Joan Gabrielle—A Handy Name
by Joan Leotta

“Florence, you need to pick
a girl’s name too!”
So said my dad–
over and over again.
Certain she would never birth a “silly girl”
my mother selected John Gabriel
to honor her dying father (John) and
my dad (Gabriel)—one name only.

As her head was still
spinning from
nurse pressed
me to her bosom,
“You have a lovely baby girl.”
“Take her back!” My mother shouted.

Gently, smiling,
(as I recall)
Nurse whispered,
“But her hands are so pretty.”
My mother sighed.
“Ok, I’ll keep her.”

Nurse smiled again.
Pen now in hand,
Nurse inquired,
“What will you name her?”

I felt my mother’s pulse race.
“We only picked one name!”
Nurse continued,
“That name is?”

My mother’s skin grew warmer
Laying on her chest,
I could feel her
heartbeat increase yet again
before she spoke.
“John Gabriel—
What’s close to that for a girl?”

Nurse clucked disapproval,
Then announced, what was
Then pronounced and declared
To be my two true names—
“Joan Gabrielle.”

So it was declared
so it was and shall be.
Joan Gabrielle DiLeonardo
(Until I appended Leotta to the string).

Named for the saint and the archangel?
No, named for my grandfather and father
Sort of.
Actually, named by the OB nurse
who thought I had nice hands.

AUTHOR’S NOTE ON THE PHOTOGRAPH: Here I am at age five pondering the ramifications of my name—and probably thinking, no matter what the name, I am a Princess.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This is the story of my name—told again and again by my mother, but with the addition of my own neonatal self’s perspective. My creative process is to let the idea find a form and work at it. But I don’t wait for inspiration. I try to write every day. Rewriting, polishing—that is the art and real fun of it for me. I like to leave a smile or in some other way encourage my readers. I write non-fiction, (stories for the newspaper) fiction, poetry, essays, and plays. I also read widely.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Joan Leotta is an author and story performer. Her books include Giulia Goes to War, Letters from Korea, and A Bowl of Rice. Visit her at