My name at birth was Christine Mary Ertz. My mother campaigned for “Theresa” but my dad won out. I was called “Christy” unless I was in trouble, then it was “Chris-tine Mary.”
At nine, I began studying for my first communion. I chose the saint name “Joan” for Joan of Arc. The other female saints seemed mostly to die for Christ and have their breasts cut off to protect their virtue. Joan put on a soldier’s uniform and kicked butt. Though I never finished the confirmation process, I carried the spirit of Joan with me always. As a friend put it, “You’re always leading an army of one into heavily armed camps.”
At school, I was “Chris” or “Ertz.” I liked being called by my last name, though it was not a pretty name.
In choir in senior high school, there was already a Chris. Mama Joyce Davis, the awesome choir director, helped me pick out “Chrissy.” Only a few people call me Chrissy, though. When I went to work in a feminist organization where there was already a Chris, my co-workers refused to call me Chrissy because it made me sound like an airhead. People who met me in my early 20s still know me as “Christine.”
When I was 25, a series of events compelled me to want to change my name. I wanted to be Chris Larkin, after Conor Larkin in Leon Uris’s Trinity, a book that had a profound effect on my understanding of my Irish roots. True story: I can’t write ‘ks’ without going back and correcting the points, which I thought was a bad idea for a signature. So Larkin was out. On the Irish side of the family, I had Brennans, Sullivans, Fitzgeralds, fine Irish names all. But none seemed quite right.
I was driving across South Dakota late at night in a van with my friend Shauna Sue. We were talking about my new name. I mentioned the name Devlin, as in Bernadette Devlin, the Irish nationalist and activist who was shot by her enemies but survived. There was also a Terry Devlin in Trinity, and I always liked the name. At that moment, we crested a hill and faced an enormous orange, three-quarter moon on the horizon. I said, “That’s it. Devlin’s my name.” As a 25th birthday present to myself, I went to court and legally changed my name to “Christine Connor Devlin.”
Now I’m Chris, Chrissy, Christine and Devlin with friends and co-workers. I’m still Christy to my family. My lifelong fascination with names and the stories behind them continues.