Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Baby Names, Character Names, My Name and ALMA

I've been thinking more about my name -- see my last post about meeting another (younger!) Irene and an earlier (2010!) post about learning to love my name.

We can learn a lot about a person by their nicknames. My father's favorite nickname for me was "Harriet." He also called me "Honey" and "Sugar Girl" quite often. But he used those for other people, too -- only Harriet was all mine. I don't know why or where or what. It never mattered. I WAS Harriet.

Somewhere along the line my brother Ken called me Reniebob. It stuck. Sometimes it gets shortened to Renie. Even Paul calls me Renie!

Irene "The Boss" t-shirt
in its current life as a quilt
The women in my family dubbed me The Boss. (My mom even made me a t-shirt once with "The Boss" monogrammed on the pocket.) I'm generally the organizer and instigator. I get things done! And I *might* have been a bit of a bossy big sister... I do have memories of playing house with my sister Lynn and insisting that she be the father, because of course I HAD to be the mother. Lucky for me Lynn was always pretty flexible and agreeable. (Still is.)

I wrote a poem recently about my name, in the voice of 5th-grade me (just like in the book CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR?) Here it is:


When I tell Dennis
I'm named for my
great grandmother,
he giggles. Sounds 
like an old-lady name.

I shrink a little
inside, even though
I've always
liked my name –

especially when Papa
tells me stories
about how that Irene
never said a bad thing
about anyone.

I don't think I can
possibly live up to that,
but I want to try.

So I push back my shoulders,
look Dennis in the eye,
and tell him the other
thing I know about my name.
Actually, Irene is the Greek 
goddess of Peace.

And, by the way,
old ladies are cool.
I'm going to be one


- Irene Latham

And then I received in the mail from the publisher a beautiful book ALMA AND HOW SHE GOT HER NAME by Juana Martinez-Neal (Candlewick). This is Juana's debut as an author-illustrator, but her illustration work has been well awarded! This book, too, has gotten a number of starred reviews already, and it's easy to see why.

Little Alma has six names (!), and she wants to know where they all come from. So her daddy introduces her to the people for whom she's been named. The book is wonderfully affirming and also leaves the reader with these questions: What is the story of your name? What story would you like it to tell?

The above poem is part of my answer. As for the story I'd like it to tell.... well, I think every book I write is the answer to that question! As is this blog... I hope the story "Irene" tells is this: "she lives her poem."

What about you, your name, your story?


  1. How I love this post! Look at you, adorable Harriet!

    Enjoyed the poem and learning about your various nicknames. I have a love/hate relationship with my name. I like it because hardly anyone else has it, but don't like it because everyone continues to mispronounce it (even after you've corrected them). "Jama" was made up by my parents, a combination of their first names "James" and "Margaret." :)

  2. Jama, I love your name even more now that I know the backstory! Beautiful. You. XO

  3. I love hearing about your name, Irene, like hugs meaning "I love you enough to find a special name for you." I haven't shared it yet, but also have that new book, Alma, lovely. I used to have my students write about their names, had them interview their parents about the "why" (if they didn't know). Of people of a "certain age", Linda is popular. My mother told me at the time everyone thought it was so exotic because it came from Spanish for 'beautiful' and was so different - ha! My middle name is Sue, after my mother, Suzanne.

  4. Your poem affected life?! Yes, you can share your lovely poem and its great "after story" with the world... Submit now

  5. Hello Harriet! Hey there Renie! Hi Irene. Such a sweet idea, to talk about our names. And appreciations for introducing me to Juana Martinez-Neal & her character, Alma, who looks adorable. I love the moxie of "Namesake." And yes you are a peacemaker.

    My name is not any other version of itself, such as Janice. It was to be Jennifer, but one of my aunts said I would be called Jenny & that a Jenny is the female version of a John (a toilet.) There is more to the story, but you are giving me the idea to write a poem.... Brilliant, generous person, you.

  6. My father likes to say that I was almost named Revolution Now. Can you tell what era I was born (and whether my parents were hippies?)


Your thoughts?