I used to hate my name. Teachers struggled with it at the beginning of every school year. J-O-I. The wrinkled brows. The frowns. I’d imagine their inner monologue: What’s this ‘I’ doing here? Hmm, how do I say this? Joey? No. Jo? Yes, definitely Jo. I guess nobody told them Hooked on Phonics works for teachers, too.
The other thing I hated about my name (in addition to being serenaded with “Joy to the World” on a regular) was that it put me firmly in the exclusive club of kids who could never find their name on souvenir merchandise. Amy, Tony, Tiffany, Amanda, Joey, Natalie, Alex — they got keychains, refrigerator magnets, cups, pencils...all the personalized memorabilia! But Joi? Empty-handed every time.
Despite still being traumatized by a childhood bereft of personalized crap, I have grown to love my name. It’s special, just like the woman who gave it to me.
My grandmother was born Margaret, but changed her name to Joy when she became an adult. She liked Joy so much that, when my parents gave her the honor of naming me, she chose it again. Incidentally, Maria comes from Marie, my maternal great-grandmother’s name.
My family calls me Joy, Jr., and I suppose in many ways I am. I grew up wanting to emulate my grandmother. Confidence, humor, compassion, integrity. If I possess these qualities — and on a good day, I think I do — I got them from her. She has always been like a mother to me, and without her guidance, support, and encouragement, I’m not sure where I would be today. I’m not even sure who I would be. My grandmother still tells me she can’t wait to see my book in the “bookshop window,” never mind that I have yet to complete anything close to worthy of appearing in a bookshop window (or a bookshop bargain bin). And she’s been saying this since I was ten, a testament to how much she believes in me.
This Mother’s Day weekend, I’m reflecting on how lucky I am to still have my grandmother in my life. But with each passing year, I’m reminded our time together is not infinite. She has been hospitalized more times in recent years than I can count. Her memory isn’t what it used to be — during our phone calls, I find myself repeating things I’ve told her before, and often more than once. When we hang up, I am left with a bittersweet pang. It is good to hear her voice. I wish she didn’t sound so old.
My name. It is the greatest gift my grandmother has ever given me and it will be her legacy. I wish I’d always been so grateful.