My real name is Elizabeth Anne. It’s printed on my birth certificate in fancy letters. My baptismal certificate has even fancier letters. They’re gold too. But everyone in my family calls me Anne. My friends call me Anne too. Only outsiders call me Elizabeth.
Like the nuns at Immaculate Conception Catholic School in Syracuse, New York. They say “Elizabeth” when it’s my turn to recite an answer from the Baltimore Catechism. It’s on my report card that way, and my library card says “Elizabeth” too.
I don’t understand why I wasn’t named Anne Elizabeth. I asked my mother once; and all she said was that when I was born she didn’t care if I was named Hepzibah, as long as I was called Anne.
I’m in sixth grade. General Eisenhower is President, although my mother didn’t vote for him. We have moved six or seven times, and I’ve switched back and forth between Elizabeth and Anne forever. Sometimes I wonder who I really am, but then I tell myself I can be anything. Maybe when I grow up I’ll be Helen of Troy. We’re studying her in reading. Or maybe I’ll just go by “A.”
There is a girl in our class; and everyone, except the nuns, calls her Dote. Her baby brother can’t say her full name, which is Dorothy; so he goes around their house chanting Dote, Dote, Dote. She doesn’t seem to mind. There’s another boy with flame colored hair who hates it when anyone calls him “Red.”
About the only thing you can do with Anne is make it Annie, which some of the sixth grade boys do when they want me to chase them. My friend, Agnes, chases them too when they yell out “Aggie.” But Mary, Theresa, and Ruth just ignore the boys.
“That Kim Novak is really pretty,” Mary says at recess one day. We all nod.
Kim Novak was just in a movie called “Bell, Book, and Candle.” She kissed Jimmy Stewart.
We usually spend morning recess huddled together near the kindergarten entrance. They don’t get recess at the same time, so it’s quieter there. We can talk about important things.
“But that isn’t her real name,” Mary explains. “Alice read it in a movie magazine. They just made it up. Isn’t that something?” Alice is Mary’s older sister and she knows everything.
We talk about Kim Novak most of the week. Mary comes to school one day and says John Wayne’s name is made up too. Alice told her his real name is Marion Morrison.
“I’d like a different name, maybe a nickname,” Ruth says. And we all nod our heads again.
Finally, the five of us agree to come to school Monday morning with a name we want to be called from that day forward. We will form a club and promise each other to use these names and not answer if another club member calls us by our real name.
Monday at recess we share our names.
Mary wants to be called by her first initial, which makes her M Blagowski. Theresa chooses Tess. She says there’s some heroine named Tess of the d’Ubervilles that her Mother talks about. She must come from Ubervilles, like Helen comes from Troy.
“Mitzi is my new name,” says Ruth. “Like Mitzi Gaynor. She’s just as pretty at Kim Novak.”
“But Agnes,” I say, “usually a Blondie has blonde hair. Yours is dark brown.”
“So what. You didn’t complain about anyone else’s name. I want to be Blondie, and when I grown up I’ll dye my hair. What’s your nickname, Anne?”
They look at me in surprise.
“That’s not glamorous,” Ruth tells me. “Why did you pick that?”
I am ready for them.
“When I was little, my uncle used to tell me I was as sweet as a sugar cookie. So why not. At least it’s not totally made up.”
From that day on, the five of us spend recess and lunchtime practicing calling each other by our new names and glaring at classmates who think we are the same old common names of last week. We know we are something with our secret club and special nicknames. Agnes even signs the Friday spelling test as Agnes “Blondie” Morgan, but Sister Mary Daniel crosses out the “Blondie” with a red pen and tells the class what a beautiful Christian name Agnes is.
Our club is coming along pretty well, when Momma takes me to supper at the deli one Tuesday night. The deli has corned beef on rye sandwiches, which are Momma’s favorite. But we usually only go there on weekends, because Momma believes school nights are for homework. Besides she doesn’t have a lot of money, so this is a treat. I wonder what’s up.
“Anne, I have something to tell you,” she says, taking off the top slice of rye bread and picking out the corned beef. The meat in the sandwiches is piled so high you can eat half of it and still have a sandwich left. I’ve seen Momma do this a jillion times and finish the rest later in the evening. She loves a bedtime snack. I nibble my cream cheese and jelly.
“I have gotten a new job. We are moving to St. Louis. It will be better.” She picks up another piece of corned beef.
I watch but I don’t say anything, because there is nothing to say. Momma is the sole support of our little family and when she gets a better job, we move. It’s always been that way, and I’m used to it.
I’ve been to four schools already. I came to Immaculate Conception in fourth grade, and now I’m half way through sixth. It’s the longest we’ve ever stayed in one place.
“I will go to St. Louis the beginning of February and start the new job,” Momma is explaining. “I’ll find us an apartment and a school for you. You can stay here in Syracuse with Grandma and continue at Immaculate Conception until I send for you.”
And that is that.
Momma leaves for St. Louis and her new responsibilities on schedule. M and Tess and Mitzi and Blondie and I continue to use our nicknames and hold secret club meetings. They are surprised at first that I’m moving but over the next few weeks they get used to it. I’m moving, but I’m still around. But, finally, my last day at Immaculate Conception arrives.
Just before the bell, Sister Mary Daniel stands me up in front of the class and presents a card made from blue construction paper that all the kids signed. “To Elizabeth Anne,” it says, “good luck in your new school.” I notice that my girlfriends signed their real names.
But it’s different outside.
“Goodbye, Cookie, Goodbye.”
My friends hug me one last time before boarding their yellow school busses. They’re going home. I guess I am too, but I’m flying. We promise to write, since we have been practicing letter writing in English class.
That night Grandma, who never knew Cookie existed, puts me on a TWA plane for St. Louis. Flying alone is a big deal. I board the plane first and have a seat where the stewardesses can keep an eye on me. They pin a packet of identification to my coat, and write my name on a badge. Just then, I make a decision.
I am eleven years old and I don’t want to be Elizabeth Anne any more. I don’t want to be Cookie either. But there is this movie star with a made-up name and my friends think she is special.
“Could you write my nickname on the badge instead of my real one?” I ask the stewardess. “All my friends use my nickname.”
She smiles. “What’s your nickname?”
She writes it in big black letters.
“Well, Kim, if there is anything else you want during our flight, you just push the button here.”