Writing

What’s In a Name?

Plenty of people hate (or at least, dislike) their given names.  It’s understandable.  As you grow and change, the name your parents gave you often stops feeling anything like the person you are, and so you default to a nickname that you feel better represents the person you’ve become.

This is not the case for me. I’ve been Frankie, essentially, since I was born. My mum gave me the nickname, deriving it from the 90s movie starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Al Pacino, an adaptation of Terence McNally’s play Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune.

For all intents and purposes, “Frankie” might as well be my given name.  But it’s not.  Instead, the name on my birth certificate is Francesca Nicole.  Francesca, pronounced (but never spelled as) Fran-ches-ka, is Latin/Italian, meaning “free one.”  Nicole, pronounced how it’s spelled (certainly it’s common enough not to be misspelled), is Greek-based, meaning “victory of the people.”  Both incredibly bold names, especially when considered together.  And I have no problem with Nicole; in fact, I plan to name my son Nicolas, after my maternal grandfather (which is where I get my name).

But I’ve never used–and will never use–Francesca. In fact, no one who really knows me, not even my mother when she’s upset (and you know it’s serious when even your parent won’t call you by that whole name when she’s mad), uses my first, given name.  The only people who do are people from my high school, which frankly only compounds the PTSD from that part of my life.

The reason? I hate my first name. And I promise it’s for a very good reason.

I remember hearing once, at a parenting seminar (I’m not sure why I was attending one of those), that the name you give your child represents the first blessing you want for them, sort of like how the fairies in Sleeping Beauty blessed Aurora with beauty and grace etcetera etcetera.  But if Aurora had Flora, Fauna, and Merriweather, I only had Maleficent: my dad, whose intentions were, if not less-than-pure, horribly misguided.

My dad and I don’t have a great relationship. I’m frank enough (hence, Frankie; good one, Mum) to admit that. While I want to love him, there’s a lot of childhood baggage stemming from his few appearances during my formative years (my parents split up when I was three; the annullment finalized when I was thirteen) that gets in the way. Part of this baggage is something he and I have in common: we say things without thinking. A lot.  It’s why I took to writing, because putting thoughts on a page forces me to go over them.  

Unfortunately, my dad isn’t as literarily inclined as I am (though he does fancy himself a critic, dismissing my fiction as “too verbose” at one point, which it probably is but like you aren’t the same, Dad). Where he does excel, however, is telling tall tales about my childhood. I call them tall because, well, let’s just say there are reasons to consider him an unreliable narrator. My dad’s memories have always been foggy and rose-tinted, at best. Even today, I’m not sure the story of how I got my name is actually true, but if the facts aren’t straight, at least the intention is, and the intention is all that matters in this case.

I’ll jump straight in: my dad named me for another woman.

Before I get accused of defamation, let me clarify: she wasn’t his mistress.  I’m not sure he was capable of having one, to be honest.  (He had girlfriends after he and mum split, but they never stuck around for long.) Instead, this other woman was an officemate, a law firm secretary, to be exact (Dad’s a licensed attorney).  By all accounts, he didn’t know her very well, but he seemed to be very…impressed (for the lack of a better term) by her.  Enough, at least, to take her name and give it to me.

Sounds innocent enough, until you get into the reason for why he was so impressed by this first Francesca.  From his own testimony–which, caveat, he probably won’t remember giving; like I said, his mind’s not completely reliable anymore–this Francesca was “…sweet, charming, very friendly. Not too bright, but everyone liked her.”

Whether or not the actual Francesca wasn’t bright is still in question, since it took my dad years to recognize that he couldn’t pull the wool over his Game of Thrones-watching daughter. What’s important is the fact that he thought she was so, and, by his own admission, this collection of traits was why he decided to give me the name Francesca.

Basically he wanted me to be sweet, charming, attractive, and not too bright.

(As if I needed any more reason to be proud of being an abrasive, antisocial cactus.)

Francesca is a beautiful name, with a beautiful meaning, and on any other girl I’d embrace it. But when it comes to me, that name comes loaded with my dad’s intentions: to have a docile daughter, a people-pleaser, an attractive and non-threatening little lady.  Everything I’m not, and honestly, don’t want to be.

