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Name Game

By Anne Maxwell

Take a trip back in time with me. You’re just a kid, and you’ve landed yourself in some trouble.

Just how much trouble?

We all can recall how we figured out that question -- or at least I can.

If my mom simply said my first name and snapped her finger, it was a warning shot across the bow.

If mom yelled my first name and included an extra syllable for additional emphasis (AAAAAA-NNNNNNNE!), it’s was past time to pay attention. But, at the moment she used my first and middle name -- with added volume -- my best option was to cease activity and devise an explanation or, better yet, an apology.

I remember it well. When my mom was angry with me, she turned my two names -- Anne Rochelle -- into three.

Anne. Ro. chELLE!

The intensity, rising pitch and punctuated syllables of her voice still echo in my mind. Being in trouble was bad enough. But, not being fond of my full name, the dual name usage served as a double blow.

My first name, Anne, I liked. Or at least I did after a stint of refusing to answer to anything but Sally for a week when I was 4. I am blessed to be one of the namesakes of a wonderful woman -- my maternal grandmother, Anna. She was known as Annie to most everybody. I’d tried that on for a while, but settled on Anne when I felt like I wanted to have a name all my own.

But Rochelle? Never did wrap my arms around that one.

I remember asking my mom how she came to pair the name of French origin meaning “little rock” with the simple, classic standard I answer to. I suppose I received the response most children receive when they inquire how their moniker came to be.

“I liked it … and I thought it sounded good with Anne,” she’d said.

Well, I didn’t.

So, Anne Rochelle was only uttered when I was in big trouble, at my high school and college graduations, and my wedding.

And, from then on, it was only in print.

From time to time, I’ve mentioned to my own children my distaste for it and instructed them to not use it on my obituary or my headstone. Again, I was met by an expected response.

“Mom! Do we have to talk about this!?!”

“Your name is not that bad!” (*eyeroll)

In reply, I’d say, “I’m serious, and I will haunt you if you don’t do what I’m asking.”

My mom has been in earshot of this conversation as it’s been aired over the years. She’s now in her 70s and has her own thoughts about what she wants written about herself when she’s gone. So on a recent visit, out of nowhere she said: “I think you should change your name.”

“MMMMMM--oooooomm?!?!” I said, proving daughters can also stretch one syllable into two. “What are you talking about?”

“Hear me out,” she continued. “Your dad and I want our headstone to list us as ‘parents of …’ and have all four of you kids listed by your first -- and middle -- names. I know you hate ‘Rochelle,’  so ….”

I really didn’t even know how to respond. “I’m not changing it, mom,” I said. “It’s ok.”

And with that, we thankfully moved onto another subject.

I’ve been thinking about it a lot in the weeks since. Thinking about how one of the first gifts my parents gave me was that very name. I’ve imagined my mom doing the same things I did -- and all expectant parents do -- when awaiting on the arrival of your child. You find yourself writing names on a piece of paper, saying them out loud. Trying them out with your voice and in your heart.

I found that I felt ashamed I hadn’t appreciated Rochelle more. That name may not be my favorite. But it doesn’t have to be. It was given to me with care. With love. It’s how I remember being called as a child, it’s how she thinks of me to this day.

It may not have been the name I’d have chosen. Do I dare give it away?

So, after all these years, the Anne who longed to be a Sally and found herself ironically between a rock and a hard place in the great name game has begun to embrace Rochelle.

As I work to cultivate this newfound appreciation, I recall the way mom would say my names -- and not just when I was in trouble. “I love you, Anne Rochelle,” or “I’m so proud of you, Anne Rochelle” are right there with the other infamous moments.

I finding I’m ok with it being written on paper or on stone. Because it’s already inscribed for eternity.

In my mother’s heart.

Other Contributions by Anne Maxwell:

Oh Mother

Dear 14-year-old daughter


Perfectly Imperfect

My husband dreads when the calendar turns to March


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