There’s a worm in my bougainvillea

Elizabeth. A name with as much poise as it demands from when you first say it. Elizabeth. It’s regal. Authoritative. Discerning. A quiet sophistication. An ageless mystique.

For a long time into my early twenties, I wondered whether I would measure up to the woman my Mum was. But I seemed to have started off on the wrong foot because of my, err, awkward name. Florence. I never quite know where to place it. And folk have the balls to worsen it and call me Flo. Jesus. I hate it when people call me Flo. What the hell is a Flo? What does it look like, this Flo? What has Flo to offer us?

But seriously, to whom does the name Florence belong? A nurse? History better remembers the second part of her name, not the first. Nightingale, not Florence. A city in Italy? That’s Firenze not Florence. A Christian Saint from the Middle Ages? Florentius. Say that again, let it roll out of your tongue, only this time less steely. Florentius. Florentius.
Elizabeth has always been Elizabeth. Saints, queens and princesses were all Elizabeth. A name which escapes your lips in a savoury and unrushed breath. Eliz’beth.

I put Florence up against Elizabeth and it seems dull, clunky and ill-founded in comparison.

I’ve ran away from this worm for as long as I can remember. (Now would be a good time to tell you about my stints of failed monikers: It started with Klarissa. Then Reese. Trip. Thimble. Button was next.) But I am running away from the wrong thing – I ought to be running away from the absence of my personal stamp. A stamp like my Mum’s.
I’ve asked her many times why she didn’t give me a hip name like my siblings. Here’s a patchwork of her responses: “It’s not your name that people remember. It’s who they are when they are around you that matters. The good things you have gone out of your way to do for them. Sharing with them what little you have left. How you cared for them. How you welcomed them into your home when they were tired from a long day and dined with them at your table. The peace of mind others get simply from knowing that you are there. That feeling they take away with them when they leave your presence, that’s what stays on long after you are gone. Do you understand me?”

I nodded. I smiled, defeated. I didn’t agree with her at the time – I believed that half your life’s battles are solved when you screech out of the womb with a cool name waiting to be tagged on you. But the truism of her words is setting root right now. At 30.

Folk walk in and out of our lives more times than we bother to recall. The names, only the really memorable names precede them. A few colourful ones come to mind – there’s Rhesa (an artsy oddball. I hope you are reading this, Mungai). There’s Twidley (yes, she’s as chirpy as she sounds. It’s as if she approaches you with a little jig). There’s Born (not with an ‘e’ at the end of it. Sadly). There’s Rawlings (he stresses all its characters when he’s making his intro, hehee). I’ve acquainted with one chap called Solace (short, dark and sneaky. I am told he’s the man to know in this town). And there’s Terry (clean, sturdy, versatile and sexy).

Names linger. But it’s the person behind the name that’s for eternity. That’s the real stamp.


PS. That title isn’t mine. It’s a line I stole from some South African indie band that I stole from my kid sis. They don’t have a hip name (ahem) but I’ve had their album, this track in particular, on repeat for the last several weeks. Figures, huh?

Sotik, 1976
Rated R

Comments (4)

  1. Linda

    “It’s the person behind the name that’s for eternity…..” so true!!! My mother is called Florence. When I think of her name, I think of flowers, Flora!!!To me, her name goes further and represents the person that she is. I associate her personality with flowers and warmth and sunshine and everything bright :-)

  2. kmbogo

    ”Names linger. But it’s the person behind the name that’s for eternity. That’s the real stamp.” I will definitely borrow this line in the near future. I like how the story simply…flows!

  3. lizardorange

    Interesting Post. My name is Elizabeth and I hate it, I go by Liz instead, which I’ve eventually come to accept. It’s funny that you describe Elizabeth like you do, it makes it sound so…good? Sometimes people describe me with the some of the words you used, but still say that I don’t look like an Elizabeth. Anyways, all this to say that your post really resonated with me, and my experience of my name. I’ve always wished that I was named my mom’s name, Selina, and I’ve always been jealous of my sister’s name, Zainabu.

    And I thought I kinda liked the nickname Flo before reading this, you made me think otherwise.

    Also: What’s the name of this South African band? And the name of the song? That line is far too interesting.

    • fra

      Hey Lizzie. (See what I did back there? I say it like how that guy, Red, from The Blacklist says it. Lizzie. Complete with that lip-thing and tongue-thing he does. Lizzie. Hehee)

      Thanks a bunch for writing in.

      The band is Beatenberg. Song is track 13, The Prince Of The Hanging Gardens.

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