Tuesday, September 20, 2011


As a little girl I planned only two things for my grown-up years: I would have my birthmark removed, and I would change my name to anything but Wendy. In retrospect, these seem like small plans, given that my more focused contemporaries were dreaming of marriage, wealth and career advancement. But I held the theory that once my birthmark had been vanquished and my name changed to anything but Wendy, other things would be able to fall in behind. Now the birthmark, as my mother liked to point out when I mentioned it, was a harmless hill on my left cheek. Covered in soft brown hair it had the texture of a grassy knoll and spanned a circumference that would nicely have framed a fifty-cent piece. “Distinctive,” is what my mother called it in a fruitless effort to free me. Having survived medically necessary surgeries on a variety of body parts, she was disinclined to show any enthusiasm for surgery for beauty’s sake alone. I, in contrast, wrapped in a cloak of surgical innocence, remained steadfastly convinced that no mere operation could rival the indignity of wearing a big, brown, hairy birthmark. “What’s that?” babies would ask their mothers, pointing at the hideous thing. Cringing in embarrassment, I told all who noticed it that it would be coming off my face soon and hoped that Mother would soon come to see the wisdom of my declaration. . Mother said in a compromising tone that, when I was a grown up, I could make up my own mind about the surgery, though she, herself, would never recommend it. On the subject of changing my name some day, she was a little more flexible. Had it been her favourite name for a daughter, she might have been defensive. But Wendy was, in fact, her fourth-favourite. Her favourite name for a girl was Donna, and that name had long since been assigned to my eldest sister. The second sister had claimed Sandra, the second favourite name. The third favourite name, Diane, was reserved for use in case they should accidentally produce a third daughter while trying to have a son. But though I followed Sandra into the family, my mother overheard a conversation that changed her plans while I was still wriggling inside her. My aunt was heard to say that she intended to call her unborn daughter Diane. And so my mother opted for Wendy, publicly pretending—most of the time—that she thought it a good name. It was fashionable in those days to assume that any girl named Wendy must have been named in honour of Wendy Darling, the motherly little girl created by J.M Barrie to stand guard over her family amid the playful antics of the rascally Peter Pan. It’s a great story, and many a modern Wendy is said to be her namesake. I, however, am not one of these. My mother simply heard the name somewhere, and liked it fourth best among the names she considered giving to daughters. In childhood I cared neither for J.M. Barrie’s creation nor my mother’s name preferences. Being a Wendy was almost as humiliating as having a brown, hairy birthmark and I wished the curse of death by mosquito bites on every playground bully who ever called me WindyWendy As adulthood approached I occasionally indulged in tantalizing daydreams about the pleasant life led by a clear-faced woman named Karen, or was it Elaine? But then, before I had found the time and energy to seek out a surgeon, the birthmark sprang to life and grew with such enthusiasm that doctors insisted upon its removal and urged me to sign papers saying I was willing to submit the future landscape of my cheek to a plastic surgeon. It wasn’t until surgery day that I met the surgeon in question, a miserable fellow with all the bedside charm you’d expect of a rhinoceros. By the time I emerged from a half hour with him snipping, tugging, stitching and barking at the nurses, and subsequently survived the ripping off of bandages, I had decided to stick with the name Wendy. Perhaps, I mused, not being personally acquainted with any official name changers, I should leave well enough alone, maybe even try to like the name I was given. Wendy, it is said, is a modern derivation of older Welsh names with similar sounds, Gwendolyn, for example, and Guinevere. But it was J.M. Barrie who made the name famous. Legend has it that a little girl named Margaret Henley adored J.M. Barrie and called him Friendy, except that she wasn’t good at making the R sound. So her term of endearment sounded like Fwendy. Thinking of Margaret, he named his heroine Wendy, and the rest is history. Not surprisingly, dictionaries of baby names claim that the name Wendy means “friend”. Odd at this point to remember that the birthmark and the name once shared space in a single category of my consciousness. For the round, brown hairy birthmark has long since been reduced to a straight hairless scar, while the name has become a friend-maker. Occasionally I am introduced to one of my kind. “Wendy, meet Wendy.” As we smile in a shared greeting, I am only mildly surprise to hear myself say, “Good name, isn’t it?” To read more about the Wendys of the world, go to THE HISTORY OF WENDY

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