What's in a name?

"And her sister Tatiana is visiting from …" my stepdaughter Beth's voice flowed at me over the phone, but I lost track as I reacted to what I had just heard.

"Her sister's name is Tatiana?" I interrupted.

"Yes, isn't it a beautiful name?" Beth continued, oblivious to my reaction.

"Yes, of course it's a beautiful name. It was my mother's favorite Russian name."

"Oh really?"

"Yes. That's why she gave it to me."

There was a long silence. "That's your name?"

This was not a stranger I was talking to. My stepdaughter had been in my life for more than 30 years. We are very close. This was not about Beth's lack of attention or caring. It was about my total abandonment of the name Tatiana.

In San Francisco, in what we called 'American' school, Andrew Jackson — the inner city public school that I went to  — my kindergarten teacher had stared at the late enrollment form for Tatiana Anatolievna Amochaev.

"Oh dear," she said, kindly. "That name will never fly in this schoolyard. What do they call you at home?"


"Then that is what we will call you." And she wrote Tania in my school records, erased the middle name, and that's who I became. It's now on my passport, effectively formalized by my marriage certificate. Any of my Russian friends would know the derivation of the name Tania, but there was no reason for Beth to make that leap. 

"So who is this Russian friend of yours?" I eventually asked Beth.

"Oh, you remember, she lives in Aspen. Her grandparents were Romanovs. I think they might be princesses."

It was my turn to pause. Needless to say, Beth had never mentioned any connection between her friend and the royal house of Russia. I doubt she gave it much thought. 

Another light went off in my head. "Is her name short for Alexandra?" I asked. 

"Yes ..."

This was getting funnier. My brother Sasha's name is Alexander. 

"My grandmother was a Romanov too." I said, quietly.

"Oh. So you're a princess too?" It wasn't disdain I heard in Beth's voice; she was quite confident I was pulling her leg. She knew I was more tomboy than princess, and it was yet another name I had never mentioned. But it was true. 

"I'm afraid she was as far from being a princess as you could get. Her family were migrant workers, I think they passed through the village where my grandfather raised wheat ..."

"But her last name really was Romanov?"

It was that brief conversation that helped trigger my decision to use the nom de plume Tania Romanov for my writing. Now I am trying to research my grandmother’s family background, trying to learn why a family of freed serfs might carry the most regal name in the land. I'm afraid I am not making much progress.

Daria Pavlovna Romanova Amochaeva with her family. My father Anatoly is the taller boy between his mother and father. Early 1920s in Serbia.

Daria Pavlovna Romanova Amochaeva with her family. My father Anatoly is the taller boy between his mother and father. Early 1920s in Serbia.

If anyone has any ideas on how to learn more about Pavel Romanov, probably from Tambov, who had a daughter named Daria in 1895, please let me know.