What’s in a Name?

hurricane flossyMichelle Ann Monica Blanchard Ardillo. That’s my full name. In a previous essay I noted my dad’s first suggestion for the name of his first born baby girl was Flossy, after the hurricane in late September of the year I was born. While only a Category 1 hurricane, Flossy caused major beach erosion and flooding in southeast Louisiana, including the overtopping of the eastern seawall of New Orleans, submerging a 2.5 square mile area. His second choice was Candy Denise, which thankfully my mother also vetoed. (It suits my red mica Mazda 5 much better.) She then offered her own suggestion, which my father acceded to easily: Michelle, a French name to go with Blanchard, and Ann, after her sister who was to be my godmother. She also declared that since Michelle Blanchard was long enough, it would be Ann without the “e”.

saint monicaThe name “Monica” is my Confirmation name. In the Catholic faith, adolescents receive the Sacrament of Confirmation where they accept responsibility for their faith, much as in the bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah ceremony for Jewish adolescents. Part of the faith formation for Confirmation is to study the lives of the saints and to select a saint to emulate, and you are given that name at Confirmation. Since I teach 8th grade, and that is the year the students at my Catholic school receive the Sacrament of Confirmation, I hear a lot of discussions about which saint each student is choosing and why. I am always fascinated by this, perhaps because we have so little say in something that is a significant part of our identity.

800px-Saint_Augustine_and_Saint_MonicaMy own Confirmation name is that of a significant saint in the Catholic Church, not just for her own worthiness, but also that of her son. Monica was born in 331 in North Africa in what is now Algeria. Upon reaching marriage age, her parents married her off to a pagan who had a violent temper. She endured his outbursts with patience. They had three children who survived infancy, the eldest being Augustine, who followed his father in his pagan ways. Monica prayed day and night for her son’s conversion, weeping many tears over him, and he not only became a Christian, he became a Doctor of the Church, the great St. Augustine of Hippo. The beautiful beachfront city, Santa Monica, is said to be named after her, with the nearby springs resembling the tears she wept for her wayward son Augustine. She is the patron saint of married women, motherhood, and widows.

saint veronicaClearly, when studying my faith and preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation, I read about Saint Monica in my copy of Lives of the Saints edited by Rev. Hugo Hoever. WRONG. My first choice for a saint’s name was Veronica. When I presented my choice to my mother she said quite firmly, “No.” She went on to explain to me that she knew exactly why I wanted to choose Saint Veronica as my Confirmation name, because of the Archie comic books strewn about my room. She then told me to choose again and to make my choice carefully because it was the saint I wished to emulate. I was absolutely shocked that she made this connection (mostly because it was true) and went off to my room to pout.

confirmation photoSo what is a nine-year old to do when presented with a “no” to Plan A? Naturally, Plan B was to find a saint whose name most closely resembled my first choice, and thus, after studying the table of contents of my Lives of the Saints, I came up with Saint Monica. My mother raised an eyebrow when I presented her with my second choice but allowed it.

Maddieinhospital (2)It wasn’t for years and years that I realized what a fine choice I had made in selecting Monica for my Confirmation name. I wished my whole life to become a mother, and while I made a somewhat late entry into this hallowed club, having my first child just three months before my 34th birthday, and my second child just three months from my 36th birthday, those two days are the highlights of my life. Nothing will ever compare to those first precious moments after their births, with my husband standing at my side, holding those precious little bundles.

wordleChoosing names for my daughters felt like an awesome responsibility. My husband and I had very little discussion about my older daughter’s first name, Margaret, as I had always said I would name my first daughter after my mother. When I was a little girl, my mom said I would line up my dolls on the sofa and tell her to come and meet my “babies”. I would then introduce them to her, “This is my baby Margaret. This is my baby Margaret. This is my baby Margaret.” Still, when I called to tell her the results of the sonogram at twenty weeks with my first pregnancy, and announced to her it was a girl, and that I would name her Margaret, she was surprised.

blank nametagThe discussions for her middle name went on for quite a bit. I was steadfast in my desire to give her something from each of our mothers, and since Margaret was my mother’s name, her middle name had to come from his mother. I had decided that her middle name should be Bellavia, my mother-in-law’s maiden name. I loved the name, it sounded beautiful to me, figuratively and literally, as it means beautiful way in Italian. My husband was not a fan of the maiden name as a middle name plan, but his father told him that since I was giving birth, I should have the final say. It was a done deal, and I know my mother-in-law was very happy.

