names, and the resurrection

Carolyn needed some encouragement to call me by my first name, so I thought this might be a good time for a short riff on the subject.

Even a rudimentary search at Amazon will establish that I publish under three names. I have always used Rosina Lippi Green in academic situations, and for academic publications. When I was teaching at the university I asked students to call me by my first name, or if they were uncomfortable with that, Professor Lippi or Professor Green. I would answer to any of those, but not to Dr. Lippi, because while I have a PhD, I fear being asked to perform a miracle when the guy at the next table has a heart attack. When I’m filling out forms, I pick Ms over Miss or Mrs.

A short story regarding my twenty year struggle with my various names.

When the Girl Child was four, she started a two year kindergarten program. Every evening at the supper table we got elaborate stories of her day’s dramas. This was also the period when we were going through the death-and-dying discussions. She’d ask the same question in about a hundred ways (does everybody really die? am I going to die? are you? when? can’t I wake up again?) and we always answered in the same way, calmly. Yup, everybody dies, but no reason to get your knickers in a twist (this from the Mathematician). Years and years and years and years away. When you’re really old and you’ve had a good life and you’re tired and ready, that’s when you’ll die. (Discussions about early death, sickness, accidents, all that we saved for later.) And still the Girl Child did not like this at all. At odd times I’d hear a wailing: But I don’t want to be dead forever!

So back to the supper table one evening after an eventful day at kindergarten. Girl Child is telling a story about something that happened on the playground when she stops in midsentence. She stands up suddenly and looks at us with the most serious expression, all j’accuse!, out of thin air.

Sez she: There was a guy… what was his name? [flinging out her arms to a crucifix type pose] You know, the dead one!

Me: You mean Jesus?

She: Yes! He was dead and then he wasn’t dead anymore!

This was delivered in a jubilant, aha! tone. Here, you parental types, here is counter evidence to your thesis, now what say you to that?

So we asked her where she had heard about Jesus, and it turned out that a kid in her class, we’ll call him Joe, had spent much of the playground time trying to save souls for Jesus. The living-forever clause really got the Girl Child’s attention, and now she was all disappointed that we weren’t jumping on the bandwagon.

She: Don’t you believe that he died and then he wasn’t dead anymore?

Me: Not the way you mean, no. Sorry.

Mathematician: Nope.

She: Well I believe it!

Mathematician: You have to make up your own mind about those things.

She: I’ve maked up my mind!

You’re wondering where names come into this story. Here we go.

The next day when I took her into her classroom at school, I ran into Joe’s mother in the hall. She stopped me to tell me how very put out she was with me. She had been trying to call me every day for a week, and we never answered the phone. (This was when we didn’t have an answering machine even.) No wonder, I told her. I work. I’m at the university all day long, and do you want my office number there? This flustered her because she had to drop her plan to bully me into coming into the classroom to take down and wash the curtains (which she subsequently pressed on another mother), but she dug in and took up my next transgression:

She: My Joe tells me you asked him not to call you Mrs. Green.

Me: That’s right. I don’t answer to Mrs. Green.

She: We are trying to raise him to be polite.

Me: That’s lovely. To be polite he should call me Rosina, or if you really don’t like that idea, Ms Lippi will do.

She: What’s wrong with Mrs. Green?

Me: And of course he could call me Professor Lippi Green, but that’s a mouthful.

She: What’s wrong with Mrs. Green?

Me: I don’t know anybody by that name. It’s certainly not me.

She: Aren’t you legally married?

Me: How kind of you to inquire. Yes. I am in fact legally married to the father of my child. Anything else I can help you with?

She: I’m just trying to understand why Joe can’t call you Mrs. Green.

Me: I’ve got a lot of names for him to chose from, but that’s not one of them.

She: We’re just trying to do the right thing.

Needless to say we never came to any kind of compromise. I refused to let her give me a new name, and she refused to let her son traffic with us. The Girl Child didn’t mind because Joe wasn’t one of her bestest friends anyway. We were sort of sorry to lose the interesting theological discussions at the supper table, but then you can’t have everything. What you can have, what I held onto, is the right to name myself.

So if you were wondering what to call me, just stick with first names (you have a choice of two, count ’em, two!). That’s what I’ll answer to.