That’s the question that burns on my brain as I go back and try to revisit my 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th day of life. I know I actually don’t have a memory of those first days, but bear with me, there is a story here. I was born on January 29, in the mid-60s, and have had to live with this name: Lillian. Yeesh! What’s my griping all about, you ask? My gripe is that it’s a terrible name to give a baby… a 70 year old granny, yes. A tiny baby, no. Say my name; try to add an affectionate inflection… Can’t hear it? Me neither. No one has ever said to me, “What a beautiful name” or “I love your name, may I borrow it to name my baby girl?” If anyone ever did ask I’d fall over laughing; it just would not – has not - ever happened. Even now, as an adult, it lacks a certain je ne sais quoi. Like I said, it’s best suited to an old lady – refined, but old.
So, how was I so lucky as to get this name? I’d like to think it went something like this: Yeah, way back when – 47 years ago - my momma held me in her arms, still filled with the wonder and amazement a woman feels at the birth of her tiny, newborn babe. Baby me cooed as she whispered in my ear, “Hi baby,” “I’m your mommy, baby,” “I love you baby.” Actually, she did have a name in mind, but still had not made it official (hence her calling me baby) with the maternity staff at Los Angeles General Hospital. That dreaded moment of naming baby me was soon to come. My imagination tells me (I have no actual memory. Really… who does?) that on day two or three of my first days of life, a beautiful, intelligent, gentle nurse came into mom’s room, which she shared with another new momma. As mom cuddled me in her arms, our nurse went about her usual business of checking in on the new moms, only this time there was an additional detail to take care of… Gathering all the newborns’ legal names. And then was when I was blessed and cursed with the name Lillian.
Upon entering mom’s room, Beautiful, Intelligent, Gentle nurse walked over to mom’s roommate. B.I.G. nurse did a routine check of baby and momma, as well as fill out hospital birth certificate with baby’s legal name. Done. Beautiful, Intelligent, Gentle nurse then crossed the room to check on baby me and my mom and fill out our birth certificate. B.I.G. nurse wrote stuff down as mom answered questions needed to complete the birth certificate. Finally, B.I.G. nurse arrived at the last detail to fill in… “Miss Martinez, what name have you chosen to give your baby?” (Forever). Filled with enthusiasm and pride she spoke my name: Bertha. Ugh, oh… I know - and can still feel it in my bones - baby me cringed and cried out loudly, traumatically: “Whaaaaaaa!” (Interpreted to mean, “Mother! How could you?!?”).
I’m positive I gave a mom a plaintive, pained look… Don’t do it, Mom! Don’t name me Bertha!! Mom beamed, but B.I.G. nurse posed that magical question: “The mother in the next bed has already named her baby girl Bertha, you wouldn’t want there to be any confusion by having both babies in this room with the same name, would you, Miss Martinez?” Disappointed by the news, but in total agreement, Mom said, “No, she wouldn’t like that.” Now it was baby me’s turn to beam and shout out to the world: “whaaaaaa!” (Interpreted to mean whaaaaaa whooooo!!!). I was spared.
However, now there was a dilemna. What was mom going to name baby me? She gazed and smiled at me while thinking. She thought and thought, and gazed at me some more. Beautiful, Intelligent, Gentle nurse had things to do and would ask mom, “Would you like me to come back while you think up a name?” Mom said, “No thank you, give me one more minute.” “Certainly,” said B.I.G. nurse. My mom really liked this nurse as she had been very kind and doting attending to her needs and as she was thinking about how wonderful B.I.G. nurse was, a stoke of genius came to her… “What is your name?” she asked the beautiful, intelligent, gentle nurse. Nurse replied, “My name is Lillian. I was named after my 90-year-old great-grandmother. I have her fair skin, green eyes and auburn hair.” Ohhhh, there went mom beaming all over again, and baby me screaming “Whaaaaaaaa!!” (meaning hallelujah) followed by another “Ugh, oh” moment… “Mom! How could you?!?” Nurse Lillian had all the information she needed; documents signed, sealed and delivered to the “make your baby’s name official” office. Rats!
That’s how I got my name. I’ve forgiven mom since then. I’ve also thanked my lucky stars that some other kid got the name, Bertha – I can’t help but envision a grown-up Bertha as a short, chubby Mexican woman. (I know… it’s wrong, but I can’t help it.) So here I am a grown up Lillian. People have been disappointed when I have called places to schedule appointments and shown up a young – now middle age - lady, who is, “Not at all old.” “You have my dear, departed grandma’s name.” “I thought you’d be older.” Oh brother… I’d probably do the same. Actually, Lillian really isn’t that bad. I don’t think I’ll ever look like a Lillian, but I am hoping, as I age, I’ll get used to it. Shouldn’t be too long. I only wish I could have turned out looking like my old friend, Beautiful, Intelligent, Gentle Nurse Lillian. For now… just call me Lil.
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