My name is Catherine, Cathy, or Cate, depending on whether you know me as a daughter, sister, granddaughter, or cousin, or whether you know me as a close friend, as a friend old or new, or as a colleague or an acquaintance.
When I was four, I was called Cathy. At school I was unsure as to what order the letters in my name went. I would get the ’t’ and the ‘h’ the wrong way round, until a teacher, sat next to me, and told me to remember that I had a cat in my name. She went on to draw a cat, and write the first three letters in my name. The power, the magic and the fun of finding a cat in my name.
A formidable academic and feminist once called me Catherine, professional, scary and formal. She said I could grow into the name. Do I want to be professional, scary and formal? Yes! A bit.
The ‘y’ has a habit of making a woman’s name diminutive, cute and girlish. The diminutive, cute and girlish ensures I am less powerful, less threatening, less, and being less is at times more comfortable.
However, Cathy is bound up in my beginnings. Two stories of why I was named Catherine, who became a Cathy: one positive and one negative. The negative lies within the relationship between mothers, mothers-in-law, grandmothers, and daughters, and needs distance, and more time in thought for the telling.
The positive one is that my mother knew a funny, pretty work colleague, called Cathy, and so chose her name for me.
Nanny Maysey’s name was Catherine, my beautiful, kind and gentle nanny, she was known to her Irish family as Cassie, or Aunt Cassie. At her funeral, I was 24 years old, the priest said to the congregation,
“We have come here today to honour the life of Catherine Maysey.”
Absent in more than one sense.
For the past couple of years I have been trying on ‘Cate’, which is the name I chose for myself, it feels intimate and vulnerable, strident and straightforward, contradictory.
Kate reminds me of one of my favourite aunts. She was affectionally known as ‘big Kate’, and I was ‘little Kate’, a connection that I loved. My glamorous, elegant Aunty Kathleen, Kath or Kate. If you wear another’s name do you become like them, by cloaking yourself in another’s name, do you gain their qualities?
Here lies the problem, I like my ‘C’, gentle, not quite whole, not quite there yet, open.
Then by chance I met a Cate, an inspiration to use the ‘C’. I liked this Cate, so making the journey to Cate more attractive, I have been, tentatively, trying it on for size.
Cate throws up other obstacles, how do I feel about those I love and have known for years calling me Cate. Once and for a very long time they knew me as a Cathy. Will they think it is a fancy, or a conceit?
I have chosen this name for myself, how do I introduce it to the world, as much as it is my ‘getting to know me name’ for new acquaintances, it is still very much my ‘getting to know’ myself as Cate, rather disconcerting.
It demands of me a commitment, and also a letting go.
Do I want to let go of ‘Cathy’?
How do I maintain Cathy’s history, attachments, and loves, her memories and stories, and introduce her to Cate? What do I know about Cate, when I am still learning about Cathy? Or is knowing Cate a continuation of learning about Cathy?
I quite like me, and I really like and love the people who like and love me.
How will the I/me that is Cathy become I/me that is Cate? On this quest, I will take c-a-t, those three powerful marks, that anchored me to meaning and identity, simple yet complex, the fun and ultimately the magic inherent in any journey.