February 2018

by Marshall Chapman

Photograph by Anthony Scarlati

In my family, there was always a right or proper way of doing things. And this included naming babies. A firstborn female child was always named after her maternal grandmother; the second-born after her paternal grandmother, and so on. So when my older sister Mary was born, she was named Mary Chambless Chapman after our maternal grandmother—Mary Chambless Dryer of Birmingham, Alabama.

When Mary grew up and had two daughters of her own, she broke the mold and named them Catherine Chapman Webster and Frances Cloud Webster, drawing names from both sides of the family. This breaking with tradition drove Mother crazy.

“How will anybody know who she is?” she exclaimed after Catie was born. “After she’s gone, nobody will know who that child was!” Which had me thinking, Who cares? She’ll be DEAD for chrissakes!

Okay. Fast forward to 2015. My niece Frances and her husband, Todd Peter, are expecting their first child—my first great-niece and sister Mary’s first grandchild. Frances, being a traditionalist, was all ready to name this child for her maternal grandmother (my sister Mary), but when you’re naming a female with the last name Peter, you have to be careful. Mary Peter? Sounds like Merry Peter. Which reminds me of a woman I met one time in Chattanooga named Georgia Dicks whose brother was called Happy. I mean, how do you survive junior high school with a name like Happy Dicks?

Anyway, so Mary Peter was out. Along with a lot of other names, including Anita.

As it turned out, Frances and Todd took Mary’s middle and last names and christened their baby Chambless Chapman Peter. And when I heard that name, I loved it. The alliteration appealed to my poetic soul. Plus it scanned well. But then what would they call this child? Chambless and Chapman sounded too serious. Or too trendy. Or too … something. Then it hit me—Cha Cha. Yes! This child should be called Cha Cha! So I phoned in my suggestion. And would you believe it stuck? My great-niece is now known as Cha Cha Peter, and I don’t know about you, but if I were a little girl at summer camp and heard there was another camper named Cha Cha Peter, I would seek that girl out in the hopes that she would be my best friend.

Marshall Chapman is a Nashville-based singer/songwriter, author, and actress. For more information, visit www.tallgirl.com.

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