Monday, March 28, 2011


Elizabeth Willis Barrett
March 27, 2011

For someone with as many names as I have, I really shouldn’t have a lot of hang-ups with names. But I do. I think I’ve always been strange that way. I called my Mom “Mama” for most of my childhood. Then I wanted to call her “Mom” since that’s what most of my friends seemed to call their mothers. I remember it taking me a long, disturbed while to work into “Mom” and to drop the “Mama” business. I finally made it happen, but now sometimes I wish I could call her “Mama” again. I like that name. But I can’t. Neurosis! Neither could I call her “Mother.” I don’t know why. It would just stick in my mouth funny like a piece of dry bread.

I couldn’t call my Dad “Pops” either or anything endearing. And he was very endearing. I could just call him “Dad.” I’m sure that started out as “Daddy.” I don’t remember getting to the point of dropping the “y,” but it was most likely quite painful.

I should have known that the inability to use names would get me into more trouble later on. Brad almost went on our honeymoon without me because I couldn’t say, “This is my husband, Brad.” (Actually, now that I think about it, we never had a honeymoon. I will write about that someday.) As people came through the reception line, I would just introduce him as Brad, which was pretty good I thought. At least I didn’t call him something else in my nervousness. But I couldn’t say “husband.” That wouldn’t be hard for most new brides, I’m sure, but it was really hard for me. I didn’t know it upset him until we were in our tiny VW Bug and on our way to Winnebago, Nebraska, to start our new life together. We have been married nearly 40 years so our marriage has had staying power in spite of my early lack of ability to introduce Brad as “my husband.”

Soon after being married, I made another faux pas with names. I wrote to Brad’s parents and stated, “I am going to call you ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’ because I feel so close to you.” Well, that lasted only as long as it took to write it. I couldn’t call them “Mom” and “Dad.” It wouldn’t come out—kind of like a sticky mouthful of peanut butter. I realized what a mistake I had made in even suggesting that I call them “Mom” and “Dad” when we visited them in San Diego during a break from our Winnebago adventure. None of the other in-laws were calling them “Mom” and “Dad.” Even if the words could have come out of my mouth, how could I use those appellations when no one else did? I would have appeared to be a plotting daughter-in-law, sickening sweet to the core. While there, I made the vast mistake of answering the phone which happened to be for LaVerl. I couldn’t call her “Mom” and I couldn’t even call her “LaVerl” after making such a big deal of it, so I stood directly in front of her and held out the phone so I wouldn’t have to call her anything at all. It took a while, but Jeff and LaVerl became “Jeff” and “LaVerl” and we were all a lot more comfortable.

I have a beautiful sister-in-law who decided she didn’t want to be called Jaynie anymore after over 50 years into her lifetime. She officially changed her name to Kate and expected everyone to start calling her that. I thought I could do it and tried a few times, but I couldn’t. She had always been my kids’ “favorite Aunt Jaynie.” She told me to pretend like we’d never met and then when I saw her next to think of her as Kate. But that would dissolve all the history we had together. With the dissolution of her name, came the semi-dissolution of a friendship. That is most likely my fault. It’s just that names are such a part of who you are and again, I seem to have name neurosis.

So, back to all of my names. I was “Elizabeth” for a long time at school and church and nearly everywhere else I went until my friend Loretta started calling me “Liz” which my family often called me, too. My Erikson aunts, uncles and cousins would call me “Betts.” I love that name. I really don’t want to lose it, but I think they’ve moved on to “Liz.” Grandma Willis would often call me “Bettina.” Some family and friends sometimes call me “Lizbeth” or “Lizabeth.” I’m fond of all those names. We had a dog named “Chizum” that Brad sometimes called “Chizzie.” For some reason that made him start calling me “Lizzie.” It took me a while, but I like it now. The only thing I insist on is that when my name is written on a list or in a program or announced from a pulpit, I like it to be Elizabeth. I don’t want to lose the original.

When it was time to be a Grandmother there was one thing I was very sure of—I did not want to be called “Grandma.” Getting old enough to be one is bad enough and I wanted another name to distinguish me. Brad said that I should just wait to see what the grandkids called me which I knew would end up being “Grandma” if someone didn’t intervene early. So I chose to be called “Marmie” in my grandmotherly state. It took a great deal of effort to make it stick which I was too inhibited to do myself. But thanks to a daughter-in-law that didn’t have hang-ups with names, to most of my 15 grandchildren I am “Marmie.” I will have to say that when the little ones start talking, their “Marmie” sounds a lot like “Mommy.” I’m obviously a generation ahead of their Mommies, so I’m glad when they develop the ability to get in the “r.” Jana wanted her kids to call her “Mommy” and didn’t want them to get confused, so her kids call me “Betts.” I love being “Marmie Betts”. There isn’t another name I could have chosen that I would like better. And it, too, has its variation. When my Bella tried to say “Marmie,” it came out “Mimi.” That one melts me.

So now that I have so many names, you’d think I wouldn’t mind what someone else wants to be called. But there you have it—name neurosis—one of my many glitches.


Tenneys said...

Oh Mother! I had no idea about the bit about you calling dad your husband. You always make me smile :)

Cheela said...

Liz, It was so great seeing you and Brad on Thursday!! Thanks for sharing your blog with me. I love blogging and reading others. Hope you enjoy mine, also!!


NP said...

Hi Liz,
I spotted your blog on Sheila's and hope you don't mind me reading your beautiful words. I finally had to make myself stop as my eyes were watering :). Your writing is incredible! I love your family sooooo much! Please give my love to everyone.
Love and hugs,
Nancy Proffitt

Tami Allred said...

WINNEBAGO, NEBRASKA? What in the world for?
Great Post, you're funny. Marmie huh?
My only daughter in law calls me Mom and I'm still not comfortable with it, not sure why. I could never ever, ever call my in laws Mom or dad maybe that's why, but I'm happy my DIL is fine with it.