this quite a lot back in the 20th centtury, but not so much anymore. Today it is  politically incorrect to ask such questions and reveal that you have some arbitrary,ethno-centric,  and hopelessly un-diverse  notion of what constitutes usualness in names.

But I know you are all curious.

I wish I could tell you my mother named me Daria because of my eastern European heritage. Both my  parents are  Polish, and three of my four grandparents were immigrants. Daria, or Darya, is a fairly common name in Russia, at least, and the way those borders have shifted over the centuries, there's probably some Russian blood in me or some Darias in Poland.

But my mother had  very American reasons for my name. Her favorite actress, Gene Tierney, named her daughter Daria (after then husband Oleg Cassini's Russian grandmother.  By the way, if you haven't seen Laura, that's a great movie.)  Then, as now, people like to feel a connection to  their favorite celebrities.  Or songs--my parent's second choice for my name was Mona--after "their song": Nat King Cole's Mona Lisa.  Daria won.  If anyone had asked my opinion, I might have tried to signal them in Morse code fetal kicking: "Mary!  Patricia!  Kathy! Anne, with or without the E! But please,  don't give me an unusual   name!"

Alas, nobody asked. So I grew up with "How do you spell that? How do you pronounce that?" ringing in my ears, not to mention the giggled schoolyard  taunt of an unpleasant intestinal condition. I get mail for Doria, Darla, D'Aria, Dairy, Daris, Doris, Diaria, and Darian.   And yes, I will answer either to the Russian-sounding version, or the short-a, American-sounding version. I'm pathetically grateful for anything that sounds close.

Since my maiden  name was also weird--a Polish name that looked Greek and whose pronunciation was not immediately evident to the reader--I grew up vowing to find and marry  a man named Smith, hoping to balance out the weirdness somewhat.

Instead I married someone who was Irish,German, and a small fraction of Choctaw Indian. Naturally, his father is the  Choctaw. So even in marriage I am still  weird from first to last.

Ironically, my name became cool in a nerdy sort of way in the late 90s because of the MTV cartoon character, Daria Morgendorffer. At that time my long hair, bangs,  and round glasses bore a striking resemblance to my cartoon counterpart. Being  a conservative, non-cable-subscribing, homeschooling mother, I did not know what to think about having a namesake who was a spin-off from  Beavis and Butthead  appearing on the legendarily evil MTV.

My kids' names are Theresa, Bernadette, William, Maryanne, Joseph,  Katherine, and Michael. When Bernadette--who grew up among homeschoolers and attended Thomas Aquinas College--told me that she sometimes felt her name was weird--I laugh so hard that I wet my pants.

Its been years since I came to terms with my weird name and even got to like it. It has its uses as a conversation starter. I have been told (don't know the scripture or theology behind this) that in heaven God will give us each a new name that He chose for us from all eternity. And my heart leaps as I wonder about that.

Mine will probably be Mona.