“Emma Winifred Moyle?” The clerk peered over his glasses at the waiting faces— the hopeful, anxious, bored, irritated. It was a lengthy queue.
An elderly woman stepped forward, raising her hand and eyebrows and wearing a droll smile.
“Uhhm-m… yes and no,” she said.
The clerk frowned, his voice unamused. “Well? Which is it?”
Clearing her throat, my 80 year old mother gave him her most patient and understanding smile. “You’ve made a mistake, dear. My names are the wrong way around. It’s Winifred Emma. Has been all my life.” Over her shoulder, to the next customer, she muttered, ‘imagine that!’
The clerk drew himself up to his tallest, most pompous self. “Madam! The Office of Births, Deaths and Marriages does NOT make mistakes. OR ‘get names the wrong way around’ as you say.” He quivered with indignation, glancing once again at the official document before shoving it back through the transfer opening in the glass partition. “THIS is how your birth was registered and THIS is who you are!”, and his finger stabbed at the signature at the bottom of her birth certificate.
Mum looked in disbelief at her father’s deliberate and careful signature. She hadn’t seen it in many decades—but she’d never forgotten the flourish at the end… almost a complete circle around the whole name, with a lonely dot to one side. There was no denying her father had been the registrar of that name sequence.
Later, puzzling over this bizarre discovery, came an unexpected epiphany. “Ohh-h-h, I know! I do. I really do!” Her father had loved the name Emma, while her mother preferred Winifred. Mum remembered her mother’s voice recounting her firm instructions to her husband about registering the birth—from her hospital bed, within an hour or so of Mum’s entrance into the world.
Incredibly, the replaced name remained unquestioned for eight decades, and would not have been discovered until her death, had she not needed to get her passport—for a trip to America to visit a sister she’d not seen in years! All that time she’d never needed physical proof of her birth, and had lived with her mistaken identity. Many legal documents bore that ‘incorrect’ signature—including her marriage certificate! What an ironic situation for this most honest of women, totally dedicated to ‘doing the right thing’. Yet another extraordinary event in what she called a perfectly ‘ordinary’ life.
Her proud and loving parents lived in a working-class area, and my grandmother’s philosophy was simple—”God wouldn’t give me babies, without also giving me the means to feed them.”
Overly optimistic… and yet correct. Never any luxuries, especially after my grandfather’s accidental death at the age of 44, but none of her precious family ever went hungry or cold despite my grandmother’s indomitable pride, spirit—and refusal of any charity whatsoever.
Unsurprising that the meanings of my mother’s two names are –
Emma—universal, and Winifred—blessed peacemaker.
Whichever order you choose to read them, she was their purest essence.