My surname, McMahon, comes from the Gaelic Mac Mathghamhna and literally means "Son of the Bear". This is why I often use Ursa Minor (the Little Bear) as a pseudonym. But I digress...
Now, as most of you know, Selina (which is actually derived from the French word meaning “heavenly” – it’s got nothing to do with the moon which is more properly known as Selene: a VERY different name altogether) was chosen because I wanted to keep my initials and signature the same, and was selected from a book of names (I literally just looked through the 'S' names until I found one I liked).
At first, I wasn't going to bother with a middle name - after all, I've managed quite well without one so far (my dad couldn't afford to buy enough ink to give me a middle name originally). But this time round, I had the option to take one. I considered various names including ones from my own family. And then I remembered Missouri…
About fifteen or so years ago I began work on my family tree. It was when I examined the 1901 UK census that I found something odd. Listed as an elder sister of my grandfather was a girl named Missouri, who had been born in 1896. This struck me as odd because
a) The girls in my family have “normal” names such as Ada, Agnes, Anne etc.
b) I’d never ever heard of her being mentioned by anyone. Ever.
Sadly, my grandfather had died when I was about 9 years old so I couldn’t ask him, but none of my relatives from that side of he family had heard of her either. Some doubted whether I had read the census correctly so I obtained a copy of her birth certificate as proof she had existed. And then I found her death certificate also – she had died in 1914 of tuberculosis whilst an inmate in the local sanatorium which specialized in treating mentally ill patients.
Why was she there?
It took another 15 years to find out.
I managed to obtain her school records which showed that she’d attended one of the local schools but was withdrawn when she was only thirteen. No reason was given. So I contacted the archives in England who gave me copies of the admissions papers for her time in hospital. She was admitted in 1909 because she was “an imbecile from birth” and had “tried to drop the baby [my grandfather] out of the bedroom window”.
It seemed clear to me that she was actually mentally disabled, but mental health practice wasn’t as good then as it is today, as a result of which she had spent her last five years alone in the hospital before dying of a different disease to the one she was being treated for. She'd been buried and then was never mentioned again - it was as if she had never existed.
Since I was the one who found her (no-one would have known about her if I hadn’t “done some digging”) and since she would doubtless have suffered a far nicer fate today with our appreciation of mental health than was present back in the early twentieth century, I decided to adopt her name legally, in order to remember her even though the family had tried hard to forget her.
How quickly do we make value judgements of other people? How often do we ask how God judges them? Are our judgements really just, or are we simply paying attention to our own prejudices? Do we truly try to understand those with mental health issues?