Why I wasn’t Colleen Wainwright (and why I am now)


As with money, we have a long and complicated relationship with names in my family.

Many people are shocked, shocked, I tell you!, to find out I’m half-Jewish; apparently, even though, as a former agent said, I have a face like a map of old Russia, I’m not immediately physically recognizable as a Jew (whatever that means).

Neither was my father. The son of two full-fledged (albeit non-practicing) Members of the Tribe, he somehow looked like them in only the most Gentile of ways. He could, and did, pass, in his Brooks Brothers suits and horn-rimmed ad-guy glasses. He even looked goyishe standing next to my mother, a beauty of Irish-Swedish descent who had shiksa written all over her retroussé nose. Who knows? Maybe it was a gentile-by-association thing.

And in mid-century America, in the circles Charles Anthony Weinrott wanted to travel in, if it wasn’t better to be non-Jewish, it was definitely better to be non-different. So he Anglicized the name, converted to Catholicism, et voila! All traces of the Jew in him, save a lingering penchant for chopped liver, were eliminated. (And hey, who doesn’t like a nice pâté?)

But that’s not where the name issue stopped, or rather, where it started. Oh, no. Way, way back when he was a wee lad with very little means of power or authority, Dad found a way to wiggle a bit from under the loving but dominating shadow of his father, my beloved Gramps. Quite forcefully (or so the family lore would have it) and pretty much out of the blue one day, young Master Weinrott announced that he would no longer answer to “Charlie,” and must henceforth be addressed as “Tony.” 20-some-odd years later, he scrubbed the first name down to an initial, and was known formally as “C. Anthony Wainwright,” thereby eradicating 90% of the name he was born with. Take that, old man.

On the other hand, my mother had an entirely different experience with names. She was born “Ann Sexton,” most decidedly not named after the poetess. Like the rest of the female children in her family, she was not burdened with a middle name, as such a thing would be rendered superfluous upon marrying, which she would most certainly do (unless she became a nun, in which case, well, you know.) No one could have foreseen just how much Mom would take to marrying; by the time of her death, she was either “Ann Sexton Wainwright Noel” or “Ann Wainwright Noel” or “Ann Sexton Noel” or even, because hands will cramp up, plain, old “Ann Noel,” depending on what piece of paper you were looking at or whom you were talking to.

I am sure that Mom and Dad, like most parents, meant well when they named me, although I think Mom’s claim about why each of her three girls were gifted with “Ann” for a middle name, “Because it goes with everything!”, is a bit disingenuous, given her personal circumstances. Thing is, I was and forever would be a girl who: (a) looked like her father; (b) wrote, like her father; and (c), shared initials and (almost) a birthday with her father. I even wound up going into advertising like my father, where my entire 10-year experience was one long object lesson in what it must be like to be the younger sibling trailing the exceptional, older one through every grade for a lifetime of schooling. In one way, it was nice; in every other way, it pretty much sucked ass.

When I came online, I heartily embraced the fashion of the day, referring to oneself by a handle, or blog name. It was great being the communicatrix, for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which was a lot less typing: “Colleen Wainwright” is one long-ass name.

But as the convention slowly fell out of favor, a victim of the shift from the goofy web to the business-minded web, I felt more and more like a clueless, hamfisted n00b with my retro-chic moniker. Worse, I was occasionally accused of a lack of transparency, me, the blabbity-blabbingest blabber on the web! The handle was starting to chafe; it felt less like me and more like me trying too hard. Ugh.

So over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been playing with my real name. Which is to say, when I go out to the web to play, I leave my actual name, not my handle, in the appropriate field of the comments box. And it feels…appropriate. Like I’ve grown up, like I don’t need to thumb my nose at anyone or act weird and different. I am weird and different, and I’m down with it, as some kids somewhere said at one time or another. I’m weird and I’m different and I have a lot of damned letters in my name. That’s what TextExpander is for.

I will still register for things with “communicatrix” and, I’m sure, I’ll still comment occasionally as “the communicatrix.” It’s fun, and it’s also me. But from now on, here, with you, I’m Colleen Wainwright. It’s my name, and I’m (most likely) sticking to it…


Yup, that’s my first passport. No, neither I nor my signature look anything like that anymore.


  1. Hm. As everything this might just as well depend on the matters of perspective.

    i c u + not how u c u + how i c u counts 4 me+ not how u c u + what counts 4 me counts 4 u

    Your “I” is my “you”. You are to me “the communicatrix”. And you have always been. But then, I am only at one end of the communication chain here.
    Of course, the heck do I know what change actually means. However, for me, it was always related to my “communicatrix” anyway :D

    P.S.: Please excuse that I am only referring to parts of your wonderful blog post.

  2. Your name predicament doesn’t sound quite as bad as Ann’s (my sister Ann). In all seriousness nobody really knows if her name is “Ann Susan Sexton” or “Susan Ann Sexton”. She told her middle school her name was “Susan Sexton” and has had issues being called “Ann” ever since (her name is actually “Susan” in one yearbook), since nobody under the age of, like, 30 is named “Susan” anymore*. But alas, if she accepts her name as “Ann”, her initials are pretty perverted — maybe that’s why she registered her name as “Ann Heff LaQuisha Sexton” on facebook!

    * http://www33.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=susan

    Although it isn’t quite as rare as “Adolph”

  3. Rattus – And you’re right on to do it, baby! And I’m delighted to be “the communicatrix” to you. I’m not really running away from “communicatrix” as much as I’m finally embracing my name. It’s an inclusive, not an excluding action.

