Mum Lives Under an Alias. Or Two.

A friend just asked me my mother’s name, and I thought well, that’s a more complicated question than it seems.

You may not have noticed, but the Irish, or those with recent Irish antecedents often have an alias. Or two. Maybe it has something to do with hiding their children from the Black and Tans or something. My Uncle Tom’s name was actually John Terrence, to give just one example among many.

My Mum’s given name is a family one. She, her mother, an aunt, a cousin, a great aunt and others going back into the mists of time were all Mary Jane. However, none of her family ever called her either Mary Jane, Mary or Jane. They all (and we have a very large family) call her Cis, or Auntie Cis. True, some of the younger family members think this is spelled “Sis,” because she was the eldest sister of a bunch of younger brothers and sisters, which makes sense. But no, “Cis” is an Irish diminutive for Mary (go figure), and Cis was also my grandfather’s beloved older sister, who died in childbirth the way so many women once did.

The Scottish side of our extended family however call her Jean. This is because Jean, or Jeannie, is the Scottish version of Jane. Her mother and her cousin were both called Jeannie, which is pronounced “Ginny,” to further confuse the authorities. I’m not sure how the Scots justify ignoring the “Mary” part of my Mum’s name, but Scots don’t have to explain anything because they carry dirks and claymores and such and are inclined to resent being questioned. My dad always called her Jean and, until she retired, that’s the name she used in business, and the name most of their friends called her.

When she retired, she took nurse’s training (yeah, see what I have to contend with?) because she’d always wanted to be a nurse and WWII robbed her of the chance. Nearly everyone from her nursing days calls her Mary because–well, I think she used her official name, Mary Jane, on all the forms she needed for her classes and license, and everyone just picked up on the first half of her name and she decided to keep it simple and go with the flow. But, just to be absolutely clear, her name isn’t Mary you guys;  it’s Mary Jane.

So, Liz, to answer your question, my Mum’s name is Mary Jane, Cis, Jean, and/or Mary. Or Mum, except I’m now the only one who gets to call her that. Or Miss Mary, which is the the name she was given by her next door neighbor’s children when they were children and which somehow spread through the neighborhood where she’s lived for forty-five years.

BTW, because my dad called her Jean, and she loved him, and she always had the option of correcting it and never did, I think that’s the way to go.


• Posted in The Writing Life • Tags: , , , , |  4 Comments

4 thoughts on “Mum Lives Under an Alias. Or Two.

  1. My, my, Sue. My ancestors were also Scots and Irish. I didn’t realize you were also. We didn’t have any other names except our given names. My relatives were the MacDonald clan and several MacDonalds escaped the English king and relocated to Ireland before they immigrated to the US. They were in the US before the Civil War.

  2. French Canadians love to have multiple nicknames too. My grandfather’s name was Leo but everyone called him Bob. He spoke broken English and called his four grandchildren Bob, too. My husband’s father’s name was John, but everyone called him Dick which came from Dinky, because he was the smallest of the four boys in his family. My husband’s name is actually Richard but he never goes by Dick and gets upset when he introduces himself as Richard and someone replies, “Nice to meet you, Dick.” He always wonders, when did I say my name was Dick?

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