The Naming of Names

When I was a little girl, my mother* wrote a poem about me. It is a lovely poem, full of love. She put my name in the title. Poem for Melissa**.

This was before the Internet. But it got published in a book of her poetry. And was widely recognised as a great poem. Academics wrote about it. It was set as an exam poem for schoolchildren. Crib notes were written about it. It became one of her best known poems.

And I hated it. All my childhood and teenage years, I was embarrassed by it. Complete strangers, once they heard my name and knew who my mother was, would come up to me, give me a ‘look’ and say ‘oh, you’re Melissa’. As if they knew something about me. As if they knew everything about me. The poem was mine, publicly and loudly mine.

And my mom regretted it. Not the poem, but the fact that she’d put my name in the title. She apologised to me and said she’d never make that mistake again. She did write another poem about me, years later, but left out my name. That poem was never as popular, but I loved it. It too was mine,but it was privately, secretly mine.

And so, if you write about your children publicly, please be careful. Because once their names are out there in public, people will assume things and make judgements and, apart from them changing their names, your words will be assisciated with them. And you will have no control over that.

I now love Poem for Melissa. It is a beautiful loving poem. I have grown and matured and am no longer ashamed of it. And finally my mother has the reaction from me that she initially intended. She had never thought, while naming the poem, to ask me for permission, to ask me my opinion even. And had never thought that I would react badly to it. She hadn’t thought to think about such things. But you, you have been pre warned and can think such thoughts. And it is important to do so, because while your intentions may be good, they can have unexpected consequences. At the very least don’t name their real names.

I am actually going a step farther. I asked my children if I could write about them in this blog. They both said no. So, other than mentioning they exist, because it’s important that it’s known that I’m an autistic mother of autistic children, I will not be writing about them. It may be difficult not to write about them, about how wonderful they are, or about their challenges, but I believe it’s possible. And I believe there is so much else to write about that I don’t need to use their stories for content. If, at any stage, they change their minds and decide to share their stories, I will be here to help them do so. But until then, I’ll keep their stories privately, secretly theirs.
* And yes, I asked my mother’s permission before writing about her.

** UPDATED When I first wrote this I was anonymous but have now changed it to include my actual name.

[white writing in a purple background: …while your intentions may be good, they can have unintended consequences.]


  1. My own mother is an artist who used the likenesses of her loved ones, including me and my siblings in her work, without asking us. We experienced similar discomfort, but on a smaller scale since her work is not well known. I am so glad that we came of age before the advent of social media, which magnifies the audience of so many indiscretions.


  2. Bit of a Christopher Robin thing :/ Good points on writing about children, also worth thinking about sharing of pictures. (Both of which I’ve thought about lots, and discussed with the children as they’ve grown and written differently at different times.


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