Sarah A. Chavez
Halfbreed Helene Ponders Her Name in the Numerology Section at Barnes & Noble
Helene (French spelling): Greek, meaning “bright, torch, light”: pronounced with an “een”
or an “aine” or an “enn” sound at the end, Helene doesn’t feel as current as the more
forthright Helen or the airier Helena. – “Helene Origin & Meaning,” The Name Book
No, not “Helen,” classic, simple. Not “Helena,”
culturally specific, the name of sexy Latin
actresses with full dark lips and generous hips.
Helene—“hell”: where no one wants to go
and “lean”: what lazy workers do against
brick walls, smoking filter-less cigarettes.
I am not a lazy demon ! Helene thought
indignantly, so loudly, it made her lips move.
And a name without nicknames too. No
abbreviations for reprieve from the moldy
six-letter tyranny. She envied her friends who got
cute intimacies to denote familiarity: Leti for Leticia;
Angie for Angelica. She’d asked her mom
once for a nickname or even a pet name,
What about “Lene,” she’d said, Or “Lenny?”
Her mother crooked an eyebrow. Hell, H had said,
even “Hel” would have been fine. Helene sounds
so formal, so adult—the name of an “an old soul,”
a despicable phrase said to and about her by men
her father’s age asking her out while waiting tables
or steaming milk for a latte. Ugh, & at Starbucks,
the pronunciations were atrocious! Those
are the times she thought fuck it, and tried on
names like Sally, Maria, or Erica—such delightful
straightforwardness! Her favorites though
were the ambiguous, androgenous names like Sam, Tyler,
Alex, or Jordan. Better to be unknown than falsely
labeled or misunderstood. The reality, of course, was that
she was a half Mexican, half Midwest white, Californian
with a French spelling of a Greek name. Like all things
in her life, this nomenclature lacked clarity & singularity.
It was—modestly put—a goddamn mess.