By any other name
On the Bright Side
May 14, 2022
In "Romeo and Juliet" Shakespeare wrote: "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Basically, what that means is that what really matters is what something is, not what it is named or called. I sure hope he was right.
To wit: I'm changing my pen name from Mel White to Mel Makaw, and while how I smell is pretty much irrelevant, I hope that how I write will still be as worth reading.
My real full name is Marilda Kay White. My folks read the name Marilda in a British novel and decided that if they ever had a daughter, that would be her name. I was the first born and that's what I was christened.
It has been both a blessing and a curse ever since. I actually like the name but few people can remember it or pronounce it or spell it. In fact, when I was born my grandpa tried to put the announcement in the local newspaper but he couldn't remember my name and had to call and hear it again, then had to go back a second time with the correct spelling.
You can imagine how difficult the first day of school was for me each year. Some teachers got it after I pronounced it for them, some had trouble for days. Some chose to call me by my simple middle name, or in some cases, just pointed or nodded at me instead of calling on me by name.
Ornery little friends were not so kind. I was often called Matilda, which for some reason rankled my sensibilities, and some called me Asmiralda, after seeing a movie version of Cinderella starring chimpanzees (and one of the evil stepsisters was so named). Grrrr.
I searched long and hard for a nickname that would be easier, but my mother was glad I didn't find one. She loved the name Marilda and that was that for her. A boyfriend in high school called me Tilly, as a nickname for Matilda; it was done with affection so I didn't mind then... but no one else at the time could get away with that.
In 1967 I went to college at the University of Northern Iowa with a couple of high school friends, and the first night in the dorm a bunch of us sat around getting to know each other. One new friend named Pat kept asking me to repeat my name, and finally said, "I'll never get your name right. I'm going to call you Mel. Hope that's okay."
It was more than okay, it was great! It seemed to be the nickname I was searching for all along, although I had never thought of it (nor, evidently, had anyone else). I've been Mel ever since.
So now I go by Mel because it's easier, while I still use my real first name on all sorts of legal and health documents. And yeah, going to a new doctor is always like going to school on the first day: when I'm called into the back from the waiting room, I always know they are calling for me when they look at the chart and start frowning and trying to figure out how to pronounce the name they see. Usually they then just call for Ms. White. So it goes.
Of course I must acknowledge that Mel is a known nickname for many other names, like Melody or Melanie, but I enjoy sharing that nickname with others I've met. It's a fine, strong and friendly name (in spite of the fact that now I sometimes get unsolicited phone calls or mail for "Mr. Mel White"... oh well).
And now I'm keeping the Mel part and purposefully and intentionally changing my last name, in large part just because I want to (few people have trouble pronouncing my last name of White, so that's not it). You see I am getting prepared to publish collections of some of my writings on a national scale, and I probably shouldn't be surprised but it turns out there are quite a few writers named Mel White. So just to differentiate myself from the others, I'm changing my pen name to Mel Makaw (the new last name being an acronym for my given name: Ma for Marilda, Ka for Kay, and W for White equals Makaw).
I won't be the only Makaw either in the long run, I imagine, but for now, searches indicate I'll be the only Mel Makaw at present who writes.
So what's in a name? Maybe nothing. Maybe to a writer to stand apart from other writers, everything. Either way, you'll see a different heading on my column soon, and if you're into poetry or a collection of select columns, watch for news of those things in the upcoming months.
Meanwhile, whatever else you may want to call me, Mel will do just fine.
© 2022 Mel White/Mel Makaw. Mel, local writer and photographer, has been looking on the bright side for various publications since 1996. She welcomes your comments at email@example.com.