I Took My Husband’s Last Name to Escape my Addicted Family
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I Took My Husband’s Last Name to Escape my Addicted Family


This post was originally published on February 18, 2015.

Just recently I learned that Mortimer, my maiden name, is actually a habitational name with French roots that literally means “dead sea.” Although it’s possible that the name could be a biblical reference to the actual Dead Sea, the one flanked by Israel on its West side and Jordan on its East side, it’s more likely that the name simply refers to a stagnant, stinky, life-robbing body of water such as a lake or pond. My guess is that it has more to do with the latter rather than the former.

I also learned that in addition to originally being conceived as a rabbit, it turns out that before Mickey Mouse became a Mickey and a mouse, he was actually called Mortimer. Although no one can confirm why his name was changed, rumor has it that it was Disney’s wife Lillian who prompted the switch because she, like me, hated the name Mortimer. Apparently, Lillian argued that the name didn’t sound appealing enough to be marketable. And although I agree with her that the name Mortimer is an awkward mouthful for most adults—never mind a child—to spit out, I only have one reason for hating the name and it has nothing to do with its marketability and everything to do with my family.

Way back in the day, before the luxury of direct deposit, I used to have to go to the bank and wait in a long ass line to deposit some much needed funds to my chronically anemic account. One day, when I finally made it to the counter after a 20-minute wait, the teller pulled my deposit slip through the groove at the bottom of the glass, looked at it twice and then asked me, “Your last name is Mortimer?”

“Yea, why?” I had no idea what she would possibly say next.

“Do you have any brothers?”

Suddenly her question made sense. “I do,” I responded. “Why?”

“I went to high school with them,” she said with a snotty chuckle. “Are they still, ya know, messed up?”

At the time I was only 20 years old and didn’t have the mouth on me that I do today. If I could go back in time I certainly would have put Little Miss Bank Teller in her place. But all that dribbled out of my mouth that day was a small, self-conscious laugh and a bunch of nonsense ramblings.

“Oh no, God no,” I smiled. “They’re doing great! One lives in California now. Both are working. No more drugs, you know. All good things.” I was lying, of course. The truth was that I had no idea how my brothers were doing as I hadn’t spoken to or heard from either of them in years.

She looked at me slowly as she slid my deposit slip back under the glass. “Well, do you want me to tell them you said hello?” I asked in a desperate attempt to bolster my lies.

Again she laughed as if we had some long-standing private joke going on between the two of us. “No,” she said. “That’s okay. They probably wouldn’t remember me.” She added, “I didn’t hang out with the druggies.”

I waited until I was back in my car, a safe distance from the bank, before I cried. My tears brought back a flood of memories from my first day of third grade at Plymouth Elementary School. I remember the stern look of concern that washed over my teacher Mr. Eisman’s face when he recognized my last name.

“Oh you’re a Mortimer?” he’d asked. “Let’s hope you’re not like your brothers.”

Not only did my last name grant me an undeserved second look in the classroom but it also made me a target at recess. As soon as the older kids figured out who I was related to, they gave me the nickname Pothead. There was this one girl named Kim who used to chase me around the playground, between the swings and under the jungle gym, screaming, “Pothead! Heyyy pothead!” It didn’t take long for my nickname to stick.

But I was nothing like my brothers: I didn’t smoke pot, sell drugs or steal and I never saw the inside of a jail cell. I was only nine years old. And yet people, albeit some very small-minded people, assumed that I was just as delinquent as my brothers. As a kid, I didn’t have the power to shake that stigma.

It wasn’t until I got married that I was finally able to legally rid myself of my last name. Instead of a Mortimer, I’m now a Clancy. The only thing people ask me now when they hear my last name is if I’m related to the famed late author Tom Clancy. (Although it would have been an added bonus, my husband is not connected to Tom in any way.) But it’s continuously gratifying to be associated with a man who wrote The Hunt For Red October as opposed to someone who may have robbed your house in order to score drug money.

Just for kicks, I recently trolled the Internet searching for the meaning of the name Clancy. As it turns out, the name has some sturdy Irish roots and it literally means the red-haired soldier’s son or ruddy warrior. Although I may not be a warrior of the Gerard Butler type in 300, I know that I’ve overcome some major shit in my life courtesy of addiction. And in my opinion, that makes me one bad ass Clancy.

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About Author

Dawn Clancy is the creator of Growing Up Chaotic, a blog and radio program for those determined to survive and thrive despite growing up in toxicity. Her goal is to create a community hell bent on breaking, cracking and demolishing the cycle of dysfunction.