Names

I. The Surname

When my parents married in the mid-fifties, Mom took Dad’s family name, Wadley. Each of us three kids carried Wadley into adulthood. My brother’s wife took our name when she married into the family, but my sister and I each shed it.

I had considered keeping mine. I’d known enough women who’d held on to their family names to feel eyes upon me, and I even preferred my family name to my husband’s. Hyphenating the two hadn’t appealed: they didn’t pair up well. My husband’s name didn’t pair well with my first name, either. Still, I reckoned, no one had asked me what name I’d wanted, and at a pivotal moment, I had a choice. Okay, so I got to choose one man’s name over another’s—but still. I took the new name.

The two of us paired as comfortably as our names, it turned out. Following our divorce, I returned to Wadley, entered graduate school, and began publishing short stories under my father’s name. One of my stories won a big contest judged by Ursula Le Guin.

I finished school and planned an extended backpacking trip throughout SE Asia. As a child, I’d loved living in Asia and longed to experience it as an adult, thinking I might just stay and work there a few years. Maybe work my way around the globe, ending up in Europe. I liked Europe. Felt it would be a safe place to grow old. Just before packing up, I met this Swiss guy traveling around the States with a friend. He had loose plans to travel in SE Asia, too, and we agreed to meet in Bangkok. That meet-up resulted in lifelong love, marriage, and three great kids—and a shortcut to a life lived in Europe.

On our travels, we decided to marry and settle in Kaiserstuhl, Switzerland, where he’d grown up and where most of his family lived. Again, I took my husband’s name. We were an expecting couple, and I figured our child’s life would be easier if I carried a Swiss name—a common Swiss name, no less. We visited the town’s registrar to put our marriage in our Familiebüchlein, our “family book”—my name being officially recorded as Suter geb. Wadley, Suter née Wadley. In the phone book, my maiden name went into parentheses, but it was there. The link remained.

My two passports and our Familiebüchlein.

A few years ago, I set out to renew my Swiss passport. The use of hyphenated names had fallen out of use and despite all my protests, I lost Suter-Wadley. Why did a functioning wheel get fixed, I wondered. In my American documents, I kept my hyphenated name, but Americans don’t read it as a German-speaker would. To them, the hyphen signifies that I was born a Suter and married a Wadley. Tja. For years on social media, I flipped the hyphenated surnames to accommodate an American sensibility, but I simply confused people and stopped.

When I began writing short stories after a long hiatus, it seemed natural to return to the name I’d earlier published under, Meredith Wadley.

So that’s me. I can be Meredith Wadley, Meredith Suter-Wadley, Meredith Suter, and the odd Meredith Wadley-Suter.

II. The Forename

My first name can be pronounced in two or three syllables. Growing up, whenever I heard my name in three beats, I knew to disappear. The assurances that I’d earlier made about not having any homework had been exposed as a lie; the plate I’d broken and shoved into a drawer had been discovered; or the mussed coif of my sister’s doll—which was off-limits—had tattled on me. Or maybe there was some chore I’d skipped doing?

Quick! Hide!

To this day, Mere-dith sounds happy-go-lucky, and Mer-ah-dith sound damning.

My family sometimes used the single-beat Mere—pronounced “mare.” Some friends picked that up, too. I didn’t mind. At school, teachers would ask on Day One what I “preferred” to be called. I never asked them to use Mere, and they immediately fell into the two-beat/three-beat, friendly/scolding usage pattern. Inserting that third syllable heightens any dramatic slowing down of pronunciation.

Many people struggle to spell my first name. I’ll see Maridith, Merideth, Meridith, or Merrydith. Some ignore the “dith” and go straight to Mary. My name does not fall easily on German-Swiss ears. If I try saying it the way I pronounce it, confusion registers on Swiss faces. I quickly learned to resort to their way of pronouncing my name, either Mare-eh-deet (hard “t”) or the attempt at a softer pronunciation, Mare-eh-dees. When the Swiss think they’re correctly pronouncing the “th” sound, I hear an “s.”

Sometimes, I have to break down my name, explaining, Mein Vorname ist wie «Edith» [pronounced eh-deet] mit «Meer» als Vorsilbe. Meer-Edith. “It’s like Edith,” I’ll say, using the German pronunciation, “with Meer as a prefix.” The breakdown usually draws a smile. It’s a tweak of fate that the German noun das Meer means “the sea” in English, and Meredith is anglicized Celtic for Sea Lord.

When expecting my first child, I briefly considered putting Philomena on my list of girl names. I imagined calling a daughter Philly to my Mere. But—if I were to have a son, would I name him Colt? And what would be my options for names should a third or fourth child came along? Ryder? Buck?

Ney.

Years later, as I was teaching Helena and Calvin and Celeste to be riders, I sure felt relieved that I hadn’t saddled my firstborn with a name like Philly—leaving any consideration of Colt, Ryder, and Buck in the dust.

Hey, Colt and Ryder! Where’s your sister Philly gotten to?