“Hallowed be thy name . . .” Many religions honor the name of God; at least one major religion never even writes or pronounces it. Even that word, God, is capitalized, as we capitalize our own names. I have often wondered why the name itself should be honored or hallowed, distinct from the Being.
Without knowing the answer to that philosophical question, I recognize the importance that my name has had for me, through multiple iterations. At birth, the name given to me, the first child, adored from my first breath, was Carol Yolanda Rein. Although Rein was my father’s name, the other parts of my name were chosen by my mother: Carol, because she loved it and Yolanda, the name of her much-loved sister, who had died at 21 from a goiter.
From when I was old enough to consider it, I disliked the name Carol. It seemed plain and boring to me. When I applied for my driver’s license and first passport at age 17, I added an ‘e’ to it and it was processed successfully. It felt prettier to me and I was thrilled to be Carole, not Carol.
My next name change came three years later, when I was very happy to give up my father’s name for my first husband’s, LaRoche, which sounded quite elegant to me. For months before our wedding, I joyfully practiced writing “Mrs. Richard LaRoche,” pleased to be giving myself away. Oh, how young and foolish I was!
Fifteen years later, when I divorced, I chose to keep this name, not wanting our son to feel abandoned. After a year passed, I finally discussed it with my teenaged son, John Valentine LaRoche, born on Father’s Day and named after my father, but that’s another story. He clearly recognized my feminist tendency and expressed his surprise that I had not immediately taken back my own name at the time of the divorce. He assured me that he would not be hurt by my choice and that he fully supported my giving up his father’s name. (There’s a reason I love him so much!)
So I went through the routine court process to take back my father’s name and was genuinely surprised at the feeling that emerged in me, a freeing that was greater than when my divorce was finalized. When I remarried, there was no way I was going to take another man’s name again. I am fortunate to be married to someone for whom that’s fine. In fact, he may even be proud of it. He often tells the story of when we taught at the same school, that one of his students, a young woman, asked him why we had different last names. He explained to her, and I would say with pride, that I was a feminist. Clearly, it took nothing away from him, because it was about me, Carole Yolanda Rein.
Let’s go back to Yolanda. If I hadn’t liked Carol, you can imagine how I felt about Yolanda! The custom of using family names is common in many cultures. I grew up understanding how my mother’s love for her sister had influenced her choice for my middle name; however, I still disliked it. That changed when I was about twenty and recognized that the gardenia was my favorite flower, because of its gorgeous scent. When I mentioned it to my mother, she cried, then told me that it had been Yolanda’s favorite flower. This connection changed my feeling for the name, which I then came to love.
Another connection with Yolanda occurred more than thirty years later, when I learned that I had thyroid cancer and that the goiter that had caused Yolanda’s death at 21 was probably the same. I’m not concerned, because my thyroid has been removed, an option not available to my namesake in the 1930’s.
There’s one final chapter to my name story and it’s about Rein. It was my dad’s name, modified by his father from the original Reinhardt. My dad always pronounced it with two syllables, Re-in, as in reincarnation. That’s how I pronounced it for fifty years. Then, when my great-nephew, Shane, was in school, one of his teachers called him ‘Shane Rein,’ with rhyming names. His siblings liked it and began to use that pronunciation, and even my mother adopted it! For me, when I began to teach, I decided that was the time for me to change, so I became Ms. Rein, as in reindeer. This has caused some confusion for anyone I grew up with, but don’t see routinely, so I have think before self identifying, am I Carole Re-in or Carole Rein?
If I had it to do over again, it would be Rein, to rhyme with Gertrude Stein and Einstein, two of my heros.
Hallowed be my name — and yours, too.
Copyright Carole Rein 2021