Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What do my daughters-in-law have in common with Eleanor Roosevelt and my mother?

Maybe a lot of things, but one little-known and rarely remembered fact: the given names and spellings of their mothers-in-law were all Sara (officially) and Sallie (informally).

As a woman who has had trouble almost all her life with her ‘real’ name vs. her ‘nickname,’ I think a lot about this odd combination of names. I was named after my grandmother Sara Johnsone, who was known as Sallie. I learned many years later that my mother didn’t like the name Sara, but gave her consent to my father’s suggestion on the condition that I would be called Sally. I changed the spelling to match my grandmother’s spelling when I was in sixth grade.

So you might think even I was confused about my name, at least about its spelling. At my haircutting establishment, I am known as Sallie-Sara, a name I’m getting fond of, although originally I was outraged at the ignorance it conveyed. You see, once-upon-a-time, most women named Sally, Sallie, or Salli (I even knew a Sallee) were christened as Sarah or Sara. Becoming Sally was an endearment name, allowed to immediate family members and intimate acquaintances. Those were the days when a girl named Molly was officially Mary, when Betsy was assumed to be Elizabeth, and Peggy was predictably Margaret.

When I meet someone as old (or older) than I whose name is Sally, the first question after introductions is usually, “So, is your real name Sarah?” But younger Sallys are usually just Sally (Dick and Jane, Puff and Spot helped, no doubt, with the transition). If I ask them if they are Sarah—they look at me dumbfounded. Huh?

Abe Lincoln referred to his wife as Molly, and no one said, “Excuse me, Mrs. President, I thought your wife’s name was Mary.” If my younger acquaintances know me as Sara and hear my husband refer to me as Sallie, I usually get called on it immediately. Sallie? I thought your name was Sara! When I endorse a check payable to Sallie to the bank, I sign it twice, once as Sallie, the second time as Sara. One day a teller asked me, “So, who is this Sallie person you always sign for? She your daughter?” That day I changed my personal data at the bank to list Sallie as an AKA. Even Hubby asked me once why I didn’t just legally change my name to Sallie? But I love my real name and knowing I was named after my grandmother.

When I read that Franklin Delano’s mother’s name was Sara, but she was known as Sallie all her life (yes, spelled exactly those ways), I got very excited. Most things I read are forgotten within a few days; not this piece of trivia! Oh, and did I mention my doctor’s name is Sara and is known as Sallie? On the roster of practitioners at her office, she is listed as Sallie Sara Dacey, MD. So confusion reigns for all of us Sallie/Saras, Sara/Sallies and whatever else we’re known as. Call me anything but late for dinner.

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