Roberta Flack’s lyrics rang in my ear when I read, “What’s in a Name,” by blogger, Roxanne Jones. I not only sympathize with her tale of the misery of growing up with an unusual name, I lived it.
She laments about wanting a common name, like Ann or Mary. I, too, longed to be Debbie, or Cathy or Sue, something boys could spell. One suitor, I remember, gave it a shot with CAMEAL.
At fourteen I entered the competition for honored queen in Job’s Daughters, an organization for young girls, associated with the Masons. Campaigning was strictly prohibited in the secretive club. No VOTE FOR CAMILLE banners, mailers or lapel pins allowed. After the winner’s name was announced, one of my fellow “Jobies” ran up to me and confessed, “I would have voted for you, but I didn’t know how to spell your name.” The victor? Jan.
I never had a cool nickname. My grade school classmates taunted me relentlessly with “camel” and “chameleon.”
And oh, the anguish at never finding CAMILLE on a miniature license plate, or barrette or other mass-produced tchotchke. To this day, whenever I find my name emblazoned on a whatchamacallit, I buy it, no questions asked. And no, Miss Nancy, the local Romper Room hostess, never saw Camille either. I feel your pain, Roxanne.
Dorothy’s Mid-West Twister’s Got Nothing on Us
The similarities don’t stop there. Hurricane Roxanne hit in 1995. Camille swept into Mississippi in 1969, my junior year at Skyline High. That kind of notoriety I could do without. According to Wikipedia, “Camille was the second strongest U.S. landfalling hurricane in recorded history in terms of atmospheric pressure at that time.”
The local grocery store placed donation jars labeled, HURRICANE CAMILLE RELIEF, at checkout counters. Overcome with guilt, I dropped in whatever loose change I could dig up from the bottom of my fringed suede purse. They never reuse the names of hurricanes that get major press, so end of the line for future oceanic storm celebrity.
Roxanne scored big in 1978, when Sting released his latest hit song. Granted it was about a prostitute. But still…Sting!
The best the world could muster for me was the classic novel, Camille, by Alexandre Dumas, published in the 1800s about – that’s right – a prostitute. To add insult to injury, imagine my disappointment upon learning that the lead character’s name is Marguerite. WTH?! Movies followed, including the 1936 film, starring Greta Garbo in her first “talkie.” Critics called the role her first “coughie” as the heroine suffered from tuberculosis. So not enough that she’s a prostitute. She’s a sickly prostitute.
Just as Roxanne grew to accept her name over time, I too came to appreciate my unusual moniker. I smile when a Nordstrom sales associate or Starbucks barista comments on how pretty it is. I chuckle at the creative spellings on my latte cup.
Hearing that a friend’s sister, cousin or niece just christened her new baby, Camille, brings me joy. According to babynamewizard.com, Camille’s popularity has more than doubled since the 1950s. So the name lives on.
Please take a moment to pop on over to Roxanne’s blog, Boomer Haiku, and read her post. Tell her Camel sent you.