Frankie and who I’ve grown to become have always been a good match.  I’ve tried re-nicknaming myself, for radio and college and a bunch of other things, but no name’s ever stuck quite as much as the one my mother gave me. Her intentions, I know, were better: among other things, the name Frankie sounded like Punky Brewster, a feisty, smart-alec of a kid with enough fighting spirit to survive whatever the world threw at her. Punky, based on the Wikipedia synopses and Youtube clips, was still quite a bit more likeable than I am, but she wasn’t likeable for likeability’s sake.  

No, she was likeable for being unapologetically herself.

Between my dad’s picture of the First Francesca and my mum’s image of Punky Brewster, it’s a no-brainer which one I’d choose.  I choose Frankie, every time, because with it comes my mother’s first blessings: courage, resilience, and the capacity to be unapologetically oneself, even if that self is very weird.  I am not, and refuse to ever be, that docile and pliable, non-threatening Maria Clara stereotype.

The fact is, I’ve always been Frankie, not Francesca. My legal first name is a person none of you–including myself–would recognize. No matter how much I’ve tried to hide it, or change it, or tone it down (well, at least the toning it down helped), I’m Frankie. I’m Frankie. 

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Tl;dr, seriously high school/Chinese community people, my name is Frankie Torres.  Stop trying to make Francesca happen; it won’t happen.

~aRT~

[poem] This is how a year ends.

This is how a year ends:
Slow.

I watch the seconds slip by,
in almost silence. 
I light no fireworks.

When the last year came in I
ran through streets, 
waved at strangers,
danced with sparklers in both fists
to the rhythm of exploding skies. I

wished for a brighter year, 
a better life. I
am, perhaps, a better self:

beaten, battle-worn, 
maybe wiser. 
Definitely, older.
Definitely, tired.

Maybe a little lighter,
for all that I have lost.

Another year is ending.
I count the seconds, count the cost
of all the hope I offered
on the pyre of the sky:

family turned strangers,
love dissolving into lies
that we will keep on telling,
if only to keep the peace.

I watch the new year enter,
silent, slow; release
a breath I did not know
I’d held back all this time.

Let others loose their noisy hopes.
This year, I’ll whisper mine.

Fin

-0-

Happy new year.

[rambles] Turning

Not to me.
Not to me.
Not for me.

– 
Éponine, Les Misérables

~*~

Your skin burns.  It is morning.

Lately you’ve been learning not to listen to your instincts.  Instinct.  Such an animal word.  You aren’t an animal, despite all evidence to the contrary.  Your eyes glow darkly and your smile is feral and sometimes, sometimes (often) your body sings with wanting but your fine leash of control has worked against all temptation.  So far.

So far.

Today, temptation is a story.  You have a story.

You have a story. It itches to pour out of your fingers, bubbles like soda pop behind lips that want to smile and laugh and tease.  It is a small story.  A funny story.  A story that would do no harm, except the first person you think to tell—want to tell; could tell–is someone you promised to stay away from.

Someone you should stay away from.

So far, control is winning.  Later, you promise yourself.  Later.  When the infection burns out the last of your blood. When you heart learns to stop beating.  When you don’t feel the instinct (that word again) to turn up your lips, reveal teeth better suited to things other than smiling.

When you aren’t quite so blindsided by the way they make you laugh.

Your fingers hover, still longing to make contact, dancing over the letters that spell out a name.  But the urge passes, as it always does.  Your willpower wins again, and by now you’re used to how it never really feels like winning.

Once upon a time you made a choice, or maybe it was made for you.  Once upon a time, you taught yourself to live without sunlight.  You don’t need it, not anymore—the years have taught you to see just as well in the dark—but sometimes you long to stretch your hand out and hold the yellow glow in your palms, pretend it would warm instead of burn.

You think they might be sunlight.  You think you might burn.  Moth to flame, delicate and easily consumed.

Later, you promise yourself.  Later.  When they don’t seem to shine quite so bright.  When your eyes adjust.  When the tides completely turn.

Later, you promise.

Never, you know.

~aRT~