Dad knew my life would need strength so he gave me the name that means strong: Valerie.
He was flawlessly clairvoyant in predicting my destiny and the day of my birth was no exception. The story goes that preggers Mom was sitting on the couch with no contractions or broken water when Dad informed her and obstetrician Dr. Colin B. Schack via phone that it was time to head on down to Clarkson Hospital. Murder was on Mom’s mind, after all doesn’t a woman know her own body? Dad prevailed. In an effort to defuse the tension on the drive over, Mom suggested talking about boy names. His response was “We don’t need one because we’re having a girl and naming her Valerie.”
The rest is history. I launched in the ten minute commute at torpedo speed. The cart was waiting at the emergency room door and somewhere between the elevator and delivery room Valerie Jeanne Wilscam was born. Dad, ever the penny-pincher, often recounted that Dr. Schack arrived just in time to issue a bill.
It’s a mystery as to why my name is misspelled on the official baby announcement drawn by my father the architect. Not sure why he didn’t holler into the next room, “Bev, how do we spell her name?” but hey, I’m the middle child which is not the favorite and not the baby. Jean is wrong also; it should be “Jeanne” after my aunt. That was an irrelevant detail after Dad meticulously embossed his architecture seal in the left corner grid and reckoned it too much work for a do-over.
Valerie Jeanne was the least of my worries. Wilscam was the humdinger. It dates back to the early 1700’s in France with Jacob Welscamp. His son, Jean was born in 1732, married in 1764 and produced eight petit Welscamps, with the oldest moving to Canada. The clan eventually descended to Indiana and somewhere Welscamp became Wilscam. That switcheroo was not the first. I’m listed as Wilscom in my elementary yearbook and was often asked “Is it Wilson?” It’s pronounced “Wil-scum”…yes scum like on a pond which is “a film or layer of foul or extraneous matter that forms on the surface of a liquid” and you guessed it, my high school nickname was scum – not very French ooh la la.
Matrimony gave me the opportunity to retain my surname but my response was a swift “God, no!” Love you, Mom and Dad, but I couldn’t unload Wilscam fast enough. It was a clear trade up to Bosselman. If you are not from these parts, the name is plastered across a famous diner and truck stop based out of Grand Island founded by Fred Bosselman in 1948. Grandma Maxine in known to have cooked up the most mouth-watering food around, and by 1997 the establishment was voted America’s Best Truck Stop Diner. Pump & Pantries were quickly added to the empire. Old Freddie was a cousin to my father-in-law, Clarence and they are known to be fine people with core values that make one proud to be a Nebraskan. As far as close kin, we were not related enough to get free gas.
My ex husband boasts a four decade career in the food service industry, carrying on the family history of hospitality. His restaurant, The FarmHouse Cafe and Bakery, offers a gigantic plate-sized cinnamon roll covered in a blanket of icing that is known to be out of this world. Just showing my ID sparks restaurant name recognition and unsolicited dialogue about the last gooey carb orgasm they had down at the cafe.
Omaha will always have their romance with farm-fresh goodness, but my love affair ended after 25 years. I was presented the option to revert to my maiden name, but I wasn’t signing up for pond scum revisited. For a season I declared with pride that I wanted to keep the name connected to my son and daughter, evidence of two things I did right in life. The days moved on from the separation and as Megan’s health declined there was another shift. I was no longer Valerie or Val or Ms. Bosselman, but Megan’s mom; a title I was proud of but nonetheless disheartened that my own identity was slipping away.
It’s been a decade since the divorce and over seven years since Megan’s death. Words are a powerful force and as I am repeatedly asked if I’m related to the truck stop or the cinnamon rolls I stammer to explain ‘well I was…‘ as it resonates a life that is no longer mine and a certain twinge of personal failure. The family by marriage that I once embraced gradually evaporated from my normal scenery. My ex makes a valid point in stating “I didn’t divorce her to spend more time with her.” The final severing moment came about a year ago when a box of stored Polaroids were returned to me as I worked to complete the Bosselman family cookbook. To my surprise, my smiling mug was painstakingly cut out of a handful of photos. I smirked at the shredded remains, reasonably certain Jack Daniels and a bucket of giggles were guests at my beheading. That’s real life and the real reason I need to move on from a name that is no longer mine.
Sweet Jesus…just keepin’ it real.
Somewhere in the last few months I had the revelation that there are many things in life out of my control, but the US Supreme Court tells me that I can file the paperwork and with just reason it can officially change. I join the ranks of other creative artists that have done just that: Samuel Clemens became Mark Twain, Bobbie Zimmerman switched to Bob Dillon, and today at 9:15 a.m. Judge Kimberly Miller Pankonin signed the legal notice and said, “Congratulations, Ms. Bourdain…thank you for the work you do on cancer writing.”
In the same way that Dad was absolute in choosing Valerie, I felt prophetic in knowing that Bourdain was the only surname for me. I entertained no other options and there are no research books called, “Adult Last Names In Case You Don’t like Your Own.” As I pen the next chapters of my life, I’m grateful that it’s not too late to transition my identity from maiden to married to mine, all mine.
- The origin of the name Jeanne is also French but pronounced “Jean” in the English-speaking world. It means “God is gracious.”
- My sisters affectionately call me Valley which is a low area of land between hills or mountains, typically with a river or stream flowing through it…not a pond of scum.
- I’ve been asked, “Don’t you think it’s dishonoring to not go back to your family name?” Mom asked me if I wanted to change my name as I prepared to leave for college in 1975. She even said, “Your dad and I will pay for it.”
- Bob Zimmerman changed his name to Bob Dillon because, “You call yourself what you want to call yourself. This is the land of the free.“
- Know your American history facts from US Immigrations – in the article American Names/Declaring Independence. Name changes at Ellis Island weren’t necessarily government employee errors. Often it was a powerful moment where men and women staked their claim in a new life by declaring a new name.
On A Lighter Note:
- Mary, Queen of Scots was beheaded in 1587, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England. King Henry VIII pursued Anne Boelyn for her wit and grace, not her beauty, but beheaded her in 1536. I’m not the first witty and unloved woman to have her head cut off.
- My son was good with my decision. He changed my name from Mom to Mum when he moved to London.
- I picked a B name because it would be a huge inconvenience to change the monogram towels.
- Check out Slide Show – Last Name Change Fails
- And this How Not to Name Your Baby is hilarious! Thanks Dad for naming me Valerie.