With more of my life behind than ahead of me, who would think I’d be having an identity crisis? It’s not that I don’t know who I am, but some people who know me don’t recognize me! No, I haven’t had plastic surgery. It’s my name that gives them pause.
“You are Shirley Melis?” they ask. “We thought you were Shirley Nagelschmidt Bessey Hirsch!”
“I am, but before I became Nagelschmidt Bessey Hirsch I was known as Shirley Melis.”
I was born Shirley (Ann) Melis and that’s how people knew me through college and as a young newspaper columnist before I married Joe Nagelschmidt. In common with many women my age, I happily took – without a moment’s hesitation – my husband’s name as mine. Nagelschmidt wasn’t pretty but it was memorable.
For some thirty years, while forging a career in public relations in Washington, D.C., and later working in community relations for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, I was Shirley Nagelschmidt with Melis relegated to a silent “M” between first and last names.
After Joe’s death, I married John Bessey, and for a brief time I was known as Shirley Bessey. Now, married to Frank Hirsch, I go by Shirley Hirsch. Had I been more of a feminist at the outset, I might have always been known as Shirley Melis. And yet, in retrospect, each of my last names – Nagelschmidt, Bessey and Hirsch – defines a significant phase of my life. So, what’s in a name, or several names? The short answer: my life. Banged-Up Heart is a slice of my life’s journey and in telling my story, I’m giving voice to my long silent “M” by reclaiming Shirley Melis.
I'm Shirley Melis. You may know me as Shirley M. Nagelschmidt, Shirley M. Bessey and now, Shirley M. Hirsch. Each reflects a particular phase of my life. Banged-Up Heart is a slice of my life's journey and in telling my story, I'm giving voice to my long silent "M" by reclaiming my maiden name, Shirley Melis.