Regina lived with my family for many years, as her husband was a porter with the railroad and spent most of his time traveling the rails, away from home. She attended to my three siblings, who preceded me, a role that my parents were so grateful for that by the time I came around they named me Reginald, after her, and also named her as my godmother. Regina cared for me, she dressed and fed me, and she loved me in a way that blurred the line between caregiver and mother. I loved her in return with the devotion and intensity of a dependant child. I have more vivid memories of her as a very young child than I do of my own mother.
Regina left my parents' employment when I was five years old, when my father took a job in Washington, D.C., and we moved away. Her husband received a modest stipend from the railroad and they retired to a small house in the country. My family’s contact with Regina became increasingly irregular and ultimately was limited to the exchange of Christmas cards, before trailing off altogether. Years later I unsuccessfully tried to find her, or to find what became of her.
Over time I learned that the source of my name was rather unusual in the circles I found myself, and I regret to say that I became increasingly ambivalent of having been named after a domestic, instead of someone more expected, such as an ancestor. Up into my teens people would ask me how it was I was named Reginald, which was such an odd name in the United States at the time, and I would mumble that it was a “family” name or similar, embarrassed that I had in fact been named after a servant employed by my family, no matter how well loved. How often I wished that I had been named instead a normal name such as “Chris” or “Mark” or “John,” and after an uncle or a forebearer. But no, “Reginald” or “Reggie” was the name I bore. In addition it was particularly irksome that the only other Reggie I and my little friends knew of at the time was the black-haired nemesis of the comic book character Archie.
Once I entered my twenties, though, I came to appreciate that Reginald was a rather interesting name, and that to have been named after the woman who loved me as Regina did was something worthy of being proud of. When asked I began, at first somewhat tentatively, to tell people the story of how I came to be named Reginald. Over time I started to volunteer such information, unprompted, as a matter of pride and also because it’s not your typical story.
Almost everyone I tell these days how I came to be named Reginald responds favorably--often after a slight double take--with many saying it was swell (or something to that effect) that my parents were so “modern” to have chosen to name me after Regina when they did. I think it was swell, too.
Here's to you, Regina.
Photos courtesy of the Detroit Free Press