Wednesday, February 4, 2009

What's In A Name?

My proper name is Margaret. Yup, another Margaret Mary... Most folks think I must have been named after a nun at my Mom's catholic school except my Mom hated Catholic school and I was named after her sister who was the maternity nurse who helped deliver me... Aunt Margie, that is. As such, my nickname was also Margie. I was a chunky child, a chunky teen and, unfortunately, now I'm a chunky adult. I have struggled with my weight my entire life though there have been "normal" weight spurts and even a 10-year stint where I can say I was actually thin! However, going back to my childhood, weight issues and a name like Margie earned me a mean and taunting nickname... "Large Marge". I always hated my name for this reason... And because it's very old fashioned, in my mind... I always felt like the maid in that old black and white television show called "Hazel". You know the one I'm talking about?

Luckily for me, as I entered into young adulthood, my sister, Loree, and a few new friends began to call me Maggie... a nickname I LOVED and was occasionally called as a child. Nothing bad rhymed with Maggie! (Don't ruin it for me!) So, when I changed jobs, I had a choice... When asked, "What name do you go by?" I didn't know enough to change my own name. Didn't actually think I could do that... I mean, it's my NAME after all! So, I answered honestly, "Some people call me Maggie and some call me Margie". Thankfully, my new boss decided he liked Maggie better than Margie and it has been ever thus. (Thanks Arthur!)

You may have heard we recently adopted a dog from The Animal Center of Queens in Rego Park. (If you're looking, they provide a wonderful service to animals that need homes -- We got lucky and happened to be there when "Queenie" was carried into the center in a large dog crate fully expecting puppies at any moment (actually, it was just 8 hours later). Her family of origin abandoned her because they didn't want to deal with the imminently expected puppies. Of course, they also apparently didn't want to deal with getting her spayed (or are females neutered? I can never remember which is which). But, that's another story! The topic of ridiculously irresponsible pet owners aside, after a 9-week stay at the shelter with her caretaker, Lori, and 8 beautiful pups, "Queenie" got to come home with us permanently. She's the most gentle soul who, it has become apparent from her behavior, was physically abused in her former home. She flinches every time you hold out an open hand to pet her. She buries her stump in her butt -- if she had a tail it would be between her legs -- and runs in terror when I walk in the front door despite my greeting her with a loving, overly sweet, baby-talk, high-pitched, super-inflected "Hi Queenie Girl!" (get the picture?). And, she cowers every time you call her by her name... "Queenie".

In chatting with my oldest sister, Cathy, during her recent, much appreciated and way-too-short visit from Boston, she told me that her friend had adopted an abused dog and the veterinarian said, "the first thing you should do is change the dog's name". Now, my husband and I have rescued a number of animals and never changed a name. We always thought that changing the name of an animal that already knew it's name would be sorta cruel. Like suddenly calling my daughter Olivia, "Mary"??? It just didn't feel right. I mean, clearly, "Queenie" already knows her name.

This was EXACTLY the vet's point! Yes, she knows her name AND she associates that name with the abuse she's suffered in the past. Hence her reaction! Every time we call her "Queenie", she associates us -- her new kind, loving and patient owners (check with me again if she doesn't stop peeing in the house... no, just kidding) -- with her old abusers! OUCH!

Psychology 101! Right? I not only took Psych 101 but I earned my bachelor's degree in Psychology. So, why hadn't I thought of that?

We immediately voted on a new name for the new life our dog was about to embark on (pun intended).... Molly! And, it suits her perfectly! (Honestly, we didn't like the name "Queenie" anyway. Too trite.) I have to admit, her name change has made all the difference! She is never reminded of the abuse she suffered and, as such, Molly has not flinched once when we bend to pet her, obeys when she's told what to do -- or not to do (except that peeing thing) -- and happily greets me at the door when I arrive home. She's a new and different -- AND VERY HAPPY -- dog!

Just like me when I realized I didn't have to be "Large Marge" anymore!
Some would say, "Get over it! You can't go around changing your name every time you're insulted!" But, the truth is, I couldn't get over my negative association and neither could Queenie... I mean Molly. Every time I heard my nickname I was instantly ushered back to my painful past memories of those mean children calling me fat names. And, every time Molly heard her old name, she was immediately reminded of the abuse she received. But, not anymore. And, let's face it, this doesn't necessarily apply just to names. Places, smells, actions, people -- heck, even a piece of clothing -- can trigger negative associations.

So, what's in a name, you ask? Good names, good people, good associations, positive associations -- like new ones that we're amenable to as opposed to those old ones that make us flinch in mental or physical pain -- boost our sense of safety and, therefore, our self esteem. They help us relegate past hurts to the past where they belong. Dumping negative associations whenever possible can help us make a fresh start. That's a wonderful opportunity for man and beast. I should know....

I am forever MAGGIE... and her new dog, Molly!


  1. I found your post amusing. My name is Maureen Margaret. As I'm sure you know, Maureen is basically the equivalent of Mary. When I was little I thought it would be better to have Margaret as my first name since my sister's friend was named Margaret. Now I'm glad my first name is Maureen. I do like Maggie though; it's a nice substitute for Margaret. I don't care for Marge or Margie either. BTW, you 'know' me - I'm Kenneth's mom. I enjoy your blog :).

  2. She looks like a Molly to me :) Glad to hear your all adjusting well to each other. How are the boys with her? My boys pat our dog once in awhile or try to climb on her back when she's laying down, but other than that they ignore her mostly.

  3. What a wonderful post Maggie! You're story is very inspirational. Look forward to reading more of your posts!

  4. Yes Maggie I knew from the moment I met you and the kids and Tim, that I just had to love you guys. I am so glad you kept your promise to come back and get Molly from me,and that you found enough love and room in your heart and home to take her in and give her the love she so much deserves.

  5. yeah what is in a name??? MANGO who names there kids after a fruit anyways??? And why do people expect me to be Latino...And before we go any further NO I am NOT GAY and NO I do not wear a toto!!!
    While in the USMC I picked up that name and it has stuck since... Even thou I like to tell people my mom never liked me...
    Real name Mark or Marko...
    But really sticks and stone may break my bones BUT words shall never!!!
    As far as the dog goes!! my vote is for Angel..