Monday, December 04, 2023

A tiny surprise about my gran

My kids had a bit of a falling out with their dad back in 2012 and it took till this year for them to decide to visit him again. Long story...

Marcel was running the Côte d'Azur marathon and Milly the 20K, and Charlotte and Léon were cheering them on. That is where their dad currently lives so they invited him to spectate, had lunch with him two days in a row and did a little sightseeing. They got to meet the woman who, on paper, has been their stepmother since 2016 too. I always thought it would be better if they had some contact with him but the amount was, of course, up to them. 

So, because of this rift, from early childhood Léon has been known as Léon Buchanan-Widmann. That was always unofficial as it would have required his father's consent until he reached adulthood, so his passport and Danish residence permit still insisted on Gautier. Now he's 18 he wanted to make it official after all these years but found out that adding the ‘-Widmann’ he has used since he was six would have caused all sorts of bureaucratic nightmares with the change of his French passport unfortunately. 

Changing to your other parent’s surname is a box-ticking exercise now thanks to a change in French law from July 2022, but changing to anything else requires courts and can be declined. Poor Lots tried to change her name in 2020 so had to pay over €500 and go through the French courts to change hers, Marcel waited till after the new law (accidentally - he didn’t actually know the law was going to change) and it took him 6 weeks as against Charlotte’s 3 years. Anyway the upshot is that Léon finally decided following Marcel’s route might be a tad less stressful than following Charlotte’s, so dropped the ’-Widmann’ with a little pang of regret and became Léon Buchanan. 

When the message came in from the Scottish register to say it had been changed, he logged on to order the new birth certificate he needs to change his UK passport. While I was on helping him, I got lost down the rabbit hole of the registry. 

First, I checked if my great auntie Cathie was still alive, and strangely she seems to be! The woman must be 100, and still doesn’t talk to the remaining members of the family despite still having all her marbles, weird woman! 

Then I checked a few of mum’s friends and from there I looked back at old records of family members' births and deaths. 

Growing up I used to moan to my gran about disliking my name, feeling it was too old for someone growing up in the 70s, yes I know I was named after my other dead gran but that didn't please me at the age of 7... and she confided in me that she felt exactly the same. Her name was boring and too common in her age group… not exactly my issue but we could relate at least! Gran was called Jean and confided in me that sometimes as a kid she signed things Jeanne and pronounced it the French way to make herself see much more exotic. 

She soon realized as a little girl in Springburn that Jeanne was a little farfetched so often contented herself simply with changing her name to Jeanie, just to be a tiny bit more exciting. Longing to be a little more than just a Jean and a Phyllis became a leitmotif between us during our brief 16-year overlap on this planet. 

I found gran’s death certificate from 1984. Jean Stirling had died of metastatic cancer of the lungs and brain at the age of 68. I found her marriage certificate from 1943. Jean Napier Henderson had married Matthew Thomson Stirling. Then I went back to 1916, but Jean Napier Henderson had never been born!

That puzzled me, given I knew she was definitely not born down south or elsewhere. I stuck in a wildcard and to my surprise found little ‘Jeanie Napier Henderson’ born to Annie (née Venters) and Allan Henderson in 1916. All the names matched. 
In those days things weren’t digital. Records were written and recorded by hand. My gran never learned to drive, never owned a passport, so probably never saw her own birth certificate which had been lost in the first world war. Her mother had died when she was a child, her father has a breakdown when he was left to raise two young girls alone. Her family called her Jean, so she thought her name was Jean. By the time she married, it had changed de facto as she filled in Jean on her marriage certificate, but she was never the plain Jean she hated so much, she was the Jeanie she always dreamed of being and never knew she had been! 

My own mother died in 2022, not knowing her mother’s first name was not what she had always believed it to be! How weird is that? I’d love to ring them both up today and tell them, but that is obviously never going to happen. 

Excitedly, I did double check my own birth certificate, but apparently it wasn’t a mistake. I am still frumpy Phyllis with no middle name alternative! Ho hum!

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