What’s in a Name? Sometimes Everything…

My last name at birth was “Moomaw.”

I always hated that name.

Everyone made fun of it, from the bratty boys at recess to the teachers who used it to get a laugh.  Even kids who didn’t usually taunt me sometimes couldn’t resist taking a swipe at it if we were squabbling.  I couldn’t wait to grow up and get married so I could take someone else’s name and be rid of mine at last.

It was bad enough hearing “Moo-Cow” from the kids, but I think what bothered me the most was the ribbing from my 5th grade math teacher.  From time to time when calling roll she would stop at my name and say, “MOOOOOO-maw”, which of course set the class off into peals of laughter.  I became stonily silent in that class and spent most of the time staring out the window.  I can’t entirely blame my lack of mathematical ability on her, but it certainly didn’t help.

I detested cows, because of the sound they made.  I remember seeing them out the car window as we drove through the countryside past farms outside of town and glaring at them.  It was their fault, too.

So I married young, ditched the name and officially became someone else, and else, and else again.  And I never told anyone my birth name unless it was absolutely necessary, and even then I requested they not mention it to anyone else.

My father didn’t feel that way about it; where he grew up lots of people were named Moomaw.  When traveling, one of the first things he did when arriving at a hotel was to check the phone book to see if there were any Moomaws in town, and he was always especially pleased if he found one or two.  On the other hand, I would sneer and shrug and feel sorry for those people in those phone books.  I was sure they hated being cursed with that surname, too.

Although I tried my best to forget I’d ever been a Moomaw, the name would crop up here and there; the pilot of our flight to Los Angeles in 1969 was Captain Moomaw, the pastor who gave the invocation at former President Reagan’s inauguration was Reverend Donn Moomaw.  Occasionally I would hear of a doctor or professor with the name as well.

Then in 1994, when my father passed away, I found a letter written to him in 1958 by a Mr. Moomaw in Texas who was putting together a genealogy.  I learned that our ancestors arrived in 1732 to escape religious persecution in Europe, and that there were three different Moomaws who arrived around that time, with various spellings of the original name, which was Mumma.  In 1995 I began contacting other Moomaws I found on the internet and we began exploring our common heritage.  Later an excellent online database was established that drew a family tree for all of us to the three original progenitors who lived in Germany before departing from Rotterdam, Holland, to sail to America.  Now there are over 67,000 Moomaws of various spellings and those related to them in that vast family tree that is Moomaw.

When I first learned about this, I had been married for some time, and my last name was now “Caliguire.”  I expected to continue with that name the rest of my life, but on learning last spring I would be getting a divorce, I started thinking about having the opportunity to change my last name and discussed it with my sister.  My daughter suggested that I choose a name that fit who I was now, any name that meant something to me.  I could choose a simple name like “Martin” or “Monroe” and still keep my original initials.  But just any name didn’t mean anything to me.  Could I really take back the name that caused me so much pain as I was growing up?

The more I thought about this idea, the more it appealed to me.  My brother, Kent, was an aspiring science fiction writer and is remembered by many for his excellent writing to this day.  However, he died at a very young age, before he could create a large lasting body of work.  As a writer as well, I’d like to carry on his legacy.  I know my father would be pleased, and especially gratified that I now feel the same connection that he did to those with the spunk and pioneer spirit who went before us.

It will be some time before it becomes my legal name again, but from this point forward I will be publishing my work under the name “Patricia Anne Moomaw.”  Today is my father’s birthday, and I hope, wherever he is, that he’s looking down and saying, as he often used to, “Attagirl!”

Happy Birthday, Daddy!

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