Names are a big deal. There’s a reason there are so many baby books devoted to just choosing a name. There’s a reason new mothers make lists of all the possible names for their newborn. A name is part of your identity. It’s what people call you when speaking to you. It’s what they remember first. It’s your introduction.
The beautiful thing about names is that many of them have meanings. My name (Mar-LAY-nuh) is originated from the name Marlene which is supposed to mean “Maria of Magdalena” in German. Personally, I’ve heard much cooler name meanings, like my dad’s name, Luis, which means “renowned warrior.” But the stories behind my name are the ones I love to tell.
The story I stuck to the most on the playground, was the one where my mother named me after Marlene Dietrich, a famous German-American actress who is well known for being one of the highest paid actresses of her time and representing everything glamour. She was wonderfully talented and completely confident in herself. She even received honors for the work she did during WW2 against the Nazi regime. Marlene was my super hero and I wore her name like a bold new pantsuit.
But that wasn’t the full story. There was a whole part I was leaving out.
I was around seven years-old when I first saw her. I was sitting at my grandmother’s kitchen table when she changed the channel to an episode of “Days of Our Lives.” Being so accustomed to her usual schedule of novellas and “Laura en América” on Telemundo, I was surprised to see her decide to watch an English-speaking show. She pointed at one woman on the screen and said “loquita!” That was the day I learned I was named after one of the most well-known soap opera characters in history, Marlena Evans.
My obsession with Marlena didn’t really start until I was a bit older. All I knew about her was what my mother told me. “She’s a doctor. She’s very smart, and I thought she had a beautiful name so I gave it to you,” was what she would say to me when I asked about her. Later on my questions became more direct. “Who in their right mind names their kid after a possessed woman?!” I would demand. In my mother’s defense, I was born in 1993 and Marlena Evans didn’t become influenced by the devil until around 1995 (but still).
As I got older I wanted to know more about this woman who held my name. I learned she was played by Deidre Hall, was kidnapped multiple times, had many husbands, was mind-controlled into believing she was a serial killer, fell out of 30-story window (and lived), and was a surrogate mother to genetically engineered twins while she was in a coma for 4 years.
No wonder my grandmother called her crazy! I thought she was crazy too. I had never seen so many absurd story lines for one single character. Yet, the more I learned about Marlena, the more I tried to find our similarities. She had her own radio show. I had my own radio show freshman year of college. She was extremely close to her twin sister. My sister and I are best friends. She constantly followed her intuition about people. I always trust my gut. She suffered from amnesia a few times. I’m always forgetting things! We were more alike than I thought and I began to grow proud of my name. To this day when people ask me where my name comes from, watching their eyes pop out when I mention certain parts of her story leaves me laughing for days.
For awhile I’ve kept the true story of my name a secret. It sounded beyond crazy to me and I really wasn’t trying to draw any comparisons to a complete lunatic. Yet, with time I began to embrace and even love it. Maybe you don’t like your own name, and that’s okay! If you’re over 18, go change it! My mom did, and she owns it so well that sometimes I forget her birth name. Just do some research first, and maybe you’ll learn things about your name you never knew and it will make you appreciate it even more.
My name’s Marlena, I was named after two incredible women, both brave & crazy, what’s your story?