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How I learned to like my unusual name

Mameve Medwed on the incident that made her see the advantages of a one-of-a-kind name.

Carole Hénaff FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

I was named for two grandmothers, Mamie and Eva. Mamie was a saint, I was told; Eva, though less pedestal worthy, exuded charm and sophistication. Despite the fortuitous combination, I hated my name. Nobody could pronounce it right.

My mother, proud of the creative coinage, threatened to order a vanity license plate with my name across it. I protested, citing teenage mortification and ease of speed trap identification, not to mention the cost. Undaunted, she swore that all my baby sitters promised to call their first daughters after me. Years later, I checked. Not a single newborn Mameve appeared on the birth registers in Bangor, Maine.

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Then, recently, something happened that made me rethink my objections. One afternoon, the doorbell rang. “Mameve?” I heard. Pronounced perfectly.

I opened the door on an attractive, tall, slim man, dressed in a spiffy pressed shirt. His graying hair stood up in stylish tufts. He carried an armful of brochures.

“Do I know you?” I asked.

He nodded.

Puzzled, I looked closer. But before I could start worrying about the kind of facial recognition problems Oliver Sacks wrote about, he offered a name from more than 25 years ago.

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“Alison!” I marveled. We’d hosted her when she came from England to study law. A year later, we attended her wedding, toasting the magical night she married the man, her classmate, standing in front of me.

“And how is . . . ?”

He started to cry. I brought him inside. I poured wine.

“She died,” he said, sobbing. “Three years ago. For twenty-six years, we had the perfect marriage. We were sitting on the sofa after dinner — and then she was gone.”

He cried. I cried. How lucky she’d found someone so open to feelings, so unafraid to express them, immune to any stereotypical British reserve. I remembered Alison’s stories about her mother’s refusal to touch her, how, when she was in despair over some childhood injustice, her mother would intertwine her pinky finger with her daughter’s and offer a stingy squeeze.

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“We warned her not to bring home a Yank,” her father had joked at the wedding.

Now the Yank held up one of the brochures from the stack that sat on his lap. It was a catalog of paintings. Big, lush canvases in bold colors. “I became an artist,” he explained. “I was a lousy lawyer.”

I looked at the paintings, which were dedicated to his wife. He was arranging an exhibit of them down the street from me, in an apartment he’d occupied part time for the last three years to be near his grieving sons, educated in New England. I was sure we must have passed each other at CVS, at the bookstore, in the coffee shop. Dozens of times. “But how did you find me?” I demanded.

“I was walking around your block, inviting people to my show. At the gray house on the corner, I asked if there were any other people nearby who might be interested in art. The first word your neighbor said was Mameve.”

I shook my head. My neighbor could so easily have mentioned Marjory or Patricia or Neil.

“As soon as I heard Mameve, I started to cry,” he confessed. “I didn’t know your last name, but I knew Mameve. And there was your house right across the street!”

I bought a painting. A small one of the Empire State Building. Somewhere inside that vast structure, my sister and I own a brick with our names etched on it, thanks to a tiny share of the skyscraper my grandfather bought for us in the ’60s.

The Yank and I hugged. We made plans to try a just-opened restaurant on Mass. Ave., to go to the movies.

We talked some more about small worlds. He mopped his tears with a rakish striped handkerchief. He hugged me again. “Imagine,” he said as he left, “if you hadn’t had such a singular name. . . .”

Mameve Medwed is the author of five novels and numerous essays, stories, and reviews. Send comments to connections@globe.com.

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