What’s in my name
by A. Garnett Weiss

I didn’t give my first name much thought as a child
I mean it was just THERE
& I hadn’t had any say in the matter

Its 2 syllables sat on my shoulder like a gargoyle
guarding against all contractions
I had no say in that, either

Why call me ‘Joanne?’ I demanded
at the time I first dissected frogs in Biology class

By then, I’d developed a distaste for my name
(there were so many of ‘us’ around) & for that science
(slicing flesh repelled & excited me all-at-once)

Bad karma to call a child the same as a living relation
father decreed. You got ‘Jo’ for your aunt ‘Jean’
Your grandma’s ‘Annie’ became your ‘anne’

Even as that teen, I didn’t complain, though I brooded over
having to carry them both with me everywhere

In secret, I longed for the exotic, till I met a writer
dressed in black silk whose name, almost mine, ended
with an ‘a,’ not my dull ‘e’

I toyed for a while with calling myself ‘Joanna’
Or, even better, with adding an ‘h’— to become
aristocratic, romantic, foreign ‘Johanna’

Didn’t switch then, out of inertia or something else
though now I wouldn’t say it was acceptance

Perhaps I found comfort in hearing how
friends curled their lips
around the familiar sounds

Years later though, I felt the need for tailoring
Wondered if dividing the ‘Jo’ from the ‘anne’
or cutting out the ‘e’ would satisfy

In the end, I did neither
I appliquéd an ‘A’ onto the middle of my name

Becoming ungrammatical=my small rebellion

AUTHOR’S NOTE ON THE PHOTOGRAPH: Me at about age five in the family Chevy, before I became preoccupied with my name.              

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem captures my experience in living with my given name. I hadn’t expected my lack of enthusiasm for ‘Joanne’ to come through as strongly as it did. Even with my misgivings, though, it seems I did identify with the heritage implicit in my parents’ choice. The change in spelling on which the poem focuses carried me through until I began publishing my writing. That’s when I decided to add mystery to my ‘public’ identity as a writer. I chose to sign my writing as ‘JC,’ so that readers would not know immediately whether I was female or male. Later, to differentiate between genres in which I write, I invented the pseudonym I use now as a poet, for the most part. Even as A. Garnett Weiss, though, I carried forward elements of my history: The A” for Anne, adapted from my grandmother’s name; and “Garnett,” for the garnet jewelry I inherited from my mother and her sister, my aunt Jean. Hopefully, with this variation, the saga of my names ends.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Poems by JC Sulzenko, now writing poetry as A. Garnett Weiss, have been featured on local and national radio and television, on-line, and in anthologies and chapbooks. Her centos have won a number of awards. She has appeared often on behalf of the Ottawa International Writers Festival, which launched her play and her book about Alzheimer’s disease, What My Grandma Means to Say. Dear Tomato, a poetry anthology for children just published, features JC’s poem, “In My Garden.” She recently collaborated with Carol A. Stephen in the chapbook Breathing Mutable Air.