I hate my name. “It’s unique,” they say. “It’s so pretty!” they say. It’s been a near-constant source of aggravation for most of my life, and when you have that much loathing for such a basic facet of your… “you”-ness, is it any wonder I have massive problems with self-esteem?
I have so much contempt for people who treat their child’s identity as a canvas for mommy’s creativity. Sure, it’s your right, but if you really need a creature upon which to bestow an unbearably twee moniker, do the kid a favor and get a cat.
If nothing else, at least give the kid a nickname, something they can fall back on when and if they need to feel normal. It gets so tiresome, repeating the pronunciation, the spelling, and in extra-special cases (like mine), the punctuation, what it means, and how to produce it on a computer. It gets especially tiring when you’re having to do this for people who don’t really have a vested interest or need for you to go through this tireless exercise (ie, a random person on the other end of the phone, whose call I will pass off to the person who can actually help them once they stop asking me how to spell it and start describing their problem). It’s just the worst when you think (as you often do) how this could all be avoided (or at least drastically reduced) if you had a nickname.
I will never forget my first day of school in the south. After the obligatory correction of the pronunciation, the teacher asked me “what do you go by?” I didn’t really know what she meant, and although it wasn’t the first time I’d discover there was different terminology in this strange new land, it was the most profound.
See, what normal parents do when they give their child an unusual name, or a name they don’t plan on using to refer to the child on an everyday basis, is give the child a nickname, a shortened version of whatever ridiculous monstrosity of a moniker they’ve saddled the poor little tyke with. Or they may call him something unrelated, but easier to deal with (such as in the case of a name that’s been passed down through generations). Or they may use the middle name to satisfy their pathological need to be different, or they’ll decide on an odd first name and refer to the child as their middle name. There are any number of ways to use your child to feel self-satisfied at how clever you are, yet still not burden the youngster with the various difficulties faced by people whose names aren’t part of the popular lexicon. (These things range from minor aggravations to having their resumés discarded on sight to full-blown crises of identity, which, if I have the map oriented correctly, is my next stop.)
This is not how it worked out for me. When I was born, my mother gave me a first name that is impossible to pronounce correctly on the first try (to say nothing of spelling it); a name I have come to loathe and blame for a disproportionate number of my problems; a name I didn’t know I could foreshorten until I had grown old enough to be used to it. And no middle name. I got nothing to work with even when I was given a middle name when I was adopted at age five, because that name was at first an old-lady name, and later became a burden in and of itself; a reminder of a horrible person who deserved bad things.
As a special bonus, it basically precludes my ever being able to fully immerse myself in any sort of Judeo-Christian religious belief.
My name is from Greek mythology. I’ve known that as long as I’ve known the name itself. I had at least 2 copies of D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths growing up, and while my namesake herself was a minor character, I was always aware of the larger implications: that this used to be a religion, and now it’s dead. I asked myself as a kid and still, often, to this day: what or who is to say that the religions we follow now, won’t one day be as dead and useless as Zeus and Hades?
That idea entered my consciousness long before the idea of the dominant monotheistic practices of modern American society. I was born in New England. I lived there (with a minor detour to Michigan for a few months) until I was 8 years old. Neither of my parents practiced any religion or made us go to church, that I can remember. The only thing I learned about God before I lived in South Carolina, was not to say “oh my God,” because some people found it offensive.
All that changed after my dad had a chance meeting with a Baptist preacher in a state park one afternoon. Both of our families were doing the typical weekend-picnic thing, but because Dad never met a stranger, soon enough we had been folded into this guy’s congregation, Baptized and Saved. By that time, I was in middle school, and old enough to be skeptical of adults. My parents seemed happy to have “accepted Christ,” but they still had problems. I myself would sometimes feel happy and relieved after praying about something, but even then I knew my brain was capable of tricking me into feeling happy about something. I continued to do the Bible/Church/Youth group/Jesus Camp thing until I was 14, but I could never fully buy into it, and I think it goes back all the way to my childhood.
I know many people, people my age, who are confident and secure and blissful in their faith. But they grew up in it. They were steeped in it. I can’t say whether or not they ever had it tested, or whether they ever doubted it (another thing I picked up in my teenage years and held dear: how can you know how strong your faith is, if it’s never been tested?). I don’t know their minds. But I do envy their confidence sometimes. I do wonder what it’s like to have such faith. I want to believe, because it sounds really nice. It’s scary to think about dying. It’s frightening to acknowledge that the universe can and will continue on without your presence, and the idea of eternal life is great end-run around that cold reality.
But I can’t go all in. I never could, and I think the biggest reason for that was because I never had a chance, from the moment my birth certificate came out of the typewriter.
I still vacillate between whether my mother should be blamed for that, or thanked.