Q & A: What’s in a Name?
A Bonny Glen reader wrote me with a whole bunch of really good questions. Actually, I’ve had several emails come in recently with suggestions for topics or questions to answer. I’ll be tackling some of those in the days and weeks to come. But this is a lazy Saturday morning so I’m starting with the easy one.
Can I ask how you pronounce Lissa? It is like the second half of Melissa or the name Lisa?
Like the second half of Melissa. If you want the whole scoop on my name, it goes like this. Melissa Wiley is, as you know, my pen name. But the Melissa part is real. My middle name is Anne-with-an-e and that e was always very important to me as a child, so that when I first read Anne of Green Gables at age eleven, I loved her instantly and devotedly from the moment she made the big deal about having her name spelled correctly even in people’s minds.
When I got married, I kept Anne as my middle name instead of making my maiden name my new middle name as many women do. But I love my maiden name, Brannon, too.
When I was growing up, my family had two names for me. (They still do.) Well, three names if you count Melissa, which was only used when I was in trouble, usually in company with Anne. My official first name with the family has always been Missy. I am still Missy to my parents and sisters (Merry and Molly) and cousins and some of my high-school friends. And that’s fine; Missy is a comfy and friendly name, I think.
But at home, growing up, I was always Lissa too. Casually, unofficially, in a “Lissa, dinner’s ready!” kind of way. My parents would introduce me as Missy (and that’s how I signed my papers in school, and what teachers called me), but when they were just speaking offhandedly, affectionately, they usually said Lissa. So I loved that name too.
And by the end of senior year, I was tired, for a while, of being ‘little Missy.’ (I have always been the shrimpiest one in the class.) I kept meeting people with dogs named Missy. (I actually had a dog named Missy myself, when I was a baby. She was named Missy before my parents got her, and she was older than I was. They changed her name to Sissy. She was a dear little doggie.) Missy felt like a little girl’s name, and some of my drama club friends had picked up on Lissa from hearing my parents say it, so when I went to college I just introduced myself as Lissa, not Missy. And it stuck. I met Scott in college, so that’s the name he’s always known me by.
But actually he almost never calls me Lissa. He calls me L, and so do his brothers. If I call any of my brothers-in-law on the phone, or my sister-in-law Theresa, I say, “Hi, it’s L.” If you’ve known me online long enough to remember my old “email@example.com” address, you might know that “tisell” meant ’tis L.
One thing about “Lissa” is that lots of people mis-hear it as “Lisa,” so in recent years I have introduced myself more and more as just Melissa. But it really throws me when people call me that in person. I jump, because that’s still the “teacher is mad at me” name.
Another high-school friend nicknamed me “Misery” as a joke. And it became the stuff of high-school legend one day when that friend offered me a ride home from school, and I was walking with another friend who was kind of an endearingly arrogant guy, and he assumed the invitation extended to him, and the car-driving friend informed him that no it did not. And he said, “Aw, come on, you know Misery loves company!”
She gave him a ride. 🙂
It’s true, too; I do love company.
I get a lot of letters addressed to Mrs. Wiley. Once, at a conference where I was a speaker, the organizers gave Scott a nametag too: “Scott Wiley.” That made us laugh and laugh. Sometimes if he forgets to do something and I ask him about it, he says, “Go ask Mr. Wiley.”
Most of my friends’ children call me Mrs. Peterson. I am still young enough, at age 39 and coming up on 14 years of marriage, that it feels funny to be called that. In Virginia most kids called me “Miss Lissa,” and Scott was “Mister Scott,” which cracked me up and generated a lot of Star Trek jokes on my part. Alice‘s kids call me Lissa and mine call her Alice.
Here in San Diego, people startle when they hear that my husband’s name is Scott Peterson. That name will forever be linked to the wife-and-baby murderer, here and in lots of other places. But my Scott Peterson’s name was in print long before that guy started making headlines. There’s a Scott Peterson who writes books about Rwanda, too, and one who works in film production at Warner Brothers. If you see his name in movie credits, that’s not my guy. (Although his name does come up on a computer screen in the Batcave in the first Batman animated movie, and that’s a reference to my Scott.) If it’s in a comic book, that’s my beloved Mr. Wiley.
Wiley was the first name of my great-great-great-great- I-can’t-remember-if-it’s-four-or-five-greats-grandfather, Wiley Tyler, who died in a Confederate prison camp. He was an Alabaman himself, and there’s a big story there, but I’m saving it for a novel. When HarperCollins, at the insistence of the Laura Ingalls Wilder estate, asked me to choose a pen name beginning with W so booksellers wouldn’t be so confused about where to shelve my Little House books (Roger MacBride’s Rose books gave them fits—shelve them with Laura’s books because they’re sequels? or shelve them under M for MacBride?), I chose Wiley in honor of my fine old ancestor, so that my pen name would be a family name too.
Although I quite liked Alice’s suggestion at the time that I choose “Willard” as an homage to Betsy’s sweetheart, Joe Willard, from the Betsy-Tacy books.
I once published a poem (and won a literary award for it) under my maiden name, Melissa Brannon. I’ve published lots of things under my married name, Melissa Peterson. Scott and I collaborated on a beginning reader science book about ants once, and we used our middle names as a psuedonym: Anne James.
There you go, more than you ever wanted to know about my name. My names. All of ’em.