Issue 149, Winter 1998
She was born Sarah Gossett Ballenger—
Sarah our mother's proper name, Gossett our mother's
family name, Ballenger the name of her father.
Following our mother's second marriage,
her name was changed to Sarah Ballenger Santos,
and when she herself got married, she became
Sarah Santos Knoeppel. After her divorce, she changed
her name to Sarah Beth Ballenger, though Beth
was selected simply because she "liked its sound,"
and because, for once, she'd felt entitled to name herself.
Following a stillbirth in the twelfth year
of her marriage, she instructed her daughters
to refer to her as Mimi—not Mommy, not Mother,
not Mom. At some point after she'd left home
(she was sixteen or seventeen at the time),
she changed the spelling of her familiar name
from Sally to Salley, and of her proper name
from Sarah to Sara, though here too the reasons
she gave were largely a matter of preference:
she just found those spellings more personal.
Thus all her life she felt her names referred to presences
outside of her, presences which sought to enclose
that self which separated her from who they were.
Thus all her life she was never quite sure who it was
people summoned whenever they called her by her name.
And, more specifically, she was never quite sure
they recognized her when, and if, she responded.
As she put it, at various periods in her life
she'd "lent" herself to particular names, only to reclaim
herself in time, only to suppose all over again.