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Mother’s hand-me-down name gift from God

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I have worn a hand-me-down name for a half-century.

My mother, whose dearest high school friend was named Janet, originally planned to bestow this badge of honor on her first-born daughter. Alas, 11 months before my sister was born, my paternal grandmother gave birth to her youngest daughter (her 10th child from a brood of 11) and named her Janet.

As my mother amusingly recalls with a hint of bitterness: “Your grandmother stole my name.”

My eldest sister, the first princess born into a new family lineage, was instead awarded the name Leta. Like the slop my grandfather poured into the clanking, metal hog feeders, I was thrown the “leftover” name four years later.

I always felt a little comfort in knowing that I was thoughtfully equipped with a different middle name from my Aunt Janet. She was Janet Denise Hommel — I was Janet Leigh Hommel.

I learned later that Janet Leigh also was the name of a popular Hollywood actress in the 1950s and ’60s. Her given name was Jeanette Helen Morrison. Janet Leigh the actress was awarded the Golden Globe and was nominated for the Academy Award for best supporting actress for her trauma-inducing performance in the Alfred Hitchcock film “Psycho.” You may remember the disturbing horror flick where my namesake is knifed to death in a shower scene.

(Disclaimer: My mother has adamantly defended her position that she did not name me after this actress, stating with a sarcastic eye roll: “Oh brother! Janet, if you would check your facts, that movie came out years after you were born.)

Eleven months to be exact.

My pre-used, hand-me-down name was never a problem, except at every holiday and Sunday dinner at my grandparents’ farm. It took me years as a youngster to figure out that when the name Janet was spoken, it was not referring to me.

I am sure I did physical damage to my C2 vertebrae from years of snapping my neck to see who was finally calling “my” name at the farm. It was never for me. I was, and forever will be,  “Janny,” “little Janet” or “Frank’s Janny” around my aunts, uncles and cousins.

Don’t get me wrong, I am certainly not complaining about my name. I could have been one of George Foreman’s five sons — all named George.

Growing up with my name was quite adequate, even if it was pre-worn, like a tattered coat on a Goodwill store rack. And although it was a peak time for naming female babies Janet, I knew very few. There was Janet on the ’70s sitcom “Three’s Company,” Jan on “The Brady Bunch” and the Grammy-winning singer and actress, Janet Jackson.

Of course, the most famous in my world was my Aunt Janet.

I phoned Leta last week and reminded her that Mom originally wanted to name her Janet.

She responded selfishly, like most firstborns in line for the throne: “I’m not trading, I’m kind of attached to my name now.”

I kindly reminded Leta that her name, which probably should have been mine, means joyful, and she could readily prove her “gladness” by sharing her good name. She reminded me that she was older and wiser and that I would never be the boss of her.

I suppose, although my name is very plain and non-exotic, I have grown to live with my name. It never really gave me much trouble, except for the one random phone call I received one evening three decades ago when I was in my early 20s, fresh out of college:


“Are you Janet Hommel?”

“Yes, can I help you?” I replied.

“I thought you should know that your husband and my wife are having an affair,” the deep voice informed me calmly, waiting for a response.

“Uh,” I paused processing the stranger’s statement. “I am certain you have the wrong Janet Hommel. I’m single and have never been married.”

I went on to explain that I have an aunt named Janet, but she was now Janet Olivo and happily married to an awesome guy named John. I rambled on about my Grandfather Ralph being the youngest of 11 and my father Frank was the eldest of 11, so there were a few third- or fourth-cousins I didn’t know very well. And my last name was spelled with an “o” not a “u,” like the figurines.

“And your name is Janet Hummel, er, Hommel,” the voice stammered?

“Yes, sir, all my life. But I’m Frank’s Janny, and my name means ‘gift from God.’”

Janet Hommel Mangas, the third of seven children, grew up on the east side of Greenwood. The Center Grove area resident and her husband are the parents of three daughters.

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