Field hockey goalkeeper 'Merty' embraces her nickname


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It almost always throws her classmates off guard when Kathleen McGraw introduces herself on the first day of class.

Some scratch their heads. Others aren’t sure what to think. The teacher often asks for a repetition. The senior nods, and proceeds to say it again.

“I go by ‘Merty,’ ” she says, smiling.

It’s seemingly odd that the nickname “Merty” would arise from Kathleen McGraw. Merty isn’t a descendant from either name — like Bill from William, or Bob from Robert. The idea belongs to McGraw’s father, John McGraw.

The morning that McGraw was born, a news article ran about a Russian politician. As a joke, John McGraw introduced the newborn to McGraw’s older sisters under the name of the Russian.

Her older sisters attempted to relay the name back to their father, with various pronunciations like “Shmerty” and “Merty.”

“Merty” just so happened to be the name that stuck.

“Everyone in my family just called me that,” McGraw said, chuckling. “It was just what I went by.”

Her family and friends picked up on the name quickly, and it was how she began to introduce herself as she grew older. Friends knew her as ‘Merty,’ rather than Kathleen, and still do.

The reactions to the name have been as quick as a simple acceptance, or as long as a questionnaire.

When she was younger, no one questioned it. As she grew older, more people began to wonder.

A lot of people mishear the first time McGraw says it. She’ll get people saying “Birdy” or “Marty.” “Gerty” is a common one, too.

There came a time, though, when the senior did begin to wonder herself about how weird the name might appear to those who don’t know her. Upon entering high school, McGraw switched schools.

She found herself having to reintroduce the nickname over again to a crop of kids who didn’t know her.

She got a few weird looks and was peppered with questions of why and how, she said, but stuck with it. It would’ve been odd to go by Kathleen.

Head coach Tracey Griesbaum finds herself very rarely calling McGraw by her true name.

Griesbaum will occasionally slip in a “Kathleen” when she’s reading school documents or other important papers.

The rest of the team will either dismiss it or look around for a “Kathleen.” In their minds, they don’t play with a Kathleen. Only a Merty.

“She just made it known that that’s what she wanted to be called, right away,” Griesbaum said. “We haven’t looked back.”

The head coach also admitted to calling the senior Kathleen when she’s looking for a certain reaction out of her goalie. But it never really works to her advantage.

“I don’t ever get the reaction I’m looking for,” Griesbaum said, smiling.

The nickname is as rare as the skills she brings to the net. An argument can be made to name McGraw the best goalie in the Big Ten. The leadership and poise she maintains in goal trickles its way to Iowa’s backline, which has been one of, if not, the most important part of their success so far this season.

“It shows a lot of character with this team,” senior defender Geena Lesiak said, regarding how McGraw was able to help lead the defensive effort against Ohio State on Sept. 30. “We remained really poised, and it really shows how we’ve grown as a team.”

But no matter how McGraw reaches out to the defense in which she leads, they’ll always call her by the name in which she grew up with.

“I think it would be more weird to go by Kathleen for me now after all these years,” she said.

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