Back in 2001, my Parisian friend, Claire, and I started compiling lists of names that were ironic, funny, or somehow prophetic of the lives of their bearers. In religious rituals, the act of naming is considered sacred and powerful. Do you know what your name means? They all mean something, I can guarantee it. Unless of course your parents simply strung some random bits of alphabet together, in which case I'm sure the act itself signifies something.
Here are a few of our findings -
John Wayne Bobbitt's, er, dismemberment. That one's obvious.
Bianca Duffy - first name name means white, the last black. I love the polarity, and she is mulatta.
A beau with the middle name of Bacon - odd one for a vegetarian.
A woman who decided to hyphenate her last name with that of her bethrothed, making her a Lawless-Hussey.
Unhappy with her appellation, Lois legally changes her name to Doris.
Hannah and Max are my long-standing favorites if I ever have children. This has nothing to do with our theme.
The US Secretary of Education is named Margaret Spellings.
Anyone studying or practicing law named Justin.
A bereaved would-be mother, after miscarrying her baby at eight months, endeavors to do everything more perfectly second time round. The new baby emerges quite healthy. Upon seeing her, the mother has an epiphany, throws out the agreed upon choice for something never on anyone's list - Angela.
(The following are Claire's words)
"A French friend named Turie. "Tuerie," pronounced the same way, means killing. He had a child. She died of cancer at age three. Off they go to the funeral. His mom & pop & sisters in one car, he & his wife in another. His family die in a car accident. He's the last one in the family. The only one to use this name, Turie. His wife commits suicide.
He remarries. Has a little girl. She's a blossoming eight year old. he's happy, his wife is happy. They're both working and have masses of friends. The child drowned last summer. Her name was Ophelie.
What's in a name?
I used to be called Ham Bone (I'm not sure why, maybe because jambon and Hammond are similar in French). Everyone I meet takes it for granted I'm jewish, even if I am a ham."
Claire was an actress, and a truly great wit. Claire is a Medieval name derived from Latin clarus, "clear, bright, famous." Claire was incisive, she cut to the point, yet she was tender, she was light. Her house was airy; she wore clothes of only white. And the goofy pigtails.
The first time we really met, we were at Man Ray. In her usual opinionated, devastatingly direct way. Her favorite thing to say to Americans was, "Learn the fucking language." That night she got in my face about something. The way she would do with anyone. (I'll never forget the famous American actor, dropping his cigarette butt on the kitchen floor and snuffing it out with his Caterpillar boot. It should be noted that when sober, he was unfailingly polite. She marched over indignantly, and in her best scold demanded, "You wouldn't do that in your house? Well DON'T do it in mine!") I hadn't done anything, but I think she was trying to figure me out. I can't recall for the life of me what she was saying, but I swallowed my fear and reached up and gently rubbed her nose with my forefinger. She stared back for a moment, then a smile washed over her and she laughed hysterically. From then on, we were very close. She was one of my best friends.
My relationship with her gave me clarity. Compassionate and sincere, she met earnest conversation with unflinching honesty and decency. And she had a deep faith in me. Few things give you more strength than the support of someone you truly admire.
Then one morning, about a week after I moved to LA, Claire left her home in the Bastille for cooking school. She drove her moped through an intersection right as a man in a car ran his red light. In the last 17 months I've been in Paris twice, both times I looked for her at Pére Lachaise. You know, to pay my respects, to say 'hello.' But the cemetary's quite large, and the map is only marked for the notables.
A month or so ago, I had a dream. It's a bit hazy, but someone was telling me to go take her something - she was in the other room, or nearby. I said it was impossible; she was dead. No, they told me, she's not. She's here. I remember my confusion. I remember the unrest of waking after all that longing, joy and sorrow came back, all at once. I'm taking it as a reminder to me that the her qualities, the meaning of her name, are alive and they exist in me.
It's easy to imagine her trying to wrap up the grief of her friends and carrying it off; she would try. Here's how - Claire stands insouciantly, cigarette and extension of her balletic limbs, hips in contrapposto. The head lolls back and to the side, the eyes roll, and a sigh, low, gravelly and purring, "Oh come onn, get ohhver it!" Mock the hurt away.
C'est tout, cherie? Ton souffle n'est pas tombé et tu as reussi ta tranche de Colin sauce Hollandaise.
Tout va goodygoodygomdrops, mais tu me manques la bas, á la plage.