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It is a universal truth that no matter what name you give a child, s/he will complain about it.
No one ever complained more about their name than me. My name was too common, it didn’t have pizazz, and it was spelled wrong.
I was one of three Cathys and one Kathy in my class. Worse than that, my full name was Kathryn, while the others spelled theirs the right way: Catherine.
The worst was that my name was too plain. I realized this when my twin brother, Ken, told me that a new family had arrived in our parish and there were seven boys, all of whose names started with D: Daniel, Darcy, Declan, Dermot, Desmond, Donal and Dylan.
I couldn’t believe it. If those parents could come up with seven names with “oomph,” why couldn’t mine have managed to find an exciting name for me?
Because of the number of Cathys/Kathy in our class, the teacher had designated me “Kathy 4,” as in “Please answer the question, Kathy 4.” It was humiliating. Why couldn’t I have been called Shannon, Deirdre, Colleen or Bridget?
When the doctor confirmed my mother was having twins, my parents had to come up with three different pairs of names. My father’s favourite running joke involved those names. If we were two girls, we’d have been Leanne and Louise; if a boy and girl, Kenneth and Kathryn; and at this point in the telling of the story, we children would ask the next part – what if they were two boys? “Tom, Dick and Harry,” my dad would say, and we’d laugh at his silliness – no matter that we’d heard it a zillion times.
Decades passed. I married a man from South Asia, where they have totally different naming customs. My father-in-law’s name and those of his brothers had to rhyme: Shailendra, Hitendra, Dijendra, for instance.
But my husband’s grandmother took a different turn when naming her grandsons. She chose names for their meaning, and also their combined meaning. The eldest was Sukomal, meaning soft or delicate, as he was born several months premature. The second was Sheetal, meaning cool. The youngest son of her eldest son was Somir, meaning breeze. Their names together meant Soft Cool Breeze – something very welcome in a country where summer temperatures reach over 45 C.
As for my husband and me, our challenge was to find names for our children that were common to both cultures so they would feel comfortable wherever they were.
Before my mother died, she said she wanted all of us siblings to go to Ireland – a trip I think she’d always wanted to make, but never did. The trip was wonderful. When I got back, I was determined to start looking for information about my ancestors in Canada and Ireland, as both my parents’ ancestry is Irish. I didn’t get into it seriously until I retired. By then, all of my mother’s and most of my father’s family were dead.
I drove into the Ontario back country with my sisters and found the church, cemetery and houses of various grandparents, great-aunts and uncles. I was struck by the struggles they had endured after surviving the journey from Ireland.
One of my cousins showed me the spot where my great-, great-, great-grandparents had built their first house – right on top of a swamp. They had to tear it down and rebuild two years later because of the dampness.
The land in Kinmount, Ont., was full of marshes and the soil very thin. Most could only make a living by cutting timber, getting work from the township or railway, or starting a business.
One of my ancestors, Margret Bailey, was only 13 when she married. She managed to run the house and keep things going by herself when her bridegroom suddenly had to make a trip to the United States a few days after their wedding. I am sure other women on her concession road helped.
The revelation that seared my heart the most was to find out that there were so many “Catherines” – and several Catherine Hicksons – among my ancestors. I was touched that such care had been taken in choosing my name.
To Catherine Shannon Hickson, born in 1783 in Ireland, and Catherine Mary Hickson, born in Ennismore, Ont., in 1849, exactly 100 years before me: I acknowledge you and am thrilled that I once carried the name Kathryn Hickson. I am awed by the challenges you overcame when settling in Canada.
Catherine Mary married at 21 and died in childbirth at 31 after having already given birth to five children. The baby, who survived the delivery, was adopted by her brother-in-law.
In my case, I had my first child at 31 and, of course, had the benefit of top health care in Ottawa.
The more I learned about my ancestors, the more I wanted to know. How did they manage the many disappointments they faced and keep their morale up? I imagine they survived, in part, due to their habit of helping others and knowing they would receive help themselves when circumstances were bad.
To all of the Catherines I say: Well done! I am so proud of you. And proud to carry your name.
Kathy O’Grady Bose lives in Ottawa.
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