random essay by me
when i was born, they named me mary jo connell. in my family, i already had a cousin named mary and would soon have another cousin named mary. it is the go-to catholic name for girls. every family needed one apparently. my cousin mary katherine became mary k. my cousin mary theresa became mary t. i was mary jo.
always mary jo.
named for my mom’s best friend. a name not usually found in the midwest and not the usual catholic combo like my cousins’. in the era i was born, the name mary jo would make you think of petticoat junction. during my time as a kid, tv would produce another southern woman named mary jo on the show designing women. i gathered that mary jos were sassy and southern with cute accents.
not like me.
in first grade there was somehow another mary jo (what? seriously?) so my teacher asked me, “do you want to be mary jo or jojo?” why jojo? i still don’t know. but i chose mary jo. changing my name at that junction seemed terrifying…like most of public school did. i figured it was best to stick to the evil i knew. plus jojo was surely not approved by the catholic church.
i wonder about that other mary jo. did she resent me for stealing her name? she didn’t stay at our school long. maybe because of the name conflict? but while she was there she was totally mean to me, ripping up the note i sent greg liles right in front of me (i think you’re funny; do you like me yes or no?). but can i blame her? i was party to the sentencing of her time (or life?) as a jojo.
my bus driver, a farmer who needed winter time income, was the first one to call me mojo. i don’t know why. but i liked that one. too bad mrs. doris didn’t offer me that name. i have used mojo from time to time, but most of my childhood i was mary jo. except for one semester when i thought i should try to be normal and told everyone to call me mary.
i was not a mary. mary’s are good and mild mannered. they are virginal. i am strange and angry. i am offensive. i am prone to rocking the boat when you are sure the storm has passed and it is only smooth sailing ahead.
i was a mary jo.
and then i became an mj. you know, like spiderman’s girlfriend.
expect every pothead ever greeted me with, “mj! maryjane! right on!’
when i was in my early twenties, i played around with pen names. em joe jones was my favorite. kind of a tribute to my favorite supporting actor, m. emmet walsh. i always thought i would be best as a supporting actor, a back up singer. i usually aimed for those low-hanging stars.
mojo jones was another pen name i used. i totally wanted to get rid of that connell. get rid of the catholic. i wanted to be free of dysfunction and abuse and all the chips that lived on my shoulder.
plus i had a theory that the best authors were not found anywhere before the middle of the alphabet.
in my later twenties i would land in kentucky by total accident. in kentucky they loved my name even if they didn’t really get me.
i stayed there longer than i should have…maybe because of my southern name.
while i was there, my boss at a bbq restaurant told me that in the south you either added or subtracted syllables when pronouncing words. he called me merjo.
when i was 28, i eloped with a guy i had known for less than two months. this made it so i could finally leave the beginning of the alphabet and go squat in the middle where i felt i truly belonged. no longer a connell, i became a mccarty. surely everything would go better for me now.
when i divorced my husband a year and a half later by going to the divorce hut in lexington and filling out some papers, i kept the name.
years later he would gloat about this, like it proved i still loved him.
but it was actually for alliterative reasons. mj mccarty.
recently i learned that mongolians valued alliteration above rhyme, and i was like, that just further proves i am genghis khan reincarnated…a theory i have because we both believed we were a punishment sent by god.
i especially love assonance. sometimes just so i can say “nice assonance.”
i also kept the name to avoid being a connell again.
i left kentucky sometime later and moved to wisconsin, where, starting from scratch i told everyone my name was mj. so, barring government workers who still called me mary because that’s what the documents say, i was a solid mj in wisconsin.
then i remarried. i gave up my mccarty to become a walker because i thought that that was what love looked like. you know, sacrificing your identity for someone else.
it sounded too much like tj hooker. plus the asshole govenor of wisconsin was named walker, so…. the minute i divorced my second husband, i took back my mccarty.
“don’t you want to have the same name as your kids?” people tended to ask me.
“look at them,” i answered. “no one is going to doubt they are mine.”
because i gave birth to like four mini-mes.
then my brother died.
i started telling everyone my name was em. because m was the initial of me and my brother. we were the m’s of the family. now i was the only m. i thought about going by just the letter m, you know, like 007’s boss, but i didn’t want to be just one letter. so i spelled it em and told everyone it was for phonetic reasons.
i also added connell back in to show tribute to my brother. most of my family who had fallen away wandered back to catholicism to tribute my brother…which made me wonder if i died tragically, would they become witches? but not willing to be catholic again, i added connell back into my name.
for a brief time i tried on the name em connell mccarty.
but there were problems right away. people assumed the em was short for emily (why not emma?), and I felt being an emily was just as bad if not worse than being a mary.
and the connell was just too bulky. i don’t think i’m a three name person after all, maybe that’s why mary jo had to be shortened to mj in the first place.
while tweaking around with my name, i remembered how much i liked it when a past coworker would try to pronounce mj as a word instead of initials. it sounded to me like it would be spelled emje. so i put the j back in but kept the e and even added another one.
problem now was that no one knew how to pronounce my name when they saw it spelled.
so i gave up and told them it was basically mj.
just spelled funny.
and that is how i became me.
there are several songs about mary. but who sings a song about mary jo?
a. belle & sebastian
b. tony orlando & dawn
c. adam ant (formerly of adam & the ants)
d. all of the above
up top: “lost at sea” 6X6 mixed media on watercolor paper…$35
directly above: “call of the wild” 8X8 mixed media on watercolor paper…$55