Playing the name game for 70 years

Posted Sept. 24, 2010, at 7:10 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:46 p.m.

By Christmas I will be 70 years old. Seventy. It is high time I know what my name is, or was.

My father’s family was always like the dark side of the moon. I had two aunts that lived a block away and never spoke to them, even though they were teachers in the Boston Public Schools which I attended.

Irish.

Not all of my friends are idiots. When I learned that former Rockland Mayor Richard Warner was “into” genealogy, I begged him to find out information on my father’s father, Patrick J. Meara, a noted Boston ironworker. Last year, Warner determined that Patrick was born in Ireland’s County Tipperary on March 26, 1870. It was the first information I ever learned about my grandfather.

Then, I wanted to find out what town Patrick came from in the unlikely event that I make another (third) trip to the Old Country.

Enter Helen Barnes, another old friend with a strong interest in genealogy. She actually found my grandfather and grandmother living at 4 Tyler St. in Boston, now known as Chinatown. Not yet married, they were living in a rooming house owned by my great-grandmother, according to a census document.

But Barnes also determined that, based on two different census documents, Patrick J. actually was named “O’Meara.”

This is all part of the confusing family history. In the Boston phonebook, my mother was listed as “Julia Meara.” But my father was listed as “Robert Emmet O’Meara”

No wonder I am confused.

Before I had children, I was going to change my name legally to O’Meara, like my grandfather. But my mother insisted that his name was Meara, so I never changed it.

My children would have been:

Griffin O’Meara.

Aran O’Meara.

Bridget O’Meara.

Lyrical. It’s a little late now.

I originally was called “Robert” by immediate family and “Robert Emmet” by cousins to differentiate me from numerous other cousins named Robert or Bob. My nieces stubbornly call me “Uncle Rawbit” to this day.

When I was struggling through high school, a friend named Anne Galvin found out my middle name and preferred it, passionately. There simply were too many “Bobs” in the world and anyway, I was an “Emmet,” she decided. I became known as “Emmet” to most people outside the family house.

This led to many exasperating incidents, like when my sainted mother called Cobb Manor and John Wallace, a New Hampshire invader, answered the phone. John might have been sipping an adult beverage, I’m not sure. When my mother asked for “Rawbit,” Wallace told her she had the wrong number. She called back and asked for “Rawbit” again. Now, you didn’t tell my mother something she didn’t want to hear. It was only later that I heard of the conversation.

I wish I’d heard it all.

Of course when I applied for a passport for my first trip to Ireland, I had to get a birth certificate. To my surprise my name actually was “Emmet” not “Emmett” as I always was told.

I had to change my newspaper byline, much to the consternation of angry editors.

“You are 40 years old and you don’t know what your name is?” asked one editor. It could have been David Bright.

Now, 30 years later, I still don’t know what my damn name is … or where Grampy Patrick came from.

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