Why I Changed My Name
It cannot have escaped your notice that I am writing (and working) under a different name. Here’s the story. I was born Annette Lee Ditmore in 1967 right on the heels of the Mickey Mouse phenomena. By the time I came along, it had died down just a little; the Mousketeers had gone into syndication and the rage had evolved to Annette Funicello and Frankie Valley in Beach Blanket Bingo and the rest of the beach movies. My mother loved them all. Annette Funicello was an icon of the era and her idol. And I was her first and only daughter – so I became Annette.
Lee is a family middle name handed down through generations. My grandmother Grace’s middle name was Lee. My father’s middle name is Lee. So are both my brothers (I can still hear my father’s voice booming through the house when someone had done something worth answering for and it was necessary to use middle names - Steve Lee! Annette Lee! Jayson Lee! - the Lee part always rang up a few octaves). I feminized it by giving it to my daughter as Leigh. It never seemed right that my Lee was spelled the same as my brothers’. I even heard a story once that my grandmother tried to pass herself off as Gracea Leigh, which may be an indication that a desire to change one’s identity may be an inherited gene. . . but that’s for another story. . . Coincidentally, my son-in-law’s middle name is Lee, and so, of course, when my granddaughter was born in July of 2009, she naturally became Mackenzie Leigh. Lee/ Leigh is an integral part of who I am – one little melodic syllable that defines me, and connects me to people I love. I wouldn’t change it. Well, maybe just a little. . .
Annette, to me (sorry, Mom), is anything but melodic. Two hard syllables that equate to the sound you might make when you stub your toe or you get punched in the gut, and maybe you’re trying not to curse (unsuccessfully). #@UH*NETT&%j. Once in the second grade (I am not making this up), my teacher was giving a grammar lesson on articles – specifically the usage of a or an paired with certain nouns – and she decided to use the word net to make her point. Having mastered that lesson already, I felt that I was above such nonsense, and had reposed into daydream mode long before that point. I was called back from my reverie (I thought) by a stern scolding (I thought) that was actually animated teaching – Annette! A net?! Or an net?! It was unnerving! I had immediately resumed my good student dutifully listening stance, so why did she keep saying my name? Why was she YELLING at me?! And why wasn’t she looking at me while she was yelling at me?! Was this some kind of teacher trick used on the bad kids that I had never been privy to? Was I one of the bad ones now? My heart began racing wildly. A net! Good! Now I was thoroughly confused until I realized that she was pointing to the board and none of this had anything to do with me at all. The whole incident had played out in less than thirty seconds, but it had been enough to convince me that Annette was not a good name to go through life with.
It is probably worth mentioning here that my mother’s name is Antoinette. Beautiful and charming. One little syllable – twa – that makes all the difference. Antoinette, and the twa becomes Toni when it is shortened. Darling. Annette. Ouch. Such a subtle distinction that defines one a queen or a wounded mouse(keteer).
But I digress again. Once I made the radical decision to actually change my name, this is how I decided who I would be. . . Anyone who knows me well knows that both of my grandmothers had an enormous amount of influence on me. I have often said that one taught me how to love and the other taught me how to live. The latter was my mother’s mother who was of distinct Irish descent. Her mother was “right off the boat” and though I never met her (my great-grandmother), I often imagined I detected a hint of the brogue in my grandmother’s loud and strong Buffalo, New York dialect. She lived to be almost 94 and was stoic and irrepressible. Even when she was dying of Cancer, and you would ask her how she was, she would always answer with a cheerful, “Oh, I can’t complain.” She could have, but she didn’t. She could always find something to be happy about, and I believe this attributed to her longevity. I chose Erin because it means Ireland, and symbolizes one half (at least) of where I come from. The other half, I’ve already explained. And I’ve decided to keep my “A” – that’s all mine. So there it is – Aerin Leigh.
A final, affirming little detail - literally translated, Aerin Leigh means Irish poet. I did not know this until after I chose it. I have been known to write a few poems, among other things. . . maybe I will embark on a new career with my new name as I am becoming Aerin Leigh. . . but that’s another story. . . I’ve got a lot to tell.