1983: Rita Davis and Jean McDermott – I entered the world a few days ahead of schedule, barely giving my parents enough time to leave my older sister and brother with friends and get to the hospital before making my debut. In a move I’m still not entirely convinced didn’t stem from a lack of creativity, my parents decided to name me Rita Jean – Rita after my maternal grandmother, Rita Ann Davis, and Jean after my paternal grandmother, Doris Jean McDermott. For years, my grandma was the only other Rita I knew, and therefore I spent the majority of my elementary school years hating my name, complaining that it was an old woman name. Why didn’t the hereditary old lady name go to the first born daughter, I would whine to my mother. Be grateful we didn’t name you Doris Ann, she’d retort. Her no nonsense response did actually leaving me feeling grateful. At least until the age of eleven.
Entering sixth grade, my grandmother was no longer the only Rita I knew. There was also Rita Repulsa, the screeching villain from the Power Rangers. The show wasn’t too far on the other side its prime when I moved to a new school – and was promptly nicknamed Rita Repulsa by Joey Malinski and Billy Voermann. I returned from my first day at Stevensville Middle School asking, Why didn’t you name me Doris Ann?
I’ve finally come to terms with my name. And I think I would have been fine with Doris Ann too, especially since Finding Nemo came out and Ellen DeGeneres made the name Dori cool. But regardless of my name and its alternative in popular culture, the fact is that both options pay homage to women who came before me, women who fought through tough times to make life brighter for future generations, women to whom I and others are indebted. Both my Grandma and Granny cared for me many times when I was an infant and toddler, making it possible for my mother to support our family. From what I’ve heard, I used to waddle around Granny’s house with a permanent orange stain covering my mouth and fingers. She kept her cookie jar filled with cheese puffs, my favorite, rather than the cookies one might expect. Perhaps Granny’s small gesture, her small act of rebellion against how things were supposed to be, planted a tiny seed in me, a seed that is still growing, teaching me to be comfortable doing what feels right for me, regardless of whether or not it is what might be expected.
Or perhaps the mountains of cheese puffs I ate as a toddler is nothing more than the root cause of this love of junk food that I can’t seem to shake. Regardless, thank you Doris Jean McDermott and Rita Ann Davis for paving the way for me and other women. And thank you Dotty Taylor for what I now believe might have been foresight on December 30, 1983, not lack of creativity, gifting me a name that will always remind me to reflect back and thank the people who made the life I lead possible.