Blaming a Name 

Mary, Mary, quite contrary ....

My name is Mary Elizabeth Cashiola. Probably that means nothing to you, I don't expect it to. It's not the name of anyone famous, or anything special. It's just my name, the one I was given at birth and the one I have hated since shortly thereafter. I’ve always thought names carry a weight -- even though the Bard said that a rose by any other would smell as sweet, I don't buy it. At the same price, most people would choose the label over the generic. Teenagers forming their first band pick the name before they write the songs, sometimes even before they learn the instruments. Names carry clues as to what something is, what is does, what it wants, where its going. In my case, I don't think my parents were foisting off any of their intentions on me, no dreams for unparalleled greatness or any hopes for a certain type of person. They simply took my grandmother's name, her having died many years before I was born, and honoring her, gave it to me. As simple as that. But that simple decision, while not anything of consequence, has made its impact on my life. I've always felt constrained by Mary, like because of it, I was boxed into a way of being or a certain type of personality. Maybe this seems silly, but every name has a mythology. Mine means “Mother of Christ.” I know people aren’t consciously thinking about it, but there are certain things associated with Mary: Catholic, virgin mother. It’s like when they hear my last name and automatically say, “That’s Italian, right?” When I was younger, I felt I had a duty to be religious. I feigned an increased piety because I thought my Sunday school teachers expected it of a girl named Mary. (In an ironic twist of sins, I lied and told them I liked church.) My name in particular connotates Catholicism and Christianity, but every name has its own history. For some names, someone so special used them that the name will forever be associated with that person. In America, the name George sounds regal and political and is someone who can be counted upon in times of crisis. Other names are associated with different time periods: Ethel and Mabel are ladies who quilt; Joan is a woman of integrity and maturity and Jennifer is almost every female under 30. Haven’t you ever met someone and heard them say, “You don’t look like a Michelle.” Or a Herbert or a John or a Trina. Names conjure up certain images in people’s minds, depending on race and culture and age. Besides all the Bible characters, Mary has two nursery rhymes (and you better believe I heard them all the time on the school bus), plus a whole legendry in popular culture: Mary Tyler Moore, Giligan’s Island’s Mary Ann, Mary Lou Retton, all your run of the mill good girls, except for Mother Goose's contrary gardener. It's not that I’ve ever wanted to live a life of crime or run rampage across the country. And had I wanted to do those things, I would have, whether my name was Mary or Bonnie or Bella. But Mary sounds to me mealy-mouthed and docile, a name for someone good and sweet and innocent. Someone nice. And I don’t want to be any of those things. I want to be worldly and in charge and screw the other guy. And I know that I can change the connotation of my name; I can be whomever I want. Just sometimes I wonder, is there a name that is more fitting for the person I’ve become? Would it have made a difference, really, had my name been Alex or Pagan? If my name had been Tatiana, would I become a world traveler? If I had been called Ruby or Starr, would I have still gotten straight A’s? In the end, I know that names really don’t mean all that much. Names merely conjure expectations while the real factors in who a person is are genetics, location, and experiences. But when I told you my name earlier, who did you think I was? (You can write Mary -- we call her Tatiana -- Cashiola at cashiola@memphisflyer.com)

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