Thursday, June 17, 2010

By Any Other Name...

Last night my old friend Bonnie (Lou) was visiting and we kidded each other, as we usually do, about having the same first name.  Growing up in different parts of the country, neither of us knew any other girls named Bonnie, although it seems more popular now.  We were often accused of going by a nickname, not a REAL name, and I was often taunted that I was named after the song “My Bonnie lies over the….”

All of these name stories are true, oddly enough.  My good friend Brenda, in her thirties, inspired to make herself over, declared her name evermore as Phoenix, Thirty years later I have not yet made the transition to that one.  Once, as a reading teacher, a new boy in the second grade was referred to me: “Dr. Crosse,” the teacher complained,  “Sean can’t even read or write his own name.”  Checking his records, I was horrified to learn his mother called him Sean but spelled it PSHAUGHN.  Now how could any child in a phonetic reading program learn to spell that? 

Another primary grade teacher in Denver shared what was the oddest name she had ever heard: a girl enrolled in her room named Aquanet, after her Mother’s favorite hair spray.  When it comes to names, some parents don’t think rationally.  Perhaps you are a victim in that group?

At birth my mother was named Blanche Beatrice, two names she shunned.  She insisted therefore that everyone call her Bunny, including her two children, though her motivation for the latter may have had ulterior motives, since she generally shunned motherhood, as well.  My sister was christened Lena Lorraine, but chose to go by Lorraine, as she abhorred Lena, to which she added an accent mark, and pronounced it Layna.

I’ve always enjoyed my name and the stories that accompany it, though there is little data to support the accurate truth, I’m afraid.  My father, who died when I was 15, was supposed to have named me.  Yes, I was named after a song, according to the story, but a folk song about the Mohawk Valley.  The chorus goes “My blue-eyed Bonnie, Bonnie Eloise, the belle of the Mohawk Vale. Now I have never been to the Mohawk Valley, nor had my father, and I only heard him croon cowboy songs, always off key. Moreover I never had blue eyes, and I doubt that I was ever anyone’s belle.

However it is the spelling of my last name, Crosse, which holds the most intrigue.  Part of the tale I can document.  My father’s older sister, Celia Marie Cross, just out of nursing school in Boston, in 1917, age 18, volunteered as a Red Cross nurse to support the war.  In a twinkling she was on a ship to France, whereupon half way across the ocean the captain ordered the Red Cross nurses to appear on the heaving deck, as a submarine had been  spotted.  They were instructed to raise their right hands and take an oath to become Army nurses.  She complied, having no choice, and stood on her 4’11” tippy toes to pass the physical.  Three years in the trenches followed, conditions grim, during which time she fell in love, but the soldier died.
On mustering out in Paris, she spent her clothing allowance on a French chapeau instead of a new uniform for the parade, an act considered scandalous. Ever afterwards her unusual ways were explained by family members as “having taken on French aires”.  At this time she wrote from Paris to my father and his brother to change the spelling of our family name from Cross to Crosse, as it was more French, therefore more elegant.
My father, being the baby brother, complied, whereas other family members just laughed.  Thus my birth certificate adds the “e”.  So that is one version anyway of why I am the only Crosse at the occasional Cross family reunions.  They put up with me, though I know they think me a little odd as well. 
Aunt Celia. by the way, never got around to changing her own name, though her love of all things formal and Parisian remained with her until her death at 94.

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