Naming, Part II

Eleanor Davis, aspiring actress, slightly modified her first name the moment she set foot on campus at Brown: “Eleonora,” she told people, in her Virginia Tidewater accent, “with an ‘o’ in the middle and an ‘a’ at the end — à la the late great Duse,” with a slight look upward as she said the name, a barely perceptible flutter of the eyelids, and a dismissive snort if anyone asked who the late great “Duse” was (her new friends admired this haughtiness at first, but they wearied of it during fall of sophomore year). Eleanor’s father ran a successful cineplex in Norfolk, but whenever she was asked about her parents, she said they were “in theater” (short “a” in the pronunciation, of course); this lie precipitated that sophomore-year fall from grace, when Mom and Dad showed up for Parents’ Weekend and one of Eleanor’s acquaintances, envious of the attention the young actress had received, pressed her father a little too hard about that avant-garde production of Euripides’ Bacchae he’d supposedly mounted at an alpine resort several years before. “Closest I’ve gotten to Switzerland is a packet of Swiss Miss,” he laughed, to Eleanor’s ultimate (and permanent) mortification.

— Art Taylor