What’s in a name?

In three weeks time my second daughter will get married and I think of Elizabeth Bennet’s mother’s words in Pride and Prejudice, when her third daughter, Lizzie, gets an offer of marriage from Mr Darcy.

“Three daughters married! Ten thousand a year! Oh, Lord! What will become of me. I shall go distracted.”

I find I am no longer as fussed about the idea of marriage as I once might have been. Still marriage matters.

It matters too that my daughter has elected to keep her name after she marries. I tried that myself for a time, to keep my maiden name. It worked until the babies came along.

I’m glad now to have my husband’s name in so far as it also offers a level of anonymity away from my family of origin. I can write about my childhood without the burden of association to the names of my siblings.

Losing my name I have lost that connection.

Still there are days when I long to go back to my maiden name.

For all its patriarchal overtones, my maiden name is an amalgam of my mother’s and my father’s name after all – my mother’s first name and my father’s second. It is also the name I was born into, the name I held closest to me when as a small child and I played with around with notions of of place and identity.

How I loved as a seven year old to track the essential aspects of where I lived:

Miss Elisabeth Schooneveldt

2 Wentworth Avenue

Canterbury, East 7

Melbourne Victoria Australia

The Pacific Ocean

The world

The universe.

My world was ever expanding like the mirrors on my mother’s dressing room table that folded in on one another and when you tucked yourself in between you could see yourself from behind and from the front, forever diminishing, shot after shot into infinity.

Scan0008

And somehow my name pinned me to the spot.

And this new name I have now, not so new when I consider I took it on fully when my first daughter was born over thirty four years ago and I have adopted it and recognise it as my name.

But it is not me, nor ever shall be.

I was once in a writing class with the late Doris Leadbetter and when it came time to introduce myself, she stopped at my name and said half jokingly, now Elisabeth Hanscombe, that’s a good name for a novelist.

I took heart from this though no novel of mine has yet transpired nor is likely to. Memoir maybe and essays and book chapters and even short stories but novels, not under that name.

Maybe one day if I ever live long enough to revert to form to go back to being that small girl in the red brick house near the corner of Canterbury Road and Wentworth Avenue I might find myself able to slip more fully into the world of imagination and find the place from which all novels begin.

But for now I have to settle with my own half fictionalised, half factual story, all in the name of my husband’s father and his father’s father before him.

It’s not a bad name though. It’s just not mine.

The threat within ourselves

Inside the front cover of a paper back copy of Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice –faded yellow with its
spine held together by sticky tape – someone has scratched out the first
initial of my older sister’s name and changed it to a younger sister’s
initial.  The book was presumably a
hand-me-down for school.

Underneath my sister’s name, my father has written the words:
GEKKEN EN DWAZEN SCHRYVEN HUN NAMEN OP DEUREN EN GLAZEN, which translates into
‘People who are silly and mad write their names on doors and windows’.
My sister gave me the book recently.  She’s going through a phase where she wants
to rid herself of all negative energy and the words on the front cover of this
book exude just that, at least they do for her. 
For me these words are intriguing and given I do not have many
examples of my father’s handwriting, they’re a treasure.  However much I might disagree with the sentiment
they express. 
When I was little I wondered what these words could mean.  How could it be such a stupid thing to write
your name down on the front of your books? 
Or maybe my father was having a go at those who write their names on
trees and walls and fences, graffiti artists and the like. 
They do more than inscribe their names, but certainly the
mark or tag of a graffiti artist seems to be an important part of their work.
 I still write my name
in the front of my books, mostly as a territorial thing.  I claim this book as my own.  Not that it helps the book to stay in my
possession. I am an inveterate book lender and even though I once tried to keep
a list of all books borrowed out to others so that I might remind the borrowers
in the fullness of time they have my book, I forget to fill in the list.  It’s incomplete and then I forget where I put
it. 
So my books with my silly name in the front cover are scattered
all over in other people’s libraries. 
As long as they’re loved, I say. 
I made my annual pilgrimage to the Freud conference
yesterday.  The two main speakers from
Germany spoke about fundamentalism, fanaticism and religion to a large
audience. 
The topic was daunting, not least because during the
introductions the conference organiser told us that ‘for reasons of security
for this particular conference’ they would lock the doors during sessions and a
body guard would protect the premises at all times. 
She told us this in case we decided to go outside during the
breaks.  She told us this in order to
remind us that should we go outside during one of the breaks we should return
at least ten minutes before the proceedings resume so that we are not locked
out.
Moreover, the conference organiser told us to keep our nametag
on at all times. 
‘If the guard sees you without your nametag, you will be
escorted from the building’.
 
I call this overkill.
 
Some said it was necessary. 
Maybe it was.  A duty of care, one
person told me during the break.  Maybe
again it was, but it also created an aura of the enemy, the ‘other’, the one
lurking outside who might at any moment enter with a machine gun or hand
grenade to attack us in our seats or to take us hostage. 
And so we experienced the effects of terrorism first hand, albeit
at a distance.  After all, terrorism is
designed to terrify.
This contrasts with other injunctions from government
spokespeople and the like who say, go about your business as usual and don’t be afraid.  Be alert, but unafraid.
The conference made me more afraid than I might otherwise
have been but even though the threat of terrorism is real and there are good
reasons for all of us to pay attention, the greatest fear I reckon lies in
ourselves. 
Our own tendencies to look at life in terms of the black and
the white, insiders and outsiders, clashes of identity.
During the breaks I managed to speak to many people, some old
acquaintances, others new, but always I had the sense – as I so often have at
conferences – that we are ships who pass in the night. 
Some of these people I saw last year at the Freud conference
and I will see them again in a year at the next Freud conference. 
Conferences like this one that happen every year have the
quality of Christmas family get togethers. 
Not everyone in the family comes, but there are enough of us
who get together, along with a few extras, occasional friends or extended family
members, to create a strange tension. 
It reminds me of the energy my sister talks about from the
front cover of her book. 
The pride and prejudice of it all. 
I suspect my father’s words might reflect his own
difficulties in acknowledging his identity. 
He was proud of his name, the same name as that of his father, his
father’s father, his father’s father’s father going back through the
centuries. 
But he could not wear his name with the confidence he might
have liked, given his decimation through war and family trauma, and so he could
not tolerate the idea that his children should wear their own names with pride.  
Especially not his daughters.