When I was in the first grade, Mrs. Wolf made us each draw outlines around the letters making up our names. I always thought it was interesting that each of my names, Laura and Irene and Genao, led to an outline that looked like an L that had falled onto its back. Since the letter L was the first letter of my first name, I sensed a theme and took to wanting the letter L on all of my shirts. Laverne from ”Laverne & Shirley” had Ls on all her shirts, so I thought all of those blessed with the letter L as the kickoff to their name had them.
But, because my family could barely afford shirts, much less letters on shirts, my fascination with the letter L quickly gave way to an obsession with my last name. Although my father had left my family when I was young, his last name remained. It was different, so it was cool.
I didn’t know any other Genaos, except for my sister. No one else knew any Genaos either. This gave an air of otherness to my last name. It also meant that I didn’t quite know how to say the last name in English–and neither did anyone else. Most of my teachers couldn’t even spell my last name. I mean, 90% of my elementary school report cards are for Laura Genoa. ”Gosh, these teachers sure do seem obsessed with Italy,” I often thought.
But, of the three names with which I entered the world, Irene is the one with which I’ve always had the strangest relationship.
I have been told that I was middlenamed Irene because it was the name of a doll my mom had when she was young. I’ve never wanted to be a doll and I couldn’t believe that my mom had ever loved a doll named “Irene.” She couldn’t love an “Irene,” I thought, “because she only says the name when yelling at me in anger.”
“¡Laura Irene lava los trastes!”
“¡Laura Irene lavate esa greña!”
“¡Laura Irene te voy a dar con la chancla!”
When you only hear your name associated with threats of bodily harm for failing to do chores or engage in regular hair shampooing, you learn to ignore that name.
And so, the name Irene disappeared from my usage for several years. I didn’t put it on any forms. I didn’t put it on my driver’s license. I even tried to encourage the relocation of neighbors who’d heard my mother calling to that bad, bad girl “Laura Irene.”
But, as with many secrets people hope to bury, Irene periodically attempted a comeback. When I was in college, someone on the school paper tried to put it into my byline for the story on the “Mealtime Messiah” a.k.a the new head of the dining hall. The editor thought a middle name, or even a middle initial, gave an air of severity to any story. Clearly, he was not reading the text of my piece on how roast beef au jus was getting an overhaul.
Then, when I became a lawyer, when I became a real-life professional with my own office and my own phone, someone added the middle initial to my pleadings. And they kept doing it citing an unwritten policy that seemed to decree “have a middle name, put it on documents.” Again, the explanation had something to do with gravitas–or the idea that there should be a solemnity or dignity to manner. Again I argued that if my writing were merely read, there would be no need for a middle name. Again, my pleas went unheeded.
Correction, again my pleas go unheeded. Today as I electronically signed a document for submission to the court in which I currently practice, the computer automatically inserted “Laura I. Genao.” I wanted to scream in horror and hide from my past and my mother’s strict demands for obedience from Irene.
But, passive-agressiveness being what it is, I took a purple pen and signed a hard copy of the document—without a middle name or initial or indication that anyone by a name other than Laura Genao had ever existed.
© Laura Genao 2007