Playing The Name Game

Jacques Kelly's Baltimore

March 31, 1996|By JACQUES KELLY

The handwriting on the page of the buckram-bound photo album is distinctly that of my mother. The white ink on the black page reads, "April 2, 1950 Palm Sunday."

Therein follows a series of pictures of my father, two of his professor-Jesuit priest friends from Loyola College, and me. Judging by the long shadows cast across the Charles Street sidewalk paving, it's the middle of a cool and sunny spring afternoon. A week later the same spot would be filled with hundreds of strollers out for Baltimore's Easter Parade.

This set of photographs my mother so carefully organized tells a lot. She didn't take the pictures, for one. I can tell by the profile of the crazy hat revealed in one of the shadows that they were snapped by my grandmother, Lily Rose.

My father was sitting in the first car he owned, a 1940 Buick previously owned by a little old lady who lived in Towson. He found her original receipt for it under the driver's seat. He recalls that it drove like a Pullman railroad car.

As a 10-day-old infant, I am the center of attention in these photos, which were taken outside of SS. Philip and James Church. The occasion is my christening, the day of my initiation into the Roman Catholic Church and the day when my name was formally stacked upon me.

The priest who poured the baptismal waters over my head was Father Leo Monaghan, S.J., a tall, red-haired teacher who had married my parents the year before. Attending is another Jesuit, Father Aloysius Mack, who in build resembled Alfred Hitchcock. He was quite the Latin scholar and a cigar smoker. When our household grew to an even 12, he was often the 13th member at the dinner table.

The christening took place in the church's baptistery, situated adjacent to the Charles Street entrance to the building. The location was symbolic. The one to be baptized was entering the church.

Latin was the official church language at that time. Within 15 years or so, its usage would be dropped in parishes because church reformers wanted it that way and because they claimed most lay people never understood Latin.

I dispute this point.

Those present at my christening distinctly understood the Latin words "Jacobus Henricus." From that point forward I was saddled with name troubles: misspellings, mangled pronunciations and questions from the curious.

And with many nicknames, all of which I answer to.

One of my first nicknames was born that day I was christened. Among those at the church was my mother's great friend and our next-door neighbor, a city social worked named Dorothy Croswell. Dorothy liked crossword puzzles and was good at words. She picked right up on the Jacobus and started calling me Little Jakey. Just before she died last year she was still calling me Jake.

Names in my generation were often distributed in honor and remembrance of family members.

My one living grandfather's name was Edward Jacques. His son, my uncle, was a junior. The former went by Ed or E. J.; the latter went by Jack. I was named Jacques after that uncle, who stood for me that day as a godfather.

Then my mother chose a second name, Harry, after my deceased grandfather, Harry A. Kelly. Harry is a variant on Henry, thus the Henricus the priest spoke.

Then came a third name, Stewart, my mother's first name and her mother's last name. The Stewart clan came to Baltimore from Edinburgh, Scotland, and settled in Oldtown in the 1760s. They were stonecutters and masons. The priest didn't try for this name in Latin.

Saddled with three names already, I was carried out of that church to be addressed by a dictionary's worth of name combinations, diminutives and interesting variants.

My name was so cumbersome that a silversmith bollixed the initials on a baby spoon given to me by an old family friend.

As soon as I learned to talk, people started asking how I got the name Jacques.

I told them it was the name of my uncle and his father. That didn't satisfy as an explanation. I would have to launch into the full story, about how the Monaghans lived on the banks of the Susquehanna River at Lock Haven, Pa. They owned the sawmill where French Canadian loggers floated timbers. Along the way the Monaghans picked up the name Jacques, perhaps because there was a man of that name who was a godfather to one of the Monaghan children.

By the way, don't ever try to explain to Americans that in Paris, the name Jacques is commonly pronounced "Zzsh-ack."

Never, never at home was I called Jacques. But since we already had one Jack, Uncle Jack Monaghan, we had one too many Jacks.

The solution was easy. It was possibly thought up on that Palm Sunday some 46 years ago. I became Jackkelly, two names rammed together to become a single word.

Pub Date: 3/31/96

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