Wednesday, January 27, 2010

How Reggie Got His Name

I am the fourth of four children, and I come from a family where my parents were not all that involved in the more mundane, day-to-day responsibilities that raising children requires. Nor were they expected to be since it was assumed that there would be others there to take care of such responsibilities for them. Their parents hadn't been their primary caregivers, why should they be ours? Besides, my mother had several houses to run and was, frankly, more interested in reading novels and smoking cigarettes in her spare time than attending to the more tedious demands of her children. Fortunately she was able to surrender such responsibilities to others better equipped to do so, in particular a woman who came into our household back when we still lived in Grosse Pointe.


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

31 comments:

  1. And here's to you, Reggie! A tale told with affection and probity.

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  2. It is interesting how we become comfortable with our name -- having spent our childhood and teen years wishing for another because our name was "different" or "odd". Going to school with the plethora of "Candys", "Cherris", and "Debbies" -- Martha was such an odd name that I disliked it very much. As an adult, Martha is a great name and I am so glad that I'm not a Candy, Cherri or Debbie!

    Reginald is such a classy name!

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  3. What a touching tribute, Reggie. Regardless of your ability to locate her, I'm sure you stayed in her heart for many years. Thank you for sharing your story with all of us.

    On a side note, I grew up in Michigan as well. What a coincidence!

    MT

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  4. What a wonderful tribute to your name and your name-sake.
    Regina must feel your love, where ever she may be.
    What a lovely woman to show you such care and kindness and for your parents to name you after her. We have an "Ernestine" here that we call "Ernie" and she comes to set things right and proper in our home and in our hearts. I am in involved parent, but nothing wrong with reading a good book while another caring person can take the wheel.
    All Mothers should be so fortunate to know that good help is out there.

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  5. You were very lucky to have had Regina in your life, even for so short a time. It is too bad that you lost track of her.

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  6. so very, very sweet and touching. having a bit of a different name makes people remember you...

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  7. Perhaps with the miracle of the internet, Regina will be found. A lovely and loving story. Anyone who reads a book to a child is a hero in my eyes. And by the way, if you have haven't read The Help you might find in it a resonating heart.

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  8. I also had a Regina as a child who probably influenced my life as much or more than my own parents. She was a very cultured woman, who shared with me her love for poetry and music. Her name was Renee Dubois, (not related to Blanche) and she was from Jamaica. One of the things I remembered most vividly was her teaching me how to dance, especially the calypso, later made popular by Harry Belafonte. Boy, did we play that record and could she dance! I also learned a little bit of voodoo..she was very adept at mixing potions for any malady you could think of. A very versatile woman, poetry and voodoo!!

    I loved her more than I loved my mother. She was the one I ran to in times of need and the one who comforted all my sorrows...whatever those may have been when one is a child.

    When we came to this country we brought her with us but she didn't stay long. One of the most painful experiences I have ever had in my life was the day my mother asked me to show her how to take and ride the bus and we came face to face with segregation in this country. When she went to sit in the front, I immediately pulled her to the back and sat with her all the way to downtown Miami. I don't know what was worse, her sitting in the front or me sitting in the back with her. She never knew what was happening, I made sure of that but we never rode the bus again.

    She returned to Cuba afraid the government would take over the small house my father had built for her. We never heard from her again.

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  9. I couldn't help but look at those photos again, OMG Reggie, I had those shoes too!!!

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  10. Hello Reggie Darling, Found your blog through reading Mrs. Blandings' blog (she does have excellent taste) and have thoroughly enjoyed reading it. You and Boy have a fabulous life and I am so happy for you. I too have same problem with topariaries but do love them.... and I have an otherwise green thumb. Please do keep writing - your stories are so interesting. I think your parents named you with the best of all names as a tribute to Regina... how wonderful! My parents ONLY expected a baby boy as they are sports-crazed people so they had only considered a boy's name, Bennett Jay before my birth. Bennett Jay became Bennie Jo (my father's name is Joe) and I have to explain it about once a day. Names are very interesting and to set people apart from others and your Reginald is important. Bennie Jo I could have lived without but what's a girl to do. (and, by the way, I am not interested in sports one bit!)Kudos on your blog and keep writing! Bennie Catoe

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  11. Reggie: How well I remember Regina! She was a true lady and a dear heart too. She was proud of her deep Michigan roots; one of her grandparents was a Native-American, an Ojibwa as I recall her telling me more than 50 years ago.

