Why I wasn't Colleen Wainwright (and why I am now)


As with money, we have a long and complicated relationship with names in my family.

Many people are shocked, shocked, I tell you!, to find out I'm half-Jewish; apparently, even though, as a former agent said, I have a face like a map of old Russia, I'm not immediately physically recognizable as a Jew (whatever that means).

Neither was my father. The son of two full-fledged (albeit non-practicing) Members of the Tribe, he somehow looked like them in only the most Gentile of ways. He could, and did, pass, in his Brooks Brothers suits and horn-rimmed ad-guy glasses. He even looked goyishe standing next to my mother, a beauty of Irish-Swedish descent who had shiksa written all over her retroussé nose. Who knows? Maybe it was a gentile-by-association thing.

And in mid-century America, in the circles Charles Anthony Weinrott wanted to travel in, if it wasn't better to be non-Jewish, it was definitely better to be non-different. So he Anglicized the name, converted to Catholicism, et voila! All traces of the Jew in him, save a lingering penchant for chopped liver, were eliminated. (And hey, who doesn't like a nice pâté?)

But that's not where the name issue stopped, or rather, where it started. Oh, no. Way, way back when he was a wee lad with very little means of power or authority, Dad found a way to wiggle a bit from under the loving but dominating shadow of his father, my beloved Gramps. Quite forcefully (or so the family lore would have it) and pretty much out of the blue one day, young Master Weinrott announced that he would no longer answer to "Charlie," and must henceforth be addressed as "Tony." 20-some-odd years later, he scrubbed the first name down to an initial, and was known formally as "C. Anthony Wainwright," thereby eradicating 90% of the name he was born with. Take that, old man.

On the other hand, my mother had an entirely different experience with names. She was born "Ann Sexton," most decidedly not named after the poetess. Like the rest of the female children in her family, she was not burdened with a middle name, as such a thing would be rendered superfluous upon marrying, which she would most certainly do (unless she became a nun, in which case, well, you know.) No one could have foreseen just how much Mom would take to marrying; by the time of her death, she was either "Ann Sexton Wainwright Noel" or "Ann Wainwright Noel" or "Ann Sexton Noel" or even, because hands will cramp up, plain, old "Ann Noel," depending on what piece of paper you were looking at or whom you were talking to.

I am sure that Mom and Dad, like most parents, meant well when they named me, although I think Mom's claim about why each of her three girls were gifted with "Ann" for a middle name, "Because it goes with everything!", is a bit disingenuous, given her personal circumstances. Thing is, I was and forever would be a girl who: (a) looked like her father; (b) wrote, like her father; and (c), shared initials and (almost) a birthday with her father. I even wound up going into advertising like my father, where my entire 10-year experience was one long object lesson in what it must be like to be the younger sibling trailing the exceptional, older one through every grade for a lifetime of schooling. In one way, it was nice; in every other way, it pretty much sucked ass.

When I came online, I heartily embraced the fashion of the day, referring to oneself by a handle, or blog name. It was great being the communicatrix, for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which was a lot less typing: "Colleen Wainwright" is one long-ass name.

But as the convention slowly fell out of favor, a victim of the shift from the goofy web to the business-minded web, I felt more and more like a clueless, hamfisted n00b with my retro-chic moniker. Worse, I was occasionally accused of a lack of transparency, me, the blabbity-blabbingest blabber on the web! The handle was starting to chafe; it felt less like me and more like me trying too hard. Ugh.

So over the past couple of weeks, I've been playing with my real name. Which is to say, when I go out to the web to play, I leave my actual name, not my handle, in the appropriate field of the comments box. And it feels...appropriate. Like I've grown up, like I don't need to thumb my nose at anyone or act weird and different. I am weird and different, and I'm down with it, as some kids somewhere said at one time or another. I'm weird and I'm different and I have a lot of damned letters in my name. That's what TextExpander is for.

I will still register for things with "communicatrix" and, I'm sure, I'll still comment occasionally as "the communicatrix." It's fun, and it's also me. But from now on, here, with you, I'm Colleen Wainwright. It's my name, and I'm (most likely) sticking to it...


Yup, that's my first passport. No, neither I nor my signature look anything like that anymore.