ERNA: What’s In A Name? Now, If It Were Erina…


What’s In A Name?

Now, If It Were Erina…

Is it nature? Or is it nurture? My friend is a twin. Her sister is totally her opposite. They look different.  My friend is a beautiful woman whom you can tell has been to the best boarding schools, finishing school and universities.  Traveled the world, lived in high society.

Erna Morgan McReynolds, raised in Gilbertsville, is retired managing director/financial adviser at Morgan Stanley’s Oneonta Office, and an inductee in the Barron’s magazine National Adviser Hall of Fame.  She lives in Franklin.

Meanwhile, her twin who grew up with the same parents, in the same room, same school has turned out the opposite.  Addicted.  Nearer to the dregs of society than the top.

Learning that, I began to wonder why I have been afraid? Was I just born this way? Or did my parents do something that made me this way. Good question?

When I began thinking about this question – I thought back to my French teacher who told me I was a perfectionist. That makes me worry about failing, I thought. That is just me. How I was born.

But as I mulled this over, I recalled how I ended up with “Erna” as my first name.

My parents had never heard the name “Erna” as far as I know. They wanted to name me ERINA. My Dad was from Ireland. Erina comes from Eire — the Gaelic name for Ireland. It means beautiful lady in Gaelic and the Greek origin is goddess of peace.

Erna is the feminine version of the German name Ernest — and it means eagle-like.

When I was born, Mom’s nurse was a forceful German woman. She put Erna on my birth certificate. And when my timid parents said, “but we want to call her Erina,” they were overruled. Mom and Dad were intimidated by authority. Fear, I guess?

Then came another chance to deal with this awful name. Mom and I went hand in hand to our interview with my kindergarten teacher. We presented my birth certificate. “Ah, ha” said the teacher forcefully — “Erna”.

Afraid of Mrs Vincent’s authority, Mom half-whispered “but we call her Jeanie.” My parents avoided that hateful name Erna by using my middle name. Even crooning that Stephen Foster favorite, “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair”.

Back to fear. My Mom was too afraid to fight an authority figure. And that locked me into that hateful name at school which really meant the rest of my life.  Everyone I ever met came through school, authority.  I was afraid too.  I had learned early to follow rules from my parents’ examples.

Did these two events send me off on a lifetime journey of being afraid? Nurture? For me often with a good outcome — but afraid nevertheless.

When I introduce myself, I have always been afraid people would start laughing at my name.  Who had ever heard the name Erna — no lovely cadence like Erina. No romantic meaning but “eagle-like” — which calls to mind some raptor ready to dive and grab small creatures in its talons.  No goddess, beautiful lady for me.

But I did stick my hand out and boldly announce my name. Doing it anyway paid dividends. People always remembered my name or at least remembered that I was the one with the difficult name. That helped me get interviews — I wasn’t Mary, or Jane or Barbie or Kathy. But a distinctive woman.

When my first editor in London interviewed me, he told me why he chose me from dozens of resumes. First of all because I told him he would be lucky if I agreed to take the job. A novel approach for a straight-laced Brit.

But really, he didn’t lose me in the shuffle because of my name which I had been afraid to put on my CV. A German name and an ugly one too. If he laughed when I say “Erna” at my interview I thought maybe I should change my name to Jeanie. Tell him that the names were mixed up.

Now I know Erna probably has been a good name — but did you laugh when you heard it?

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