    Your devoted brother, Frecky

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  12. We have lots in common-I grew up in Lake Forest, Illinois, then moved to Washington, D.C. for law school after undergrad at Bryn Mawr. Great post.

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  13. Oh yes, the name thing. My middle name, Willard (you really thought it was East?), came to me via a great-great grandfather, who was named after the son of the early minister in our part of the world. The minister's son acquired it in turn because Joseph Willard had been president of Harvard when the minister was there. All this mattered not, because the year I entered Academy, a movie came out...about a rat....named....yup....Willard. Oh the time I spent trying to keep my middle name secret. Unfortunately, I had a cousin at the same school. How I longed for the middle name William, already in use by four others in the family...

    Charming post, Reginald.

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  14. Reggie..Reggie. no other name sounds the same.
    OK, that stunk, but at least I gave it a try.
    I am one of those WASPs that have end upon endless names that no one living can recall who the people were. So Reggie, your lucky.
    Enjoy.

    Always Bumby

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  15. Not having been of the economic class that obviously many of your dear readers share, I must be the only one here who finds this story one of the saddest I've ever heard.

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  16. Thanks all who commented here, such interesting and thoughtful ones, too. This was a challenging piece to write, to get the balance right, the respect.

    Martha: Indeed! I am so happy to have an "unusual" name today.

    PVE: I do not begrudge my mother her novels at all; if I had four children under the age of 11 as she had when I came along I would certainly engage as much help as I could to share the responsibilities of childcare and managing the house(s). I am fortuntae that she was able find someone such as Regina to rely on as she did.

    Lindaraxa: How interesting that you and I share so much, right down to the shoes...

    Bennie Jo: And here I thought Reginald was an unusual name to explain!

    Frecky: I thought she was part Indian, thanks for clarifying that.

    Style Redux 2: I am enjoying your comments and learning about you on your blog. Thanks for your advice re. my non-PC Yale banner.

    Bumby: How many names do you have? Noone was able to explain the exact origin of my middle name (Ambrose) to me, either. Seems there have been Ambrose(s) clunking around amidst Darlings for generations, though.

    DED: Drat that cousin!

    Anon 6:10 pm: Sad? How so? I feel blessed to be named after Regina; the pity is that it took me so long to appreciate why...

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  17. I think it's wonderful that you were named after someone so special to your family. As a domestic myself I feel that while not part of the family by blood, I am often as close as anyone can get. The children of the first family I ever worked for are in college now and it's so incredible to me to see how they've grow over the years and I'm honored to have been a part of their lives for a short time. My mom had a live-in nanny who her parents helped bring over from Mexico. She's still in touch with daughter to this day.

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  18. No, not sad to be named after Regina -- seems incredibly sad to me that rather than being mothered by your mother it was left to an employee (albeit a beloved one) to do. I HAD to work when my children were small; if I would have had the luxury of being at home with them I would of never turned it over to someone else. Sorry to be so serious about this -- I love your blog and love seeing your home. Sorry, the story just made me sad.

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  19. Dear Reggie, Thank you so much for the comment you left on my blog yesterday. I was so chuffed that you weighed in... especially since I have been following your blog for while now and it always inspires me to live life in NYC to the fullest.
    For example, today is was uptown because I had a meeting at 731 lexington, afterwards I did some window shopping and walked straight past Gino's and thought of your blog.
    Best, Ulla

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  20. Dear Anonymous,

    Don't feel sad for people like Reggie and me. We were blessed and so were our mothers and nannies. Just think, we children had 2 mothers, the nannies had children they did not have to bear or support and the mothers, well they got the best part, the fun times... what you would call today "quality" time. I adore my mother in spite of the fact we fight sometimes...i don't think i love her or she influenced me any less because she wasn't with me every hour of the day.

    I, like you, had to go out to work when my children were little. What WAS sad was having my children dropped off after school at Day Care until I came home from work. It wasn't until later in my career that I was able to afford a live in "housekeeper" who stayed home with my kids. What I would have given to have a Regina.

    I know what you are trying to say, but don't misunderstand it. It was a wonderful way of life with everyone the richer for it.

    P.S. Who would have told Regina she would cause such a commotion!

