Tete-a-tete Archives

An eclectic sampling of my award-winning humor columns. New columns can be read online at www.nashuatelegraph.com on the first Thursday of the month, with columns posted here later in the month.

More in "Tete-a-tete"

Tete-a-tete: For goodness ‘sakes – generational namesakes can confuse

In many families, it is traditional to pass down names from one generation to the next. Among other things, this practice perpetuates the memory of those who have passed away by preserving their names for the future.

Unfortunately, this practice can also tax your memory, which leads to phone conversations like this between Grandma (Dad’s mom) and me.

Grandma: “So, John said to Joe – ”

Me: “Is John in this case Grandpa, your brother or my uncle?”

Grandma: “This would be your grandfather.”

Me: “OK. Is he talking to his brother Joe, your brother Joe or one of my cousins named Joe?”

Grandma: “His brother Joe.”

Me: “OK. Continue.”

Grandma: “So, John told Joe to get Paul – ”

Me: “Which Paul is this? Hold on, let me get a pen. Wait, is there going to be a Larry involved? Let me get a pencil instead.”

On Dad’s side of the family, counting everyone from in-laws to cousins, those four names belong to roughly two dozen individuals. According to Dad’s estimates, there are nine Johns, six Joes, five Pauls and four Larrys. Understanding who’s who in a family anecdote often involves interruptions for clarification and the occasional diagram.

Even after sitting down with Grandma and putting together a simple family tree of the last three generations, I still have trouble keeping everyone straight.

I am, however, one step ahead of Younger Sister, who only recently realized that Grandma’s youngest brother and Grandma’s son (our uncle) were both named Paul. Grandma’s stories about having adventures with Paul when she was a little girl now make a lot more sense.

Mom’s side of the family passes down names a bit differently. An individual’s first name is the handed-down family name, and their middle name is the name that their parents really wanted to give them and the name they actually go by.

Grandpa, my uncle and my cousin, for example, all have the first name Harold, but you’d never know unless you looked at their address labels — all of them go by their middle names. They all have the same middle name as well, but each of them goes by a different shortened version of it.

I have never been confused as to who’s who when listening to stories about Mom’s side of the family, but this method of passing down names does pose its own unique challenge, which Mom discovered when she attempted to help Grandpa get all of his paperwork in order.

Every official bit of paper has a different name on it. A credit card might be under his first and middle name, an insurance policy might be under his first initial and his middle name and a bank account might be under the shortened version of his middle name. It took months to get everything straightened out and filed under a single version of Grandpa’s name.

It seems as though Mom and Dad have both learned from the naming traditions of the previous generations, as my siblings and I were successfully named after relatives in ways that will (most likely) not cause confusion in the future.

Oldest Younger Brother and Youngest Brother both have first names that do not belong to any other relatives and middle names that are family names, so they’re all set. Younger Sister’s first and middle names are both family names, but they haven’t been used in that combination before, making her distinctive as well.

I like to think that the way in which my parents chose to name me was a particular coup. I was named after a specific relative, but instead of giving me the exact same name, they switched the order. Her middle name is therefore my first name, and her first name is my middle name. Sneaky, huh?

I fear, however, that Mom and Dad’s efforts to make our names stand out may be for naught, since, like most parents with multiple children, they have a hard time keeping us straight anyway. My favorite instance of name confusion was when Dad nearly tripped over the cat and, in frustration, yelled Younger Sister’s name instead of the cat’s.

In spite of the confusion they can cause, I do like the concept of family names. They give you a stronger sense of belonging and connect you to the previous generations. For the sake of future generations, however, I suggest you get creative with nicknames and name order to minimize confusion within the family, and to always file your paperwork under the same version of your name to minimize confusion for the rest of the world.

– Teresa Santoski


Originally published May 1, 2014.

Browse the compendium

Compendium (noun): a summary or abridgment.

Click the icons to the right to check out a sampling of my work.