Note: this is chapter one of the book, The Uncommonly Common.
“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet…”
I really hated my Shakespeare class in college. I had hoped I would gain some appreciation for the “Bard” but it was so boring! Yet, when I reached for a quote to use, lo and behold, up pops the above phrase from Romeo and Juliet.
Shakespeare was asking a question that has come to haunt me in my adult years. He wanted to know does the name make the man (or woman as in my case).
Names do come with connotations for most of us. The more recent phenomenon of giving boys or non-sex names to girls recognizes that Jane Doe is obviously female but Madison Doe could be a guy. Parents frequently do this to give their “girls” an edge in today’s still male-dominated world.
Here in the South we still call grown men by kid’s names, Tommy, Billy, Jimmy. Washington, D.C. never got used to “our” Jimmy Carter. It was, for many, a way of subtly being able to put down a president even though this southern practice is not intended to mark or disparage an individual.
When I met my husband, Tommy, I figured I would change that cute little name to Tom or Thomas. I ran into an immediate problem. He is not a Tom or a Thomas to me. He is a Tommy—you know, that cute little freckle-faced kid from down the block.. Something that is an endearment for me is what everyone calls him.
Growing up as a Delia in Gainesville, Georgia, in the 1950’s and 1960’s was fraught with name problems for me. First, because there were no connotations to my name. There was not anyone I ever met there who had my name. In fact, I met my first other Delia at age 20 in college. I have met very few since then.
I did occasionally see my name in print: the Irish maid in so many stories from years ago was so frequently named Delia. A maid! Not the heroine, not the story’s main character, a maid, for heaven’s sake. Oh, dear. What is in a name?
Additionally, I (okay, my name) was the subject of 2 hit songs back in the early 60’s. (Waylen Jennings sang about “my” adultery and murder in “Delia’s Gone”.) Then in the 1970’s or 1980’s a soap opera character was christened Delia. I did not even check to see what they had done to me that time.
My teachers could not pronounce my name correctly (I was too embarrassed to teach them how to say it). The other kids used my name as a taunt: I was obviously a good victim.
My name is always being misspelled. I get called Debra or Delilah or Julia or Belia in writing or out loud. (My handwriting probably does not help this process.)
Once I started my own business back in the ‘80’s, I decided to use that uniqueness to my advantage and to teach the world how to pronounce and spell my name. “I will take this opportunity teach the world! I will become pronounceable, spellable!” I ended up constantly spelling my name anew to customers, vendors, sales people. Constantly, they were apologizing for mangling the pronunciation. I have received uncountable apologies, more than enough to make up for the teachers’ and children’s misuse of my name in those early years.
But, now, the unthinkable has happened. It started some years ago. Somebody named a company Delia’s. This company sells clothing and such to pre-teens and others of tender age. Type “my” name in a internet search and this company hogs the scene!
Then a specific author rose to some prominence, Delia Ephron, sister of Nora Ephron, movie director. Nora brought us the movie, You’ve Got Mail, and has helped to bring her sister to wider acclaim.
Now you say that’s not much. How could this be problematic for me? Well, it seems like all of a sudden every author in the world has decided to include a Delia in their opus. I do read voraciously but now I can check 10 books out of the library and find my name in 2 or 3!
Now for those of you who are accustomed to seeing “your” names in print, you cannot fathom how truly disconcerting and upsetting this is for me. For most of my life, my name virtually did not appear in print. If Delia was mentioned, it was me someone was talking about me, like in a newspaper article. I was important, unique and fortunate to have something different. My own name.
As always, I read along, enjoy my fiction, my escapism. But now, I am getting jolted out of my fantasy, my stories. Hey, my name again! Hey, what does this mean about me? I’m not the Irish maid any longer. I’m not so unique. My lifelong self-assumed identity does not work anymore.
I’m just Delia, one of many fictional characters who exist only in other authors’ imaginations; for you see, I still rarely meet other Delias. People are only beginning to name their children with my name. It remains a more common name for my great-grandparents’ and my grandparents’ generations.
Well, I guess it is a step up, from total obscurity to a type of infamy. Today I am only a figment of someone else’s imagination!
And there is the family tree…
I was named after my great-grandmother, Delia McCarron Wilson, from Ireland. I think somewhere someone said it was a family name, but since I cannot find evidence of her existence before she married my great-grandfather, I have not been able to prove that.
I always assumed that Delia was a very common name in Ireland but I was informed by a techie Irish friend of mine that it is not so. Delia appears to be more common in British Isles than here in the states but not by much.
It turns out that Delia in Ireland may well be a nickname for someone named Bidelia, Biddie, or Bridget. So much for an identity grounded in my “name”.
And then there is the rest of the family tree.
I am a Wilson – one of those Maine Wilsons. Well, I declare! I had no idea until December of 2013. For some unknown reason I had decided my family up New Jersey / Massachusetts way were all immigrants from Ireland and Poland.
Nope, the original James Wilson came here about 1719 landing in Maine with his wife and children. Such a common name, Wilson. Can that really mean anything?
In my digging through my Maine family tree I do see the introduction of Delia – as a shortened form of Cordelia, Predelia and many more interesting and forgotten names. I was able to pinpoint where in my family women were named Delia instead of using a nickname of Delia. Oh, well, I am now firmly grounded in my roots.
So Delia Wilson. An uncommonly common name.
And you’ll come to see that the commonly-named Wilsons of Topsham, Maine, are not so common after all.
Thus begins the tale of the Wilsons of Maine, a story of Maine, Massachusetts, and New England from the Mayflower until today.