Catechism—a poem about the power of names and nicknames

Old photo of a baby sitting in a draped bassinetobserved by a little girl

Big sister Jill examining a new baby. She named me Jigger, because I never stopped jiggling — a powerful nickname.

Q. What is your Name?

A. Jigger the jumper Robin the tomboy
Fishface the dumb dumb Rachel the Taylor
and womanly Rachel McAlpine
Tosh the friend and Pud the wife
and suddenly Granny-Rachel.

Q. Who gave you these names?

A. My sister, parents, classmates
godmother, friends and husband
grandsons and granddaughters
knowing the words they chose
could classify, identify or stratify
or elevate or shame.

Q. Who are you?

A. Fair question, who am I?
I am all these names
layer on layer on layer
with strokes of butter in between
baked together forever
into a filo pastry Rachel-pie.
Rachel is a construct
and a ewe lamb too.

Now I’m partly old and partly new
a stand-alone and granny too
making a name for myself.
I’m talking about me.
I’m thinking about you.

Rachel McAlpine

It’s strange to realise that all my names and nicknames were chosen by other people. I considered changing my name after getting divorced. But by then I had been Rachel McAlpine for more years than I had been Rachel Taylor, my so-called “maiden name”. In India, I’m told, it’s common to choose a new name, for all sorts of reasons. I’ve grown fond of my legal name. To me it sounds staunch, odd, and has the tune of an awkward mantra. The power of my name and nickname (Granny Rachel) are acquired even though I didn’t select them.  I have made them my own. How about you?


12 thoughts on “Catechism—a poem about the power of names and nicknames

  1. Interesting and delightful!

  2. anne leueen says:

    I have never changed my surname married or not. I am the last in my family with that surname and I am not giving it up.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Terrific. I think I was born a bit too early to see that as an option.

      1. anne leueen says:

        Well I was born in 1949 and I was one of those original rabid feminists ! And i thought that the name had a long family history and it was sad to see it go.

      2. Rachel McAlpine says:

        How smart you were! Despite coming from a line of radical women I couldn’t see that until I was in my thirties (in the 1970s) — too late.

  3. Sadje says:

    I never looked at it this way! We indeed are what others call us! Except my blogging identity. I created it on my own and didn’t use my name. Just something similar to it.

  4. Gallivanta says:

    As with Sadje, the only names which are my very own are ones I made up for my blog, Gallivanta and silkannthreades, otherwise I am known by many names and nicknames. I answer to them all. Perhaps we should all be given a catechism of names. That’s a lovely photo of Jigger and Jill. 🙂

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Interesting! Blogging as an opportunity to creatively reinvent our names.

  5. Liola Lee says:

    My dad gave us all nickname. My eldest sister was Maureen Pork Shoes; my second eldest sister was Shivie Shoestring; my younger sister was Salmon and Shrimp, and me, I was Lollypopkin and Lollypop. These days the family just call me Lolly. I also used nicknames for my children. My eldest son was Bobby Socks, my second son was the Pobble with no toes, and I used to call my daughter my Chicken in the Library. I think it was about playing with words partly. A lovely post that made me smile! 🙂

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      These are all such funny and affectionate nicknames. And I am guessing that books have featured in both households?

      1. Liola Lee says:

        Yes, lots of books and lots of reading! One of my earliest memories is of my Dad reading to me at what was then the local library. It was a story about the Milkman delivering the milk. I was about 3 years old. My Dad was an avid reader! 🙂

  6. rothpoetry says:

    It is true, we do let others define us at times. We must move beyond the limiting ones and set our own course.

%d bloggers like this: