A few days ago at work, one of the customers looked at my name tag and asked, “Your name is so interesting, where did it come from? Were you named after someone?”
Now, if you know me at all, you know I have a million stories, and a question like that is impossible for me to answer without basically talking your ear off. Unfortunately for this customer, she was about to be subjected to a long (but interesting?) tale of how I came to be named ‘Lena’.
I was actually named after two incredibly strong willed (and extremely stubborn) women – my great aunt Elizabeth Scott Carrington and her best friend Lena Hall. Both of the women were born and raised in a prominent (aka wealthy) families in North Carolina and Philadelphia respectively. At the time (the mid 1920s), there were two jobs for women – teacher or nurse. Both Lena and Elizabeth chose the latter. However, North Carolina at the time didnt actually have a nursing school (Elizabeth would latter be the driving force for opening the UNC-Chapel Hill Nursing School – fun fact: its named after her). So, Elizabeth packed her bags and went to the University of Philadelphia’s nursing school, where she would meet Lena Hall.
Proof that these women were trail blazers – in the 1920s, women did not travel on their own. Especially not women from respectable families. But that didn’t stop Lena and Elizabeth boarding a cargo boat together (yes, a cargo boat, not even a cruise ship. Major props to these women) and sailing from Philly to Europe as two single females. They were basically made of steel. And both kept travelling their entire lives. Elizabeth would eventually get married to George Carrington and devote her life to improving education in North Carolina (including creating a scholarship fund which helped me pay for my university. Seriously, this woman was amazing.) Lena, on the other hand, never married. And both Lena and Elizabeth never had children.
Fast forward to 1993 when my parents were trying to decide what to name their daughter. My brother had already been named after the strong woman in my dad’s life (his mom, literally my brother is named after a woman. As a little sister, I find pleasure in this.) So that left the strong women in my mother’s life. My joke has always been they cursed themselves when they named me after the two – it was basically a self-fullfilling profacy that I would end up travelling the world and being as stubborn as a mule. The joke was always that Lena Hall could talk you out of going to hell, and I’d like to think I’m about the same.
Final awesome story about Elizabeth Carrington – after her husband died, she started traveling on cruises instead of alone: in her words, “at least then, if I die, they will ship my body home.” At the age of 78, while on a trip to Timbuktu, Morroco, her cruise overbooked the local hotel and asked for volunteers to sleep in the jail for the night. At 78 years old, Elizabeth volunteered to sleep in the Timbuktu jail for the night. The jailers spent the night playing a loud card game. Despite this, Elizabeth fell asleep using her purse as a pillow. My parents still have her purse at our house. She was super bad-ass.