When I was a kid, having two first
names was no big deal. Now it seems it's just not done.
But, I'm not giving up either one.
When I was four, I asked my mother what
my middle name was. She said, "Well, Mary Clare, it's
As the story goes, I burst into tears
and said: "That is the stupidest thing I have ever heard!
Why would you name me Mary Clare Clare Fleury!"
Other than that trauma, growing up with
a double name never seemed strange. I come from a large Catholic
family full of Alice Maries, Mary Ellens, and Margaret Marys. I was
taught by nuns with names like Sister Rita Mary and Sister Ada
Marie. I went to school with Anne Maries and Mary Catherines.
I went to college in North Carolina at
Wake Forest University. Down South double names are ubiquitous, and
a girl's name is often paired with a family or boy's name. I met an
Anna Ball, a Mary Craig, an Ann Campbell, and a Mary Craven.
Many people with double names drop one
of them by the end of middle school. It's similar to the way Josephs
and Michaels become Joes and Mikes. I know a Mary Dorsey who became
Dorsey when she started high school and a John Michael who became John.
In my case, my childhood best friend is
named Mary. Even if I'd wanted to drop the Clare, I didn't have a
These days I meet few women with double
names, and no one can seem to understand mine. Restaurant hostesses
call out, "Mary, your table is ready!" Voice-mails,
e-mails, bills, and letters are all addressed to Mary.
I know people don't mean anything by it,
but my name is my identity. I'm sometimes tempted to ignore someone
who addresses me with only half of it. I feel like saying, "I'm
sorry - I didn't know you were talking to me."
Last year I was watching TV with a
friend when a Gap commercial starring Sarah Jessica Parker came on.
My friend said, "I hate when people have two names. Sarah.
Jessica. Parker. Its such a mouthful. Why doesn't she just
I waited until she realized what she had
said. She tried to recover by saying, "Oh, but Mary Clare flows
so much better than Sarah Jessica. It almost sounds like one
I've acquired some nicknames. My
younger brother calls me Clarey Mare. Probably more of my friends
call me MC than my real name.
In fourth grade, during the height of
rapper MC Hammer's popularity, my basketball coach started calling me
Hammer. He and my former teammates call me that to this day.
When I was a freshman in high school,
McDonald's introduced its ice-cream shake, the McFlurry. The
nickname caught on quickly because it incorporated both my first and last
names. Thankfully, I haven't been called McFlurry in years, but I
still have an apron inscribed with the logo, taken for me from the
McDonald's in Mazza Gallerie.
Despite the nicknames and
misunderstandings, I enjoy having an unusual name. Even though
correcting people can be frustrating, it's worth it when someone says,
"Mary Clare - wow, what a beautiful name."
I have to agree.
Mary Clare Fleury is Assistant Editor at Washingtonian
magazine and can be reached at:
Copyright © 2005 by the Washingtonian;
reprinted by permission.
When journalist Cokie Roberts was asked
about her birth name, “Mary Martha Corinne Morrison Claiborne Boggs,”
Cokie answered, “Southern and Catholic.” She was given the
nickname "Cokie" as a child by her brother trying to pronounce Corinne.