October 1, 2007

Mary Jo or Mary Joan

At age 63, I still don't know my first name. I was baptized Mary Joan Koch. My family has always called me Mary Jo. My mother's name was Mary, my father's name was Joseph. Joan was my mom's younger sister. I was the first, eagerly awaited daughter. My parents had a war-time romance; they exchanged daily letters for four years. When Mom was pregnant, both she and my Dad referred to me as Mary Jo. They were positive I was a girl in the days before sonograms. This is unbelievably prescient because they then had five boys.

My youngest daughter Carolyn, at 3, flummoxed me : "Mommy, your mother's name is Mary, your father's name is Joseph. Why didn't they call you Jesus?" I had never realized Mary Jo was the feminine version of Jesus:) Mary Jo seemed to have bad karma. People only got my name straight after Mary Jo Kopechne drowned after Ted Kennedy's car fell in the water and Mary Jo Buttafuco got shot by the teenager whom husband was having an affair with.

I have always been Mary Jo to my family.Throughout grade school, high school, graduate school, I preferred to be Mary Joan Koch. Most of my friends called me Mary Joan. The Mary and Joan aspects of my personality coexist uneasily. Certainly as a teen I admired Joan of Arc far more than Mary, the mother of Jesus. Joan is the manic side of my personality. I hadn't yet realized Mary was a feminist. I have always been a rebel, a questioner of authority, a skeptic , unwilling to accept conventional wisdom. As a girl, I monthly confessed "I was disobedient." Too many of my bosses would agree that I've never outgrown that sin. At Fordham, as the first girl most Jesuits had ever taught, I was always "Miss Koch."

I have always been ambivalent about marriage and name changes. As a card carrying feminist in 1968, I felt I should keep Koch. I had become Mary Jo, leaving Mary Joan behind. But Koch is a name pronounced crotch and worse by high school boys. My best friend called me Kochie, the boys called me Crochie. So I chose my new husband John's last name because it sounded English.
In 1987, after 12 years of full-time childrearing, I returned to graduate school as Mary Jo and never again used my married name. I had recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder; it was a tumultuous time in my life. When asked if my going back to Koch signaled a troubled marriage, I vehemently denied it, laughing, "this has all of the satisfactions of divorce, with none of the complications." Nine years later, John and I did divorce; our once excellent marriage had died slowly and painfully, dispute our genuine efforts to revive it.

I received a Master of Library Science degree in 1991, a Master of Social Work degree in 1993. Both diplomas were awarded to Mary Jo Koch. To my therapy clients and my library patrons, I was Mary Jo Koch. My Hispanic patients were puzzled how their Jewish therapist has such an Irish face.

For 17 years years I was a children's, teen, and reference librarian in several Long Island and Queens libraries. I was a troublemaker in a profession that doesn't reward troublemakers. Mary Jo Koch was rather notorious; the possibility of burying her was irresistible. I met Peter , the love of my life, in a Jane Austen discussion list. Jane is an ambitious matchmaker; I was in New York and Peter was in London. After a five-year long-distance courtship, we were married in December 2001. Madly in love, I renounced the name I had used for 37 of my 56 years and took Peter's name.

Recently I have abandoned librarianship. I am sick of the mediocre bosses, book-length policy manuals, rigid hierarchy, and promotions based on hours served, not ability, that characterize public librarianship in my county library system.. My social work and library careers have not been spectacular. Being open about my manic depression was a mistake. Having a small private practice is the safest way to be a social worker, but my clients tend to get better too fast.

I need to be my own boss. Two years ago, I started Ageless Internet, an internet tutoring and consulting company. Abruptly, I decided that my new business cards should say Mary Joan Koch to mark a new chapter in my life. Mary Joan Koch seems to represent my career self, myself as a writer. Now that I am not working full-time, I hope to fulfill a 34-year -oid ambition to write about feminism and motherhood. As a late 1960's radical feminist, I never, in my worst nightmares, would have believed that 40 years later, our country would refuse to enact family-friendly policies and honor caregiving, whether as a parent, day care teacher, or home health aide.

I suspect reverting to Koch periodicall is a way of stayed connected to my mom and dad, whom I miss even more since becoming a grandmother. My mom, who died three years ago, was Mary Koch. Mom supported every left/liberal organization in the US. I expect to be getting solicitation letters from these organizations forever. Right after she died, I felt compelled to contribute to her favorite organizations to honor her memory, but I sadly learned that I didn't share her amazing generosity. When I sort through the envelopes, I often feel mildly shocked that I too am Mary Koch. But it would feel blasphemous to try to capture her glory.

Mistakenly, you might believe that the German Koch is the least impressive name. When Ed Koch was mayor of New York, my mom was asked so many times if she was related, she began to respond: "Yes, I am her secret wife." My brother Stephen, a chemistry professor, replies, "Einstein's mother's maiden name was Koch. We're related to that side of the family."

I will spare you the stories of my various pseudonyms and my hair colors. One social worker advisor laughed, "When the shit hits the fan, you can always change your name and your hair color.

I wrote this post a while ago. The fact that I decided to share it on Salon makes me question whether the Joan persona is gained ascendancy after three months of Mary's dominance. Joan is the writer; Mary only reads.

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