Jennifer…nice to meet you!

My parents were big on tradition and naming their children after family members. Some of us more than others.  I’m not so convinced some of us were especially “named after” someone or if my mother simply liked the name and referred to the person in the family who shared the name as inspiration for it. I don’t think my father really had much to do with the process, quite honestly. Dad was pretty laid back and mild mannered and as long as he didn’t hate the name, I think the final decision was up to my mother.
The Horner Children 1966


My brother, Charles Merritt Horner (born April 18, 1952) was definitely in honor of my Dad’s father, Merritt Horner. Grandad was a cool guy. And he was very fond of my mother. But who was Charles? My mother, when asked, said it was for her brother in law, Charles Burleigh Wellington, who was married to her sister, Jean. But he was always called Burleigh, so I think this was one of those instances where my mother felt she needed to justify why she chose Charles. My brother was called Chuckie for the first part of his life (and as of this writing, still sometimes is by my Aunt Jean, who is 90 years old). Later on as he got older he went by Chuck. But Merritt was a name he was proud of, and he named his second son Kyle Merritt Horner, as well as naming various businesses he owned with the Merritt moniker.
My sister, Lynnette Jean Horner (born October 9, 1953) was in honor of the two aunts. My father’s sister, Grace Lynette (called Gracelyn), and my mother’s sister, Jean. My mother had a thing about double  n’s as you’ll see when it gets down to me. Lynnette was called Lynn. Or “Nin” for the little ones who couldn’t pronounce our L’s.
Next came Robin Elizabeth Horner (born May 23, 1955). Now here is where it gets weird. When I asked my mother who Robin was named for she said it was for my father, Robert. When I asked my father who Robin was named for he said a license plate. More on that in a minute.  Elizabeth must have just sounded good with Robin because there is no family connection there. Robin is the only one of us who never had a nickname. She was Robin. Sometimes we would call her Rob, but only because we were lazy. 
So, the “famous” license plate story that my father loved to tell was that in 1955 Connecticut began offering vanity license plates. Meaning that you could order a specific name of series of letters if you wanted to pay a little extra money. My father—a car enthusiast who always owned some kind of sports car or another – decided this was for him and headed down to the DMV to pick out a license plate that said, “RLH” for his initials, Robert Loehwing Horner. The problem was, someone had already taken RLH. So my father—as only my father would think—decided that close enough was good enough. REH was available. So he took it. My sister Robin was born a few months later. Coincidentally she was named Robin Elizabeth Horner. My father thought it was quite amusing to tell people she had been named after the license plate. Some 60 years later, that REH plate registration still lives in the Horner family. In fact, I am the one who has it now on my car. My mother began with it and after she moved out of state, Robin took it over. When Robin moved out of state, it so happened that I was getting my first car. It was very important to my Dad that I take over the REH plate. I did so with much pride at the family history of it. People ask me about it all the time and what it stands for and I love to tell the silly story. So much my Dad.
My brother, Richard Potter Horner came next (born April 16, 1959). No Richards in our family, but Potter was the middle name of my mother’s father, Harold Potter Willett. I always felt kind of bad for him that he had what I thought was an embarrassing (kind of like potty) middle name, but he never thought of it like that. As an adult, once J.K Rowling, Harry Potter books came out and were such a huge success, Potter was a really cool name to have! My brother was called Ricky for ever. But he goes by the much more grown up Rick now.
My grandmother, Jenny and me.
Thanksgiving 1969. I was 4 years old.

And then came me. The baby (born February 15, 1965). I had the honor to be named after my two grandmothers. My mother’s mother was Jeanette Matthews Shrum Willett. She was called Jenny. When exactly that began is in dispute. Some stories say it was started when my grandparents moved to Swampscott and met the neighbor across the street, and her bridge club members began calling her Jenny. But Jenny was a common nickname for Jeanette in the 1800’s and early 1900’s and her husband, Harold, had a sister named Jeanette, whom was sometimes called Jenny, so some of us think Grandad called her Jenny sometimes too. Regardless…my mother liked the name Jenny and wanted me to be called that, so she named me Jeannette. Notice the 2 n’s again. It is not the way Buba (as we grandkids called her) spelled it, but my mother liked it that way. My middle name was Grace. After my Dad’s mother, Ethel Grace Comp Horner. Grammy was always called Grace.

Grammy’s passive aggressive 
charm bracelet. 

Grammy did not like the order in which I was named. She said she thought the name Jenny would bring to mind the slang term for a donkey, which was a common and, some thought, a derogatory word back then. In retrospect, we think she was just a teensy bit jealous that I was not named Grace Jeannette. Regardless, she didn’t have so much of an issue with the name Jeannette, but she refused to call me Jenny. I remember quite clearly she would call me Jenna. I even have her charm bracelet of all her grandchildren’s silver “heads” and all our names engraved on each. My “head” says Jenna. I remember it made me very mad when she called me Jenna. And I remember very clearly when they came to visit in the 1970’s and were staying at a motel on the Berlin Turnpike in Newington and we went down to see them.  I told Grammy to stop calling me Jenna. I had to be about 8 or 9 at the time.

She listened. She called me Jenny from that day on. 

So I went by Jenny for nearly everything for most of my life. It wasn’t until I was an adult and had to apply for jobs, taxes, etc. that I realized how frustrating it was that people assumed my name was Jennifer. A lot. When you introduce yourself as Jenny…somehow, 30 minutes later they are referring to you as Jennifer. Not Jen. Not Jenny. Jennifer.  It’s weird. Nothing against the name. It’s just not mine.


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