    Cousin Mikey! I was wondering about that “Heff LaQuisha” thing. It’s so cute that 30 is old to you. Hahaha. I remember when *I* thought 30 was old. All I can say is I’m surprised two parents as smart as yours didn’t think through the initials thing. Oh, well. Hormones have scrambled weirder things.

    Dave2 – Ain’t it the bset?

  4. Cool. Names can be tricky things. Maybe the Native Americans had it right; they would take a new name at significant times throughout their lives.
    So welcome Colleen Wainwright.

  5. Hmm. Interesting that your 10-year experience in advertising was exactly like my *entire childhood.* (And a big chunk of my adulthood, too.) You’re a tough act to follow.

  6. Colleen. A colleen is an Irish lassie. Perhaps this is a way of sidling up to any similarities to your mother you may be feeling. As someone who also was always tagged as being like my father, I find at 52 my mother has crept into my being in ways I didn’t expect. Or, perhaps, this is all psychological hogwash:).

  7. Ah Colleen – you may bring many of us out of the closet of name twisting through our lives – tempting us to step out and say why. After nine miscarriages my poor mother delivered me and, with my dad, gave me eight names (on the birth certificate) so I played around with different ones through earlier chapters of my life – not a very solid way to present myself as a bylining reporter…. but then I realized that my favorite name had the deepest roots, going back via the eldest born sibling, through several Danish generations. So having settled on it 15 years ago and come to terms with the reality that it will often be spelled in different ways and mis-pronounced – especially by the deer-in-headlights looking people who introduce me when I am to deliver a speech….. it feels right.
    Maybe we will form a club of such oddballs eh?

  8. Whether you’re Colleen, C, ctrix, the communicatrix…different or not, you’re still “da bomb”!

    My catholic heritage just adds yet another to my my first, middle and last name, good thing I dropped the ex’s name. By the time I’m 85, I’ll probably forget them all anyway!

    And, being weird is fun!

  9. Good for you! I have a hard time with putting my full name out there into the world and commend you for being brave enough to do it. You’ve written such a great post on the topic of names and what they symbolize. Great stuff! As Angie mentioned — no matter what you go by, you’re still you, and that’s awesome!

  10. I’m still working mostly as 2KoP or Susan @ 2KoP around the Web, but have recently admitted my full name on my blog and the blogs to which I contribute. I’m Susan Bearman, and happy to discover that my first name (however boring and “old” it may be), is not as rare as Adolph.

  11. Funny how signatures evolve over time. The more I felt time pressure at the register, the more abbreviated and abstract mine became.

    My dad’s also a first initial, middle name sort of guy but in recent years with more and more web forms to fill out w/ only middle initial spaces, he’s started to use his 1st name again. Makes it easy to tell who actually knows him or not though…

  12. I have what I think is quite a nice name: like me, it’s Irish and, at home in Ireland, everyone knows how to pronounce and spell it (it’s pronounced fin-OO-lah). However, right now I’m in London and, what’s more, I’m temping, so every week I have to go through the rigmarole of introducing people to my name in each office I start working in, only to have them react to it and say something like, “Oh, I’m not sure I’ll remember that,” or whatever.

    I didn’t have so many difficulties in my most recent place because, in the very first minute of introduction, the lady I was taking over from said, “Fionnuala? Spelt F-E-N-U-L-A?” and for an easy life I just said yes. She emailed this erroneous spelling all around the office to let people know my name, and they were at least able to make a stab at pronouncing it right.

  13. I found out not long ago that my grandfather’s real last name was McDanolds. He changed the spelling to something more common, I suppose. But I’ve felt vaguely counterfeit ever since. I also like saying “I’m a Mac”. Oh well.

    I think your decision makes sense. I’ve been “macgenie” on all the social networks, and have had similar thoughts.

  14. I {heart} this thread.

    And no, I didn’t even get into how much I loathed the name “Colleen,” which my parents told me meant “pretty girl” and nor my devastation at finding out it (mostly) did not.

    Woodwork squeaks and out come the freaks.

  15. I *love* this post. For sooooooo many reasons.

    Awesome, Coco. Awesome, Ctrix. Awesome, Colleen.

    Love it. Love you!

  16. C,

    You’re not going to believe this (unless we’ve already discussed this, in which case you will totally believe it!), but I weren’t always Emma. Not until I was 22. And before then there were many nicknames fashioned to make my given, ethnic name more palateable (bleh). I started life unmistakeably Mexican-American and now, well…

    Anyway: yeah. Also: you’re rad.


  17. after the death of my dad i changed my name also . like to think that i re invented myself and could now do all the things that the old me could not do . when i thought i cant do that , now i think the new me can .

    since re invention i can now beat, sweep and clean . its quite too .

    i wonder if thats because no one can find me in the phone book ! : )

  18. fully as eric alexander mackay and as sandy for short my whole life,
    and sent into the world to learn bagpipes because of my good scots’ name
    and confused as a dog or a girl for all of my life,
    and mixed up by banks and payroll deptartments and grade 1-13 roll calls
    i appreciate and understand

  19. Oh man… what great writing. Perfect topic, brilliant take, real heart, charming depth… this is a wonderful ESSAY and I’m nominating it right now for the Creative Nonfiction thingee — so glad you’re getting cool with the art of the ask.

    Oh could I tell name stories, as you can imagine; glad your readers have, this is a swell thread, but I just loved the story too much to say much more. For once.

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