What’s in a Name

We have a new tree in our front yard. The weekend before last, just in time for Mother’s Day, Lena, Rick, and Corinne came over and planted a Spring Snow Flowering Crabtree.

Spring Snow. Perfect.

That was Elena’s Chinese name. Chun Xue. Spring Snow. Each spring when it flowers we will look outside and remember her. It’s not like we could forget but it’s wonderful how many people have provided us with beautiful reminders of this amazing child. Kim asked Lena if she’d picked the type of tree because of its name. No. It was just one of those happy coincidences. She liked the tree and chose it because she thought it would be perfect for us. The additional appropriateness of the name was just one of those things.

At Elena’s wake I told Lena that I had only recently noticed how close our daughter’s name had been to her own. Because they were pronounced so differently I’d never made the connection to them only differing by a single letter. Leeee nah. EEEE lay nah. Lena said she’d only made the connection when she’d come to the wake and seen Elena’s name written out like that.

Although I had chosen the name Elena and that spelling, I sometimes pronounced it uhhh lay nuh. Elena would always correct me. She would stress the first syllable extra hard as she said, “EEEEEEE lay nuh daddy, not uhhh lay nuh. Don’t you know your own daughter’s name?”

“Sure,” I’d say, “Elena Rose”.

“Nooooo,” she’d protest. “Elena Maxine. Don’t you know anything?”

It seems that I didn’t.

Of course the most important words for anyone are their own name. The only person Elena allowed to call her something else was Maggie. Maggie could pretty much call Elena anything she wanted as long as she was paying attention to her and calling her something. When she was younger Elena would make up names and characters on the phone when I would call.

“Hi Elena,” I would say.

“Elena?” she would ask with a mock-puzzled voice. “Who’s Elena? This is Mrs. A-bob-o-low.” Not content to let me choose my own character, she would often come up with one for me. It could be a character she’d newly created or one she’d appropriated from television. “That’s right,” she’d say, “I’m Mrs. Abobolow and you must be Timmy Turner.”

“Timmy Turner,” I’d say. “Ok. How are you today Mrs. Abobolow?”

She’d whisper into the phone just in case I wasn’t really understanding the complexities of our conversation. “Dad,” she’d whisper, “really it’s me Elena. I’m just pretending to be Mrs. Abobolow. OK?” Then she’d raise her voice back into her phone conversation voice and say “Timmy, have you been getting into trouble today.”

Some parents only pull out a child’s middle name when they are in trouble. We alternated between calling her Elena and Elena Maxine. It sounded almost musical to me. She was pretty close to being Maxine Elena but we flipped it towards the end. I’m glad we did. Somehow, once you have named something or someone, it’s hard to picture any other name fitting.

I look out the living room window and there’s a tree where nothing used to stand. A Spring Snow. Next spring white flowers will appear as a reminder of our little Spring Snow. Elena Maxine. Or Mrs. Abobolow.

Published in: on May 25, 2006 at 10:19 am  Comments (3)