WHAT’S IN A MIDDLE NAME?
If you ask world renown composer, bassist and vocalist Esperanza Spalding, she’ll tell you “a lot.”
In an NPR interview with Michel Martin, Spalding explained that the idea behind her new album, “Emily’s D+ Evolution,” came to her in a dream. Emily is Spalding’s middle name and a “long-hidden part of herself.”
The album conceptually addresses the always exciting, sometimes messy process of reconciling the aspects of our selves that are in conflict.
This got me thinking about my middle name; rather, the middle name that I officially changed years ago.
When I was younger, I didn’t understand that my middle name, Ida, was not the name of my step-grandmother but of the paternal grandmother who died before I was born. All I knew was that the name was old fashion, just plain ugly and the impetus for much teasing. (To this day, one of my dear friends still calls me Ida. He loves to get a rise of me and, for many years, succeeded.)
My step-grandmother, Ida, could be abrasive, cold. Her severe eczema ran up her elbows and the backs of her arms. My mother and she didn’t get along. And Ida rarely laughed—at least, not in my presence. So, every time I was in trouble and my mother hollered “Jane Ida,” I cringed.
My siblings and I called Ida by the Yiddish name for grandmother, Bubbe. But everyone else used her given name. So, whenever our extended family got together on Sunday afternoons, for the Jewish holidays and all other celebrations, I heard my middle name bandied about more times than I could tolerate.
I hated the name Ida.
I don’t remember when I decided to use my family name Mersky as my middle name, officially erasing Ida forever. It was probably in the mid-1980s when I published my first book. I’d remarried, changed my last name for a second time and deemed it the perfect time to rid my life of Ida.
It didn’t dawn on me then how kicking Ida out of my life would wound my father. I had substituted our family name Mersky and assumed he’d be delighted. Wrong. He never talked about Ida #1, how she died and why he’d left home shortly after to live with his Uncle Johnny in Minneapolis. But from the few comments he made after I eliminated Ida from my life, it was clear that I’d hurt his feelings. It was if I’d said: “I don’t love your mother.”
Hell, I never knew the woman. I’d seen just one black and white photo of a young woman, a babushka wrapped around her head, the bodice of a plain dress. She, too, had immigrated from Russia. I don’t recall whether she and my Zede knew other from the shettel outside of Kiev or whether they met in the States.
It was if that Ida had never existed. Wiped clean. What was she like? Lively? Innately intelligent though uneducated? Did she learn English? Hold a job? Love my father and his younger brother?
I’ll never know. All the members of her generation are long gone.
When Ida #2 died in Dallas, Texas, I didn’t attend her funeral. I was busy. Besides, I’d never set foot in Texas and was intent on maintaining my boycott of the Lone Star state. I didn’t like the politics, the bigger-than-life, full-of-themselves Texas persona. As far as I was concerned, Texas could secede and go it alone.
It might be interesting to follow Esperanza Spalding’s lead and spend a little time with the “real” Ida and to reconcile the part of myself she represented. Who knows? Maybe I’ll reclaim her and consider changing my middle name once again.