Less than two months ago, my daughter Lauren and her husband Patrick welcomed Etta into the world. Of course I think she is the most perfect baby ever, and she had me wrapped around her finger from the first breath.
But rather than “Grandma,” I chose to have her call me Lovey. To me, Lovey sounded more welcoming, happy, fun, youthful and, of course, brimming with love.
I chose my name based on who I am and what I want to be for her.
Etta’s parents chose her name with tremendous intention as well. They picked Etta because it’s unique and beautiful and it doesn’t change dramatically when pronounced in her father’s Glaswegian accent. And they chose it because it honors many members of both sides of our families. My father, born Eugene. My mother, Elizabeth. In Patrick’s family, it’s connected to Henry and Henrietta.
When Lauren and Patrick welcomed their daughter, they embraced her with an overt connection to those who have come before her. But it wasn’t until I arrived at the hospital to hold her in my arms for the first time and they told me her full name that I understood the exceptionally personal impact of their choice.
“Her middle name is Louise,” they said.
I think I almost dropped her.
Louise is my middle name too.
I laughed and I cried. Tears of joy, of course.
But also tears about the irony.
Until that moment, I had hated my name.
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I was born Ann Louise Brandzel, but by first grade, I had decided that Ann was a really plain and boring name. I wanted to be something glamorous like Farah or Julietta or Dominique. I loved the imagery cast by those fancy names, the swirl of the letters when written in script and the multisyllabic cadence of them. While a legal name change was out of the question, I started adding a silent “e” at the end of my own name, changing plain Ann to slightly fancier Anne. I’ve been “fancier Anne” ever since.
If it was required by a higher authority (like a teacher or the SAT Testing Service), I used my middle name. But to me, a self-proclaimed fancy girl of the 1960s, Louise was a throw-back, conjuring up images for me of a saggy older woman with her hair in curlers sporting a boxy, faded floral housecoat that snapped up the front. My Louise was standing on her back porch smoking a cigarette and snooping on the neighbors. My Louise was an old-fashioned woman and I wanted to be a modern girl.
I was a tail-end Baby Boomer who, even at a pretty young age, was wearing crocheted crop tops and cut-off shorts, rejecting the generations before me and seeking ways to define, differentiate and establish my place in the world.
In one day and through one generation, the narrative of my name shifted 180 degrees.
While I was striving to forge new paths and leave the “baggage” of the past behind me, Etta’s parents are savoring the treasures of past generations and embracing the ancestors whose genes they carry. They are curious to learn the family histories, intentional about making and keeping connections with relatives and romantic when reliving memories from their youth.
Now Etta is a throwback to me. And, of course, I adore every single thing about her, including her name.
Not only is she the next connection point in our family chain. Not only is our shared name an exclamation point in my role as the mother to her mother and my direct link to her. Our shared name is the inference that they want something of me to carry on through her.
Yes. I’m crying happy tears.
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Etta has allowed me to be a modern grandma, a Lovey, forever connected through the genes we carry and the imprinted experiences that are passed through generations. And our connection by name is a birthmark we both will proudly wear.
Who knows… one day I may take her to get matching Louise tattoos. After all, I am her Lovey and my motto is, “Lovey Says Yes.”
What a difference a name makes.
So consider this newsletter a love letter.
A love letter to Etta Louise, and a love letter to plain old Ann Louise who was plenty fancy without the e. A love letter to my children who, in one generation, have turned the tables to embrace our history and are finding ways to bring us all closer.
What’s in a name? Everything.
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Share it Small: Is there someone in your life who might laugh at a shared memory or remind you of something you’ve long forgotten? Is there a point of connection you could rekindle through a conversation? Share your memories in a small way by text, letter or even a phone call. One small action can create ripple effects for others that reach farther and deeper than you can even imagine.
Share it Big: Are you in a transition of sorts? It could be a life-stage change like mine, it could be a shift in careers, an evolved relationship or something more. Transitions are huge opportunities for growth and connection, so don’t keep your own transition to yourself. When you share your story in an open way, other people who are in their own transitions don’t feel so alone.
Share it with Me: We all learn from each other. If you have had a revelation, a breakthrough, an insight, or a triumph, we can learn from you so please tell me about it here! I’m collecting stories of these cascades of good for ongoing community building and to track The Parlay Effect in action. I would love nothing better than to hear how you lifted, were lifted, or observed something in others that made you feel good and recognize your own power.