What’s in a Namesake?

Michelle Casey, "Namesake" (for MM), Collage/Mixed Media, 10 x 14 inches (approx.), April 2012

Michelle Casey, "Namesake" (for MM), Collage/Mixed Media, 10 x 14 inches (approx.), April 2012

I recently finished my “Namesake” collage dedicated to Marilyn Monroe so I thought I’d share some more insights into life with my namesake with you. After all, a collage is never truly complete until we ponder its existence in our lives….

My Naming in a Nutshell…

Ever wonder where you got your name? Or what your parents were thinking when they named you? This has always been a great source of curiosity for me. In the mid 1960’s with the arrival of their first child, my parents chose the name “Christopher” for their first-born son. Instead, I popped out and the naming games began! A devout Catholic, my Mom ensured one of my three names would reference a saint and chose “Maria”, a variation of Mary (the Mother of Jesus)… it was also the name of my paternal grandmother. Next, she asked her precocious youngest sister, Angela (a teacher), to be my godmother; she agreed on the condition that my parents name me after her favourite student: “Michelle”. Then my parents chose my first name: “Maralyn” (spelled incorrectly by Church officials!) after their favourite Hollywood actress Marilyn Monroe. When I was six we emigrated to Canada and I chose “Michelle” as my official name for school because it sounded so French, so Canadian! – I really wanted to fit in. Meanwhile, I lived a schizophrenic life being called a pet name at home, Michelle in school and Marilyn by my maternal grandmother Sophie. Why she insisted on referring to me as Marilyn I’ll never know, but by age 9, I had seen enough Marilyn Monroe movies to know that this little brown Indian girl would never hold a candle to the beautiful, white Hollywood goddess — not in reality, anyway. Pushing it aside, I moved on with my life.

I Remember Being Completely Obsessed by Her Fish Net Stockings…

Yet thoughts of Marilyn persisted… through the movies of course. While my parents were courting in Pakistan, going to the cinema was a staple of their lives. Being huge Marilyn Monroe fans whenever one of her movies was on TV, we all re-lived those “good old days” with them. I remember loving “Some Like it Hot” — I watched it umpteen times as well as “Bus Stop”. In that one, I remember being completely obsessed by the skimpy outfit and fish net stockings Monroe wore in the film. Then there was “The River of No Return” set in the wilderness; Marilyn roughed it in the bush with handsome actor Robert Mitchum. I remember one scene where they were paddling down a wild river; it was cool to see the polished actress still managing to look gorgeous through it all! I remember she sang the film’s title song: “The River of No Return”; her breathy, tormented voice was so haunting. Recently, I enjoyed her performance in “Niagara” as a scheming young wife who plots her husband’s demise. What I especially loved about Monroe was the power her beauty wielded over men… and her arsenal of fabulous costumes, hair, make-up and sultry female style that assured her victory over them.

Even Such Beauty Couldn’t Stop the Grim Reaper…

Decades after her apparent suicide, as a teenager coming to terms with mortality, the full force of Monroe’s untimely death hit me. Even such beauty couldn’t stop the Grim Reaper or side step tragedy.  Over the years I’ve read snippets of Monroe’s biographies and seen movies recounting her life. My favourite is “Norma Jean and Marilyn” (1996); in it she is simultaneously portrayed by actresses Mira Sorvino and Ashley Judd who respectively bring to life Monroe the famous actress and Norma Jean, the tormented girl inside. After taking in much Marilynmania what struck me was her desire, like many professional actresses, to be taken seriously and carve out a respectable name for herself in Hollywood. I was surprised to learn she studied method acting with Lee Strasberg; married famous playwright Arthur Miller; studied the comedic style of Charlie Chaplin; opened her own movie studio (way before other actresses did… see Lois Banner’s “Marilyn” for more incredible details) and even wrote poetry.

Marilyn’s Inextinguishable Beauty Stands Firm…

The more I discovered about Monroe, the more I admired her tenacity; every time life took something away from her; she found a way to transform herself and give back even more. In this way, I feel she’s such a great role model for me. I grieve her passing as we do with personalities who’ve “gone too soon”. For me, Marilyn’s inextinguishable iconic beauty stands firmly in line with Cleopatra or Nefertiti, ancient beauties who commanded the attention of whole armies and nations! Today more than ever the life force that was Marilyn is still alive through the media. My parents could have never imagined the power her name would invoke, even today. I’m so proud to have her as my namesake. Although I don’t officially use her name, I carry her spirit in my heart.

Do you know something of the history of your namesake? Has it had an impact on how you view yourself? Has she/he inspired you? I’d love to hear your story…

Note: If you’d like further information regarding the collage’s image references, please email me for more details.

Other Related Links:
Marilyn Monroe: Proto-feminist? (UK Guardian)
Lee Strasberg talks about Marilyn Monroe in the Actors Studio
Me, Vanessa, Marilyn & John

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