Our second pregnancy was so very different in every way from the first I was convinced it was a boy, so convinced that we chose a boy’s name early on, Andrew Roy. Andrew was a nod to my mother’s Scottish heritage, and Roy was a “twofer”. My father’s name was Roy and my husband’s grandfather’s name (and brother’s name as well) was Roy. The fact that baby #2 kicked and moved about day and night, we were sure we had made a sound choice. The twenty-week sonogram was a shock, and at first, neither of us believed the technician that it was indeed a baby girl. When she was born, I still couldn’t believe the doctor’s announcement, “It’s a girl!” Just before the birth, I had been going through some old papers and found a genealogy report from my father’s family tree. blanchard geneologyMy ancestors who emigrated from France were Jean and Madeleine Livoir Blanchard. We both liked Madeline and proceeded to come up with a middle name. When I suggested my grandmother’s maiden name, Breaux, my husband put his foot down. Not another maiden name as middle name he said; it would also mean that both daughters and I would share the same initials, MBA, which he thought was a bit too much. I acquiesced this time and we continued going through names. I finally suggested Grace, which was what I had engraved inside his wedding ring, meant at the time as just a silly little private joke about being clumsy sometimes. Again, afterthought elevates that engraving to the special grace we have been given as a married couple, celebrating our 26th wedding anniversary last summer.

romeo and julietSo, what’s in a name? Shakespeare built an entire tragedy around names, the very mention of Capulet to a Montegut or vice versa was that of a battle cry. A theme in Rick Riordan’s Lightning Thief is that names have power. first autographI’ve always loved my name, and I’ve always been thankful that my mother’s good taste and logical thought process prevailed in name selection discussions with my father. I have a special affinity for St. Michael the Archangel, given Michelle is the feminine version of that name, and St. Michael’s feast day is September 29th, not too far from my mid-October birthday. with godparents and fish 2 yearsMy godfather, my beloved Uncle Guy, always called me Michelangelo, and I adored hearing him say it. Even hearing “Michelle Ann” shouted when I was in trouble for something brought me a certain joy at hearing my whole name. While I was unsuccessful in being part of Archie’s gang with my Confirmation name, I am blessed with a strong role model and saint to emulate in that of Saint Monica.

three m'sI can’t imagine my daughters with any other names, and their joint childhood nickname of the “M&M Girls” was always met with smiles by all who knew and loved them as they were growing up. Just today we were having a discussion at lunch about our signatures, and our younger daughter bemoaned how difficult signing her name is because of the middle initial G, a tricky letter to connect to others in cursive. My older daughter and I, sharing the same MBA initials, have had minor tussles over usernames in various apps and programs. In that regard, my husband was right to hold firm on a different middle initial, albeit a tricky one, for daughter #2.

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A Rose by Any Other Name . . .

My beloved 2001 silver Mazda MPV

My beloved 2001 silver Mazda MPV

After nearly eleven years of faithful service, my 2001 silver Mazda MPV finally succumbed, or should I say, we finally succumbed to the recent spate of repairs to keep it running. It was such a great car, bought used in 2004. It took us on college tours, back and forth to Pittsburgh for six plus years, countless errands, and back and forth to work five days a week. We were hoping it would make it until the end of my school year, so we could shop for a gently used car and make a rational decision rather than a rash decision to purchase a brand-spanking new car. Being a Catholic school teacher, who everyone knows is paid less than our public school cohorts, it is a bit unsettling to roll into school tomorrow morning in a 2015 bright and shiny new car. But, after a week of hitching rides to and from school (thanks, Danielle), which my beloved silver minivan spent sitting dormant in the school parking lot, my husband said on Saturday that we must go car shopping.


no-shoppingI don’t like shopping. Never have. I didn’t inherit the shopping gene from my mother; apparently it skips a generation, landing squarely on my older daughter, who coincidentally was named after my mother. I would not be sad if I never stepped foot in a mall again. If I can’t get Amazon to send it to me, I really don’t want it that badly to go and find it in person. With the exception of bookstores, I just don’t get excited about the retail experience. And, even then, I would much prefer to spend my time in a library, where all the books are FREE.

