Note from Pam: Today I’m happy to bring you a guest post from Terry (White), soon to be something else, as you shall read. Her post has me contemplating a blog series about names — I’m brainstorming and we shall see if it comes to be. Names are intriguing to me — our own, names we give others, names we choose and names we change. This is an issue for everyone, writers or not. I love Terry’s story and hope you enjoy it too.
Her Name was Bertha, but….. by Terry (Bertha White)
In 1924, my mother was born and baptized Mary Kathryn McGuire. The classic Irish name fit the classic Irish beauty like a tweed cap. Her own mother had grown up Mary Brennan, so rich ethnic names flowed like mead for them.
And then she married my father, whose last name was Bertha. Yes, like the woman’s first name, the WWI howitzer and, my personal favorite, “Bertha Butt.” (Who’s she? One of the Butt Sisters, of course.) And instantly, because that was the only option in the 40’s, her name and heritage faded, and she became a Bertha, as did the seven children they had together.
As the sixth in that litter, I never much cared for the moniker Bertha. I mean who really wants to grow up hearing “No dear, I asked for your last name?” But so it was, and for 24 years I wrote it on the top of all my school papers and the bottom of all my checks. Until I traded it for another man’s name, (a strange, but commonly-accepted practice to be addressed another time.)
But Mom still has it of course, even 14 years after my father’s passing. And it bothers her. Not in a big, feminist, gotta-change-it way. Just in an occasional-comment way; requesting I include it on the next batch of calling cards I print for her, saying how “friendly” it sounds when we hear it, or pointing out the family crest when we find it at Irish Fest.
Until about a year ago. We were talking about age and death, (front-of-mind topics when all your lifelong friends have predeceased you, and your new friends in senior housing are vanishing before your eyes) when she mentioned over a Bloody Mary that it makes her sad to think that her name will die when she does. I guess it took a while for that thought to germinate (see above reference to alcohol,) but when I recently struggled to come up with a good gift for her 91st birthday, the choice was obvious: I will take her name. So on September 21st, after all the preliminary legal work (public notices, criminal and driving record checks and a lot of seemingly-redundant paperwork,) my mother and I will walk into the courthouse together, and I’ll walk out the proud sponsor of her maiden name. I told her I’d take her to County Clare afterwards where we’ll drink Guinness until we can’t see. (If any officers of the law are reading this, I am kidding. So please do not make note of the date, time and location I have unguardedly provided.)
I’m not a young son who can pass her legacy on to my children. I’m a middle-aged daughter. But I can commit to honoring, carrying and enjoying it for the rest of my lifetime. And starting in a few, short weeks, every time I introduce myself or sign a form as Terry McGuire, I will think of her. And I will remember everything she’s given me over the years, including life itself. But I won’t delude myself into thinking I took her name as a gift to her, even if that’s how the idea first presented itself. It is clearly the reverse. Her name will be like a light blanket over my shoulders, comforting and occasionally-annoying me, like only a mother can.
Terry (soon-to-be McGuire) is a former reporter/anchor from WITI-TV6 in Milwaukee. She left news 25 years ago to raise her two children, who were blessed with a nice Scottish surname. She is a full-time freelance on-camera and voiceover narrator. (Note from Pam, and here she is with her lovely mother. Thanks so much, Terry!)