Sunday, August 26, 2012

My name

I was named "Martha Rachel" after my mom's younger sister. She died just a few years before I was born in a horrible car accident. My mom, who had been close with her sister growing up, had grown apart from her after moving from Maryland to California with my father. She always regretted not doing more to be closer to Martha. I vaguely remember an eerie VHS video of my family visiting Martha's grave. I was about 3 years old. Having no idea what a grave even was, I skipped about the well-manicured lawn, humming a lullaby.

Because my mom's sister was called, "Martha", my mom called me, "Rachel", to give me a name distinct from my deceased aunt. However, she refused to alter the order of the name, condemning me to a lifetime of confusion. I've spent my entire life correcting people since I have always been called by my middle name. Lots of people have asked me why. I used to launch into the long, drawn-out explanation of how I was named. Eventually, I grew weary, especially when I had to argue with doctors, teachers, receptionists, and college professors. Occasionally, I would run into the rare person who would argue with me that my name was, "Martha". They would refuse to call me, "Rachel". However, never having been called that, the name, "Martha", fell on dead ears. I wasn't trying to be rude. It didn't register with me. It wasn't my name. In college, my name was accidentally changed to "Rachel Martha" for a stint. I let it go for awhile but it really bugged me. It wasn't my name. My mother had named me "Martha Rachel", not "Rachel Martha" for a reason. Soon, I started signing all documents as "M. Rachel Richards", which I continue to do to this day.

The best name faux pas I have ever encountered was at the women's health center in St. Louis. I sat in the waiting room for my annual appointment. I had filled out the form with "M." for my first name and "R." for my middle name (there was no room for my entire middle name, only the first initial). The nurse appeared in the waiting room with my chart. She stared at it for a long, awkward pause, raised her eyebrow, and called for, "Mr. Richards?" Yes, I'm Mr. Richards, ready for my annual OB exam.

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