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What’s In A Name? by Audrey Wick

She told me she thought about naming me Annabel Lee, after the famous female in Edgar Allan Poe’s poem. Instead, she named me Audrey Ann. She said it was pressure from my older sister which ultimately tipped her decision. I was glad for that, for I cringed at the thought of such a narrow escape from a name that was immortalized in verse that included the repetition of “chilling” and “killing.” I made a mental note to thank my sister later.

But “Audrey” wasn’t a name I was crazy about either. I was the only one I knew, and that wasn’t comforting as a kid when all I wanted was a normal 1980s name like “Kimberly” or “Natalie” or “Kayla.” Both “Audrey” and “Annabel” were unusual, especially for me growing up in Texas where farm girls were named “Caroline” or “Susie” or something with a loosely feminized “Jo” at the end. Not “Audrey.” Not “Audrey Ann.” And certainly not the name of a fictional literary muse from the 1800s: “Annabel Lee.”

My mother shared this almost-name fact with me in high school, when I was old enough to understand who it was she meant when she talked about Poe. Still, it was a surprise. And I told my mother so.

“Really?” I hadn’t ever recalled my mother cracking open the spine of a classic or reading literature from onion-skin pages of an anthology.

Not my mother.

So I found it curious that she had contemplated naming me after such a distinct literary figure. A muse, even! Yet there she was, revealing something she had never shared before.

But she didn’t share much else. In hindsight, it was probably because I didn’t bother to ask. As with most conversations I had with my mother when I was in high school, this one didn’t last long. I learned this piece of information about my past—about her past, really—and then moved on. How was I to know she was interested in books? I never found her rifling through my backpack for my English textbook, nor did I ever see her with a tote bag full of books from our local library. Why did she like Poe? How did she even know Poe, being so far removed from school after raising seven children?

Again, these were questions I didn’t ask at the time. I thought them, but I didn’t bother to bridge an actual conversation with her. A few years later when I was attending university, I returned home at the end of one term and talked excitedly of my classes. She sat at the kitchen table, listened, and smiled. I expressed special enthusiasm about my literature courses, and I was even thinking of getting a double major. She nodded in agreement, then waxed poetic about possibly auditing a course at the local community college just to listen as people talked about short stories and poetry. She even mentioned Walt Whitman by name.

“Really?” There I was again, surprised by my mother’s interest.

And yet, even then, I repeated my high school pattern of not having an actual conversation. I talked, she listened; I didn’t invite the other way around. Learning these tidbits did reveal a whole new layer of my mother, something I didn’t begin to understand until I became a mother myself. Mothers sometimes place their interests on hold, shifting priorities and leaving a few things on the back burner.
To simmer.
Or to wait.
Or, unfortunately, to be completely forgotten.
Thankfully, my mother didn’t let that happen.

She loved books. She always had. And I was just now beginning to understand that. A few years ago, the local library’s annual book sale was the impetus for my mother to mention literature again. She named some of the authors she had seen, and I saw the flash of interest in her eye as she spoke each name aloud.

“Really?” The curt response was on the tip of my tongue again, but this time I didn’t fall into an old pattern. Instead, I followed-up with, “And which of those do you want to read the most?”

Since then, I’ve learned my mother has always loved reading, though she didn’t always have time for it when we were growing up (at least not that I openly saw). I’ve learned there’s a lot about my mother I never saw or understood, partly because I never took the time to do so. Now I’m older. Now I can ask.

And now I can listen.

My mother has always enjoyed literature, so much so that she wanted to name me Annabel Lee. The name didn’t win out, but her love certainly did. Now, I have become a literature teacher at the community college my mom dreamed about those years and years ago. We talk about books. We talk about other things we like. We listen.

And every now and again, she still surprises me with something new I learn about her. But this time, when I respond with “Really?,” a conversation happens.

I am grateful to have the relationship I do with my mother. Now, every time I teach Poe to my own college students, I think of her. And when I read “Annabel Lee,” I sometimes replace the name with “Audrey Ann,” pleased at how remarkably similar they sound.


About the Author:

Audrey Wick is a full-time professor of composition and literature at Blinn College in Texas. Her work has appeared in college textbooks published by Cengage Learning and W.W. Norton as well as The Houston Chronicle, The Chicago Tribune, The Orlando Sentinel, among others. Audrey believes the secret to happiness includes life-long learning and good stories. But travel and coffee help. Connect with her at http://www.audreywick.com.

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