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  21. Although to an outsider the life that your parents led may seem strange, I find it rather touching that they honored her the way they did. It sort of reminds of weddings where the people that work in a household get a place of honor. I love that. It shows a sort of breeding that does not exists any more. I am from South America and in my family, housekeepers and/or any body else involved in helping us with our daily lives are always at the top of the list when we think of gratitude. I applaud your parents and you for recognizing the value of someone as that lady. I often observe this in families where money is not the end all but it is the way to acquire culture, breeding, manners and a sense of service and duty. People forget that and tend to points fingers. That's easy. Having the sensibility, the gratitude, the respect for someone who is supposed to be there just to "help" , that to me is real class and let me tell all those who may point fingers, real class has nothing to do just with money. This is to all the Reginas of the world. Please keep posting.

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  22. Butler: Thank you for your perspective, it is greatly appreciated.

    Ulla: The pleasure is mine, indeed, thank you.

    Lindaraxa: You are right on point, here. Thak you. I feel licky to have the best of both worlds.

    Anonymous 12:07: What a great comment, you nailed it. Do come back often.

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  23. Reggie Darling, why are those photos courtesy of the Detroit Free Press?! I feel sad for Regina when what was clearly a marvellous family moved out of her life. And a sneaking admiration for your mother, reading novels and smoking cigarettes.

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  24. Rose:
    At the time these photos were shot my family lived in Grosse Pointe, a suburb of Detroit. Shortly before we moved to Washington, D.C., the Free Press did a "human interest" story in the paper's society pages (so called in the day) about how I was named after Regina, and sent a photographer to our house to shoot pictures for the article. These are those photographs.
    Reggie

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  25. What a great story! Thanks for posting it. I'm only sorry that you lost touch with Regina. Wouldn't it be wonderful if she or her family could read your post!

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  26. Heavens- civility around "names"...
    Ahh- well, mine is not the strangest
    but hard enough since it gets butchered all the time.
    And then- there were 15 thousand Mother's helpers from all around the world...in many languages.
    Vivian, was the last and lovingly remembered.

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  27. Quite interesting

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  28. Naming babies is a difficult task for parents. It is the first gift they give their child and the one gift that lasts for a lifetime. As a NICU nurse I see a lot of bad name selections. Names like California with a 'K' and heaven spelled backward make me cringe. If someone told me they were naming their child Reginald after a special caregiver of their other children I would heartily approve.

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  29. All things being as they were, I too find it touching that your parents named you after Regina. What a tribute, especially at that time. They must have had a very high regard for her and she must have been honoured in some sense.
    I was born into another class structure and culture (Indian) and am vary far from the world you and your readers reside in but I too have feelings (which I refer to as love) for some of our "servants" (as they were called) from when I was a very young child.
    Though my family was once one of the richest in the region they lived in (in the 1930s my grandfather owned the first car in his city in what was later to become Pakistan) they were to lose everything in the massacre which was partition. By the time I was born, they were perhaps lower middle class.
    Despite this, it was very normal for the middle classes to have maids, cooks, drivers, ayahs. I remember with great affection and respect the rickshaw driver who drove my to and from preschool every day. I was three years old, he was the husband of our maid, his nick name was "lambu" ("tall one" - he was very thin and well over 6 ft).
    I was a chatty child who hated school. I remember talking to him about everything in my little world - he telling me why I should pay attention in school, do my homework, eat my lunch. What I didn't realize was that even though I sat behind him and he gave no indication that he was watching me, he was.
    Every day as we turned the corner away from my parents' house I would open my tiffin and throw away my lunch (I did not like the packed lunches I was being given). I never said a word about it yet somehow, my aunt and grandparents became aware. Lambu had of course told them. I was asked not to do it again, of course I did and they knew. On it continued until I moved away to another continent to start a life so different and bizarre I could not have imagined.
    I imagine that experience from Lambu's perspective. His family slept in a what was barely a tent on the side of a road and he drove a rickshaw 14 hours a day in upwards of 40 degree Celsius heat. What a sinful waste that it must have seemed (and was). I am sorry to have subjected him to that every day.
    As I grow older my respect and fondness for him increases.
    I now have small children and am not in a position to employ a nanny and having watched many children in my neighbourhood with their nannies, I would not want to. I believe it's very rare to find someone who can nurture and love a child as a parent can. Perhaps you feel this is not required but I disagree. I suppose, like everything, it's a matter of means, priorities, and culture.
    Thank you for your post.

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