When I was little I didn’t like my first name at all. It was just too uncommon for life in the fifties, where it seemed everyone was called Sally, Jane or Dick. My best friends then had pleasant enough names, though they all began with A’s: Amy, Anna and Anita. So why was I cursed with Monica? And worst yet, why didn’t I have a middle name to fall back on? You see, a middle name is not just for being in the middle anymore. It’s become the backup name.
Nowadays, if you ask the federal government, they’ll tell you my name is Monica M. Medina. Yet that M that sits so blithely, and so intrepidly, between my first and last name stands for nothing. Nada. Zilch. It just stares me down and wins every time because the federal government won’t let me remove it. In fact, whenever I have to sign official papers, I must sign with the M in the middle. As a result, I live in dread of writing the misguided M. No doubt about it, I was robbed of having a real middle name, a backup name—the oft misunderstood and useless name that most everyone else has.
Once, I asked my mother why I wasn’t given a middle name. It must have been a custom in our family, for neither she nor her sisters had a middle name. She explained, “You don’t need one, you’re a girl.” What my mother meant was that as a girl, it was assumed I’d grow up and marry and take my husband’s surname as mine. Then, my maiden name would step aside and become my middle name. She had it all figured out. Which is exactly what happened when I married. Then a decade later, when the divorce became final, I officially took back my “maiden” name. Which explains why all that’s left of my “middle” name is the sad and lonely M.
Each of my brothers has middle names, procured from names of family members and friends. Even my younger sister has a middle name, Regina. She uses it as her backup name and doesn’t seem to mind that it rhymes with our surname. In fact, I know quite a few people that have taken their middle name as their backup name, simply because, at some point they realized they didn’t like their first names. That’s why Clare calls herself Clare and not Lee. Megan prefers her middle name more so than her first name, Emily. And another Claire I know, hands down likes Claire and not her given name, Lucille. Luckily, they all had other options.
So here was I, a kid from Queens with no options. I came up with names to call myself. Names that really didn’t take off. First there was Alice. To me, Alice was a much better name than Monica. No one had ever known another Monica in my neighborhood, but Alice was everywhere back then. The Disney film version of “Alice in Wonderland” had come out only a few years earlier. Alice, with her blond, lustrous hair, blue dress and white smock, represented all that this little Latina with thick unruly black hair aspired to be. Yes, Alice would be my new name. But no matter how many times I called myself Alice, no one took it seriously. They laughed and assumed I was joking. I tested out a few other names, like Betty and Shirley, but Alice was the name I really wanted to be called. Funny thing, though, I really hated that Disney movie.
Of course, over the years I’ve come to appreciate my name and its uniqueness. My college advisor once told me that I had a movie star name. I’m not sure what he meant but I think he was saying that my name was easy on the ears. Like Marilyn Monroe or Mickey Mantle . In that case, I am in good company.
For years, I never came across another Monica. The closest was Corbett Monica, the comedian who once toured as the opening act for Frank Sinatra. Then, when I moved to San Diego, with its high Latino population, suddenly I was surrounded by a bevy of Monica’s and Medina’s. In fact, one year, I almost lost my entire state tax refund because of this. It seems there was another Monica Medina, who clearly lived on the wrong side of the law. She had more than a dozen unpaid parking fines in Chico, California. It was a simple case of mistaken identity that I was able to prove by showing my ID. Though I didn’t have a middle name I had something just as valuable—my trusty middle initial! Yes, I am Monica M. Medina and not the Monica B. Medina who parks willy-nilly in Chico, California!
And now, as I embrace my whole name, with my precious middle M, I wonder, how do you feel about your name?