Thursday, October 7, 2010

Never Known as Lizzie!

Mommy's Piggy Tales - MPT #1: My Birth and Namesake

Great Aunt Lizzie

When I was born on a cold, windy November day in 1947, my Great Aunt Lizzie served as the midwife for Mom. My parents and three older sisters lived on a small farm in central Illinois, outside the tiny rural town of Papineau. By the time the old country doctor arrived many hours later, so had I, squalling and bawling like a real trooper. Fortunately, it was a relatively easy delivery with no complications.

After cleaning up the tiny form, Aunt Lizzie laid me in my mother’s arms, asking, “What do you plan to name her?”

Mom looked up with a tired smile and said, “I think she looks like an Elizabeth, so we’ll name her after you.”

“Oh, no! Please don’t do that to her!”

Startled by the outburst, Mom asked, “Well, why ever not?”

Lizzie hemmed and hawed, then busied herself for a few minutes tidying up things in the bedroom. Naturally quiet and reticent, it was difficult to begin her story. Finally, she began to talk.

“Until I reached the age of eight, I was always known as Elizabeth, which is a beautiful name. But in third grade, some of the boys started teasing me and calling me Lizzie. Then they taunted me mercilessly about my infamous ‘namesake.’”

Although acquitted of the gruesome (and true) murder case of 1892, Lizzie Borden was memorialized forever in the popular rhyme:
Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one.

For the rest of her life, my great aunt was called Lizzie, usually followed by some reference to the legendary Lizzie. As a spinster woman, my relative had never had any marriage prospects, which she attributed to that horrible little rhyme and the mean-spirited schoolboys who drove her into a shell.

After much discussion back and forth, Aunt Lizzie finally agreed to let my mother name me Elizabeth, on the strict condition that I never, ever, be called Lizzie. So Baby Elizabeth was welcomed into the family with open arms.

All throughout my early years growing up and attending Catholic school, everyone called me Elizabeth. Or, if I was in serious (but infrequent) trouble, it was probably Elizabeth Mary.

That all changed when we moved to another town after my fifth grade. Nicknames were much more popular in public schools in the new area, so all at once I became Liz. Before long, kids tested calling me Lizzie and chanting the old rhyme. Luckily, thanks to the insight of my elders, I had enough confidence to just ignore trouble makers and walk away.

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Over the years, my names have changed in a progression. The initial Elizabeth C. became Liz (not Lizzie!) C. in sixth grade and stuck until I married in college and became Liz D. Ten years later, a divorce--with reversion to my maiden name--left me feeling like Liz C. no longer fit for me, so I adopted the name Beth C.

Happily, I met and married the love of my life in 1981, which led to another name change: Beth LaMie.

Actually, that change almost didn’t happen. The night before our wedding, my husband-to-be said, “So, this is your last night as Beth C.”

“What are you talking about?” I asked, obviously not understanding his meaning. “I wasn’t really planning to change my name.” After all, my professional contacts knew me by Beth C.

He paused, looked at me quite seriously, and quietly stated, “Take me, take my name.”

“Oh!” I said, recognizing how traditional he actually was. “I guess I’m changing my name again…but for a very good reason!”

I was in Scotland this last winter to give a workshop for the school my niece’s sons attended. It was an eye-opening experience when the 10-year-old boys started calling me Great Auntie Beth! That name took a bit to get used to, but I think Great Aunt Lizzie would have approved.

Although I was never called Lizzie, I have used enough variations on Elizabeth to confuse my friends and family. In fact, when someone phones me, my husband pretty much can tell when someone knew me by whether they ask for Elizabeth, Liz or Beth.

For my purposes, I answer to all the name variations, except Lizzie—that one I just ignore. In fact, you can call me anything but late for dinner.

Thanks to Janna at for encouraging stories of our youth!


Karen said...

Beth (or any of the other appropriate names): This is a wonderful story about the importance of a name and that a child be happy with their name. I'm glad you were able to adjust! Karen

Beth (Elizabeth) LaMie said...

Karen, thanks for the comment. It was really fun to look at it in perspective.

Gretchen said...

Glad you went with Beth! :) Your Great Aunt Lizzie deserved a namesake, sounds like. Gosh, why are kids SO merciless with names? So silly, really. It was wise of your family to get you prepared.

I'm excited to read the rest of your posts!

Beth (Elizabeth) LaMie said...

Gretchen, this has been such a great exercise in recalling memories from long ago, as well as a terrific way to connect with other writers. Thanks for being our group leader.

Dusti said...

i love how you shared that moment with your husband. amazing how when someone says something sometimes we can just feel how much it means to them.
and i agree with gretchen kids can be cruel.
i was also reading your post above about how you like fall and feel connected to where you live. it's amazing really how a place can mean so much to us.

denise said...

I enjoyed your first post in this series but got even more excited looking over your website! Sounds like a great life traveling and sharing such rewarding memories while helping others do the same. I feel blessed to have you in our group and look forward to reading more of your life since you are an expert on how to do this!

Sincerely, denise from group 3

Beth (Elizabeth) LaMie said...

Dusti, I guess that points out the importance of good communication!

I'm glad you liked the harvest blog. It always grabs my imagination when I watch the fields become bare like that. Such a huge portender of winter, too, which I also enjoy.

Beth (Elizabeth) LaMie said...

Denise, thanks for the compliment, but I'm not an expert. Janna has done a great job of setting up the groups & writing prompts.

However, I do get excited about showing people how easy it can be to save their family stories.

Erika said...

Great post! I really enjoyed the history ... made me wish that I knew your Great Aunt Lizzie! And how fun that you've had so many nicknames. I always wanted a nickname, but "Erika" just didn't lend itself to many.

Looking forward to learning more about your journey!

Beth (Elizabeth) LaMie said...

Erika, I knew another Erika once who was called Rikki, but you are right, there are not many variations.

This looks like a great group of writers and it's exciting to see how different and yet alike we are.

Janna said...

Oh dear Great Aunt Lizzie. What a fun character and tender soul she must have been to want to protect you from the taunts of playmates.

Your history was so seamlessly incorporated into your story. I guess that's why you are the professional:)

Beth (Elizabeth) LaMie said...

Janna, I love your idea to give writing prompts each week. It makes it so easy to search the cobwebs about something from many years ago, then to describe a snippet of memory in terms that strangers can relate to. Brilliant!