Middle Name Confusion

A few months back, I told a story about my perennial scatterbrained but loving Mother, and her use of my computer as a fancy calculator. I got more responses to that story than any other IAHAS post I have ever shared. I thought it might be a good time to pull another one out of the vast vault of crazy Mom tales. My nieces don’t call her “Goofy Gram” for nothing!

My mother’s brother – Uncle Leigh to me – was a wonderful man. He was a Special Agent for the Department of Defense. He served in Vietnam with the U.S. Army. He was a loving father, an outdoorsman, he inspired me to play guitar, and he was absolutely hilarious. Since he lived in Wyoming most of my life, I only got to see him about once a year when he would visit my family in Upstate NY. I cherished those visits. As a kid, he reminded me of Dick Van Dyke in a way. He had the long face, kind spirit, and sense of humor that people gravitated toward. I couldn’t possibly say enough wonderful things about him. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2002 after a battle with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).

My mother was also very fond of Leigh. She had several brothers, but Leigh was special to her. So special in fact, that in honor of him, she decided to pass on his name to me. It was an honor indeed to have the middle name Leigh. I remember how many times as a kid that my mother would remind me with a proud smile on her face that my middle name was shared with her brother. She took every chance she could to repeat this unforgettable fact.

However as I got a touch older, 10 years old maybe, I asked my mother one simple question that she surely must have assumed I would someday ask: “Mom, if my middle name is supposedly named after Uncle Leigh, then why is mine spelled “Lee” rather than “Leigh?” I don’t remember the exact answers my mother gave me as I asked this question over and over as I got older. But like a slippery politician, she gave me piles of non-answers – “it doesn’t matter”, “he knows I named you after him”, and “aw Dan, you’re just being silly”.

Eventually I got old enough, late teens I suppose, that a lifetime full of non-answers were actually starting to bug me. I was curious. I wanted to know. I had spent my whole life explaining the story of my middle name with one possibly-false sentence: “I was named after my Uncle Leigh”. What was the real reason that my mother changed the spelling?

I approached the creator of my three letter middle name with determination. I wasn’t going to accept any more lies or half-truths. It was show time, and she won’t be leaving this room until I get my answer! Was the whole story a scam? Was I really named after some high school sweetheart? A confederate General? Holy crap am I adopted?! All these questions needed to be put to rest.

“Mom, I need to know this: Why is my middle name spelled differently than Uncle Leigh’s?” She started to repeat some old lines that I had heard before. I cut her off. “Mom, seriously… tell me the truth.”

She paused. This was it. She was going to reveal the real reason right here and right now.

“Well,” she said with a hint of defeat in her voice, “I just thought that it would be easier for you to spell.”

What?! Easier to spell?! For her or for me?! I was taken aback. Could this be true? I will admit, there was a split second where I thought this was just another made-up-on-the-spot answer to avoid telling me some deep dark secret about my family history. But I know my mother too well. This really was the true answer. No matter how ridiculous the reasoning.

That’s right - my mother actually thought that “Lee” would be easier to spell than “Leigh”. Don’t all newborn infants have a tough time with the “i before e, except after c” rule? This was one of those odd exceptions to the rule I suppose. But considering it was MY NAME, you’d think by the time I was old enough to comprehend Sesame Street that I would be able to memorize 5 letters in a row.

I love my mother and her crazy reasoning. I suppose all that really matters is that she really did name me after a magnificent human being. And I’m still honored… even if I have a miss-spelled middle name.

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