I love my name, Marianne, and I may use it alone as a pen name. Like Colette. My mother named me in honor of the Virgin Mary and her mother, St. Anne–Mom was praying to them, hoping for a girl after three boys in a row, and there I was. “You must have known I would become a French citizen,” I said, “naming me like that.” (Marianne is also the symbol of the French Republic, and its values of liberty, fraternity, and equality.) “No!” she snapped back, she who hated that I lived so far away for so long.
I have been playing with different last names for a while. Marianne d’Iowa means Marianne from Iowa in French and Spanish, and appeared in my mind when I was having fun thinking of the leading Renaissance woman, the Marquise Isabella d’Este–meaning Isabelle from the East–but Marianne de Middle West was a mouthful. When I moved to Chicago, Marianne d’Iowa did not seem to fit as well, and I thought of the different places around the world I call home, so I became Marianne du Monde–Marianne of the World in French–for a while. Finally I settled on Marianne Maili.
Maili is the name I would have given a daughter. I love the sound of it (may-lee). In Polynesian it means “gentle breeze” so I also liked the idea of a gentle breeze in front of and behind me. In a way, I have become my own daughter now that Mom is gone. I have fun with the challenge of naming characters.
The mother in Lucy, go see., Viola Pilgrim, is named after Viola in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night–a character who says what she sees. Tillie Olsen remarked that the mother’s voice is the most absent in literature, Viola’s voice is very present in the novel and it brings her daughter, Lucy, more freedom.