In our series of letters from African-American journalists, novelist and writer Cathy Prey reflects on naming her children Annie and Evvie

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When Annie and Evvie were first born, a large percentage of the world’s
citizens were children, so we soon had a large quantity of names to choose from.
When we named our first children, it was common practice to name them in Latin,
or something similar, as an act of defiance. Our father was a natural, so I
took a liking to his name of “Ralph,” although I could not pronounce it. I
thought it was funny, but not so funny as my father’s choice. However, I
eventually found out that the Latin name Ralph had come from a word in Greek.
The word was a Greek masculine noun that meant “man’s friend.” However, in
Greek there were two different endings that made it sound somewhat like
“roar.”

It was around the time Annie and Evvie were toddlers when we were forced to
choose a short name. I was a big girl by the time we were three and a half
years old, and as such, my mother suggested to our father that I name her
Daphne. I was not so keen on the idea of a baby girl’s name, and I
concede that she was right. My father then suggested that the next kid we
birthed be called Annie. When Ralph’s name was suggested to our mother, she
conceded that Ralph was too short, and a boy’s name would be preferable. I
took notice, and I thought it was so funny that it must be a boy’s name. My
father laughed at me, but his son, Ralph, laughed with me. My mother laughed
with me. The name “Evvie” was not so funny for me either. However, my
father insisted on it. Thus, both Annie and Evvie were given the same name. At
first, it was quite funny to hear our mother and father refer either one as
“Evelyn” or “Annie.” However, we soon found out that a good many adults did
not refer to us either as Annie or Evvie, but rather call us Cathy and Evelyn,
and we soon nicknamed each and every one of them that.

I was only 14 when my first child was born. She was a girl and she was named
Juliette. When we named her, we told our parents that her name came from two
French words, je ne sais pas which meant “I don’t know,” and j’adore which
meant “I love.” This last word was what parents used to say to babies when
they cried because they were hungry. This “I love” was what we were taught
to say to our daughter when she was born. She was the love that started us all
right.

Juliette grew up to become the first of us to make it into the real world. She
attended grade school before graduating high school. She chose to live life
in her home instead of joining us in the real world, so she started working
first as a waitress and then as a receptionist for a beauty salon. She got
married and moved out of her parents’ home and into her husband’s. Our
mother always said that we could not have known that she would marry so young
and move out of our home, but I am sure that she was right.

As I stated earlier, I was only 14 when I had my first child. The baby was a
girl named Annie. It was difficult to accept the fact that she was getting older
without her mom and dad. My mother and father were happy that I was getting
older, but my dad would say to me, “You have always been your own son, but
you will never be yours.” This was the kind of language he used to speak to
my sister Evvie too. My father’s words were sometimes hard for me to see the
logical connection between his words and my father’s words. I was
unfortunate to find out a few years later that my dad had made an identical
comment to my sister Evvie, who often teased that she had never had a father
for that short of a time. She often got in trouble for her teasing and told
me to forgive her. I did not. Evvie was also a good friend of my cousin
Linda. Linda and I were in a play in the fourth grade when we spotted Evvie
and Linda talking outside the theatre. We were walking past them when Evvie
told us to meet her at the playground. Linda and I walked over to where
Evvie, with a big pout on her face and a mouthful of gum, was sitting with her
hands folded across her chest. When we arrived, Linda and I sat down with
Evvie and we all started talking with each other. Linda and I noticed that
Evvie was not really listening to what we were saying, but she was looking at
our hands. We were telling each other what we were reading and listening with
a lot of concentration, when we noticed Evvie watching us with a look of
disapproval. We both turned to her in surprise, and with the look in her eyes
winking at us, Evvie said, “Oh, that’s the girl from the play.” Linda and
I both said nothing to Evvie, and she continued to stare with a look of
disapproval. Linda and I walked off. Linda and I kept walking home.

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