Thursday, July 18, 2013

I is for Irene, My Middle Name

When I was born, my parents didn't have a name picked out for a girl. They were apparently expecting a boy because the name they DID have was Sam. Not Samuel. Sam. Mom said it was because she wanted a name that couldn't be turned into anything else. I asked why didn't you call me Samantha so you could still use the name? She said because then Samantha would become Sam and be a change. I still am not sure I completely understand the logic she was using at the time. Anyway, they had no names at all for a girl. My grandfather suggested Rachel after his mother. Mom said no. 

The day came that they were to file the birth certificate and the nurse came in to Mom to tell her this was her last chance to give me a name for the birth certificate, otherwise, I'd just be "baby girl" (or whatever they put in that blank when there was no name). Mom said she just blurted out Wendy Irene. She claimed she had no idea where it came from - it was just there.

So, there I was, this 6 lb. 11 oz. orange-haired bundle named Wendy Irene.

I've tried to figure out where it came from considering there is not one single person on either side of my family named either Wendy OR Irene. I know. I've traced our family tree! All I've come up with are speculative guesses.

Wendy - Peter Pan made its Broadway appearance as a hit musical starring Mary Martin as Peter Pan in 1954. 1954 is the year I was born. And, NO - J.M. Barrie did NOT invent the name Wendy. Remember - I've done genealogy. I've seen that name going back many years - sometimes for a man! But, Wendy WAS the lead character and it was in the news and it was making a resurgence as a children's story, so that is a very likely possibility for where Mom got Wendy from.

Irene - My only clue to this one was the fact that Dad used to sing "Goodnight, Irene" around me all the time. (Yes, if you read my unHappy Anniversary post, there WERE decent memories amidst the bad ones.) Upon researching that one, I found that Goodnight, Irene was a #1 hit for The Weavers in 1950. That puts it close enough to the time of my birth that it may well have been in the back of her mind - especially if Dad liked it and sang or whistled it frequently.

If any of you is a blues fan, then you'll be familiar with Leadbelly. He originally popularized this folk song through the 30s and 40s, but as often was during those times, black singers didn't often have big commercial successes with their music. A year after his death, the white Weavers made it a hit. They apparently eliminated some of the more negative lyrics that had been sung by Leadbelly, which may have helped with its popularity in general society. I don't know. I've never heard his version.

That being said, Mom's intent on avoiding names that could develop nicknames was an abject failure. With Wendy, I've had Wimpy and Windy. But, my all time favorite was what the man across the street called me because he didn't believe Wendy wasn't short for something. He called me Gwendolyn. Oh - and his wife and daughter were named - yep - Irene.


Previously published on Bubblews.com.

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