When Henryce Zannini was a little girl, she hated her given name. People were always getting it wrong, calling her Henry, for instance, as if she were a boy.
"Henryce," she'd correct them.
She shortened it to "Hen" and got the same reaction.
"Hen, like a chicken."
Oh, what's your real name?
She felt no one would ever understand her plight—except, perhaps, another Henryce.
But where in the world would she find another Henryce? During the 1980s, in the days before the Internet, the first place to start her hunt for another Henryce in the world was at the local library in Cranston, R.I. Finding nothing there, she tried her luck at the largest library in the state, in Providence. Still nothing. She wrote to the American Name Society and eventually heard back: Henrisse, yes. Henryce, no—not in the U.S. or Canada.
Henryce’s mother, Rose, was proud of her daughter's unique name, which she and her husband, Henry, created when their fourth child was yet another girl, not a boy who could carry on his father’s name (the boy wouldn’t arrive until later, the couple’s sixth child). Still, she aided in the search, curious to find another Henryce for her daughter to identify with. Rose died at 65, that particular goal unmet.
But in 2011, more than 30 years after her quest began, Henryce, now 63, proved that the American Name Society was wrong. Facebook, naturally, was the key.
A Long-Distance Connection
"There she was: Henryce Gumes," said Henryce Zannini, a thrill to her voice. "She could have been anywhere, but she lived one state away from me, in Massachusetts."
Zannini reached out to Gumes online, which led to phone calls and, ultimately, a friendship. The two Henryces laughed at the same things, loved comedies and seafood, and were in accord about the trouble of being named Henryce.
"We just clicked," Zannini said. "She's a wonderful woman, and we had the same philosophy of life: to be thankful for what we have. She's all about helping people, and so am I."
That quality came to the fore when Zannini learned Gumes was going through tough times. Her husband was incarcerated, and she'd been laid off from her job. Unpaid parking tickets prevented her from renewing her driver's license.
Zannini, unasked, sent Gumes a check for an amount she declined to disclose.
"How can I repay you?" asked Gumes, floored by her generosity.
"Pay it forward," said Zannini.
Gumes was able to get her driver's license back and landed a management position at a social services agency in Everett, Mass., a better job than she had before. To pay it forward, she started an online support group, Separated by Incarceration, dedicated to families who have a loved one in prison.
"We can't change the entire world, but whatever's in our control, we should do," Zannini said.
In July 2015, the Henryces were finally going to meet in person. All three of them.
It turns out that Henryce Gumes, 56, was named for her mother, Henryce, who was named for her father, Henry. Mother and daughter were booked on a train to Providence, R.I., for a weekend with Henryce Zannini and her longtime partner, Fred Davison (who loves the name Henryce, she said).
"I was [racking] my brain about what to do," Zannini said. "I wanted to give them a gift that meant something, that was unique to us, that no one else would have." She contemplated making t-shirts, but trip to the supermarket proved to be the a-ha moment.
She saw Coca-Cola bottles labeled with popular names, part of the Share a Coke campaign, and thought, "They'd never put my name on a Coke bottle." When she realized she could order bottles personalized with "Henryce" on the label, she raced home and bought four online, just in case one broke.
At the train station, the women gave each other "big, big hugs," Zannini said. "I felt I'd known her all my life and she felt the same way. I knew my mother's spirit was hovering over us. I could just feel it."
Back home, Zannini presented the Henryces with their Coke bottles wrapped in tissue paper and ribbon. "They went nuts," she reported. "Everyone was laughing and crying at the same time."
The Henryces and Fred spent the weekend eating seafood, going to the theater and spending time at the local beach. "Our talks ranged from serious to hysterical and everything in between," Zannini said. "I so wish we lived ten minutes apart instead of two-and-a-half hours. I have this new, true-blue friend I can talk to about anything, and cry with her if I need to. She's enriched my life," said Zannini.
As for the extra Coke bottle? Zannini sent it home with Gumes to give to her daughter, whose middle name is Henryce.
Sometimes a name, even one that has been a cross to bear, can become a blessing.