My name is not Melanie or Mel but Mel-po-mene, spelt Melpomene, but not pronounced meanie or men-e but as meni as in how many? It’s ancient Greek, you know, for (cue dramatic music and thunderclaps!)… Muse of Tragedy!
It’s the name of one of the nine daughters (muses) of Zeus, King of Gods and the Goddess of memory, Mnemosyne. Each daughter represents an art form and it is believed they inspire artists to create works of art.
Melpomene inspires tragic art in literature and song. Melpomene is depicted in Ancient Greek Mythology as holding a tragic mask from the masks of Drama. Comedy is the other mask held by my muse sister Thalia. Then there’s Calliope- Epic Poetry; Clio-History; Erato-Love Poetry; Euterpe-Lyric Poetry; Polyhymnia-Sacred Poetry; Terpischore-Choral Dance & Song and Urania-Astronomy. Phew! That’s a big fat Greek family! And a lot of baggage to deal with.
O.My.God! Why did my parents name me after a tragic figure? My mind screamed these questions over and over again when as a teen I discovered my true name as revealed on my birth certificate. What the hell were they thinking? What did it mean? Was I destined to have a tragic life? Did it portend a messy end like Juliet, Tess, ,Catherine, Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary had in all those tragic novels I read and loved? Was my name my destiny? Could I escape my fate? Would it become a defining namesake?
As it turns out I was named after my paternal Grandmother and this ancient greek mythological name was quite common in her day. Phew! That was a relief. Now I could just get on being a modern day Muse; inspiring people to write tragedies including myself as I write my romantic tragedy novel based on mermyths.
When my Dad took me to Primary school to enroll me the office lady squawked, “What? Mela-po-meani-ie? Mepomen? Melinda? Melissa?
No, no, no. That won’t do. Let’s just call her Melly. Short for Melanie. Now, there’s a nice Aussie name.” In the 70’s in Australia you could not be different or too ethnic. You had to assimilate and anglicize your name to be accepted.
And that’s how I became smelly Melly at Primary school which scarred me for life. It crippled my confidence and began my lifelong obsession with perfume. I now own 65 perfumes and 20 body lotions, potions, soaps and scented oils. Some would say I have an OCD fixation with perfume and that I’m world’s biggest Perfumista! I accept that title and revel in the sweet smell of success. Imagine my horror when kids chanted , “Smelly Melly, smelly Melly!” I was mortified and deeply traumatized. Why are kids so cruel? I didn’t smell. I showered everyday, so why this bullying? I realised later that every kid has this innate desire to rhyme and chant and sing so really, what else could they call me?
Later I would watch that cult classic Hollywood film, “Gone With The Wind” and smile serenely as the sweet, innocent, angelic Miss Melanie, affectionately known as Miss Melly by even her black slaves could do no wrong and validated my name and erased the shame of smelly Melly and was replaced with the respectable title of that saint, Miss Melly! I beamed with a beatific glow and held my head up high.
In my teens I outgrew Melly to become Melanie again but then the smile was wiped off my face when I looked that name up in a baby name book and discovered a dark , shameful secret. Melanie was a Greek name in origin (surprise, surprise!) which meant….da da da ta… Black, Darkness and dressed in Black! How dramatic and spooky and ominous sounding. Little did I know then that it would get worse when I discovered my real full name which was definitely more black, dark and dramatic. Hell, I even wore so much black in my early twenties when I studied Drama that students would call me a Goth and more recently Emo. Even now I get asked if I’m going to a funeral or why I don’t wear colour. It seems I could not escape the Drama of my name.
Nowadays, I wear my Melania, my darkness, my blackness, my tragic mask as a costume that enables me to play a part that is a huge part of me, a very important part that defines me, my family, my rich cultural heritage and the mythology of my life.