So, imagine how I feel about car shopping. Now, double that, and you will be in the ball park of how I felt on Saturday morning. It’s the end of the school year, end of fourth quarter, with final exams to grade. I just didn’t have time to spend hours in a car dealership. But, there was no escaping the fact that the time had come to get myself a reliable car.

The decision was made somewhat easier by the fact that I knew I wanted a Mazda, and I really wanted a newer version of my old silver minivan. I love the sliding doors. I love the fact that I sit a little higher and have better visibility than in a sedan. I love that I can put the back seats down and fill it with props and costumes for my theatre productions. So we targeted a dealership with several new and used current models of my old minivan, the slightly smaller Mazda 5. I wanted a silver car (change is hard for me, as you can see) but the new Mazda 5 in silver only comes with black interior. Not feeling the Johnny Cash, sorry. The much prettier “sand” interior only comes in the white model and the red model. Uh, no to the white, I told the salesman, because it gets so dirty, especially here in the northeast with the snow-mud-salt-dirtiness of our winters.

Roxanne_-_The_Police_(Original_UK_Release)As for the red, I always said I would never have a red car. I’ve just associated a red car with hookers (sorry for all of you out there with a red car, no offense).  I guess it all started with Sting and his song, “Roxanne”. “Roxanne, you don’t have to put on the red light, those days are over, you don’t have to sell your body to the night.” But, the red Mazda 5, sitting there glistening in the sun, was actually growing on me.

In the words of Sheldon Cooper, it was “zazzy”. So we took it on a test drive. It was very comfortable, and it handled nicely. It had everything I wanted, sliding doors, front seat warmers, Bluetooth, second and third rows that fold nearly flat for hauling theatre stuff, and a sun roof. So, I texted a photo of it to my two daughters and to my good friend, Danielle. All agreed. GET THE RED CAR, MICHELLE.Sheldon-cooper-hes-so-zazzy-ca-lKRi

I know it is popular to name your car. I have lots of friends who have done so, but I’ve never named a car ever. My new red mica Mazda 5 is my 8th car (and my 5th Mazda, my husband has had two of them himself) and none of them have had names. Until now. Standing there in the parking lot of the dealership, I decided to name that bright red car.

hurricane flossyRight before I was born, my mother asked my father what he thought they should call the new baby if it was a girl. My dad immediately said “Flossy”, after the hurricane which passed over the mouth of the Mississippi River near my hometown on September 24, 1956, just three weeks before I was born. My mother, thank God, vetoed Flossy (not a saint’s name, reason enough). My dad then offered up as a second choice what he said was his “favorite” name for a girl; wait for it, Candy Denise. My mother’s reply: “Absolutely not!” She put her little size 5 foot down and said that I should have a French name to go with my French surname of Blanchard, and she thought Michelle would be nice, as it was French and the female version of St. Michael the Archangel, so very Catholic indeed. Ann would be my middle name, in honor of my godmother’s middle name, with no E at the end since my first and last names were long enough already.st michael the archangel

Years ago, when I first heard this story, I thought to myself that “Candy Denise” sounded like a hooker’s “professional” name. I’m sure my dad did not have that in mind, but he could never tell me what in the world made him come up with that for a name for his first child. I am forever grateful that my mother prevailed, however, because I do love my name, albeit hearing “Michelle, ma belle” screamed at me in middle school did grow a bit tiresome.

Me and Candy Denise

Me and Candy Denise

So, on Saturday, as we were waiting for my brand-spanking new 2015 Mica Red Mazda 5 to be driven to the front parking of the dealership, I decided to name my car “Candy Denise”, a “zazzy” name for a “zazzy” red car. It just seemed the right thing to do. And, I’m sure my mom and dad are having a good laugh about this up in heaven!