I don’t ask myself questions like “Who am I?” or “Why am I here?” I am me. I’m just here; a result of countless random events, from molecular to cosmic. I am – I was – a biologist, so the study of some of these kinds of events interests me. But extremes of size at either end get into murky mixtures of fact and philosophy, and I get uneasy. I avoid thinking about particle physics or cosmology.
On the other hand, “What’s my name?” is a question I can answer. At length.
I started thinking about all the names I have had in my life because of an email I had from Ronni Bennet of TIME GOES BY. She was confused that I said my name was Anne Gibert, but my email is annewadleigh.
Anne Wadleigh was the first name for myself that I knew. Actually, the full name is Anne Juliet Wadleigh. Lots of people say they hate their names, but I like mine. It is true that Wadleigh, despite its touch of the aristocratic in the spelling, gave me some trouble in grade school. (Waddle duck, waddle pants, etc.) And sometimes other kids would ask sarcastically, “Oh Juliet, where’s Romeo?” There is no difficulty, however, with Anne, which is simple and pretty, as long as it has an e. Ann without an e looks unfinished and loses its queenly quality. My mother, and a few others, often called me Annie.
When I was 20 I married a man whom I knew as Pete Gibert, and thus my name became Anne Juliet Gibert. I dropped the Wadleigh because my father had got himself into some political trouble a couple of years before and for a while the name Wadleigh was all over the newspapers. For me, anonymity was better than notoriety. It was the McCarthy era.
Pete’s real name was Pierre, without a middle name, but pronounced pier, like the thing you tie a boat up to, and Gibert had an anglicized pronunciation, soft g and accent on the bert. After we got married he told me that he wanted his name to be Stephen, because people addressed him in French, a language he didn’t understand. So he wrote to the vital statistics office in South Carolina and told them that there was a mistake on his birth certificate and that his name was really Stephen Pierre Gibert. They obligingly fixed their error. Then for some reason he decided to Frenchify Gibert, so it became Ghi-bear. Apparently that did not cause people to speak to him in French. But it did cause people to address me as Mrs. Bear, or Angie.
I stayed Anne Gibert (pronounced Angie Bear) for 10 years, and all during that time struggled with the L problem. When I gave my name at least half the time people would say, “Oh, you mean Gilbert.” Every Gibert has L stories. Once when my daughter was introduced at a party as Gilbert she protested that there was no L in her name. The person she was introduced to believed from this that her name was Noel.
Pete usually called me Gretchen. I guess it had house-frau connotations. During that marriage I had 3 babies and finished a bachelor’s and master’s degree.
Soon after my divorce I married again and became Anne Juliet Truitt. My husband’s name was Willis. During that marriage I acquired 2 more children and another degree, a Ph. D. Willis usually called me Beulah (slave connotations – something to do with a Lenny Bruce routine, “Y’o free, Beulah!”) Sometime during my 30’s my eldest daughter took to calling me Old Woman. She still does, and what may have been funny then is too true now.
I freed myself from Willis and was single for 6 years. That would have been the time to go back to Wadleigh, but I didn’t. Inertia kept me Truitt. I worked in Germany for a while, and learned to answer to Frau Doctor Truitt, or just plain Frau Doctor. My 2 older children addressed me as Muth (short for Mother, but if you shorten the spelling it becomes Moth, which would be an odd thing to call your mother). The next 2 usually call me Ma, and my youngest calls me Mom.
The next scandalous thing I did was to marry Pete’s brother. Voila! Gibert again. This one, Hugh, didn’t Frenchify however. Hugh objected to my remaining Truitt professionally, so I bothered to get things changed, transcripts, scientific papers, etc. Hugh usually called me sugar, which he, a southerner, pronounced sugah.
Sometimes it was just easier to pass as Gilbert. Once when Hugh took some clothes to the cleaners, so that he wouldn’t have to spell it, he gave his name as Gilbert.
“Is that one L or two?” asked the woman behind the counter.
This was the last straw. “It isn’t one L or two,” Hugh growled between clenched teeth. “That isn’t even my name.”
“Well, what is your name, then?” she asked calmly.
I began to collect grandchildren. Most of them call me Granny, a few call me Grandma.
When Hugh and I retired to the west coast he decided to Frenchify, mostly because all his children and my three older ones had done so, and I had to go back to the “How do you do, Mrs. Bear?” problem.
Hugh and I were married for 20 years, and I was again single for another 6 years after we divorced. Then I married Jerry Hook. Inertia gets really bad when you’re old, so most of the time I’m still Anne Gibert. Except in Alaska, where nobody knew me before I married Jerry, and there I’m Anne Hook.
I was Anne Wadleigh for 20 years, Anne Truitt for 16 years, and Anne Gibert for a total of 36 years. A lot of appellations can cause me to turn my head, Mommy, Mother, Ma, Mom, Granny, etc.
But the real me is Anne Juliet Wadleigh. I’ve been living with aliases most of my life.