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What’s Your Name?

What IS in a name? A name is something that identifies us from others right from the beginning. It makes us “John” instead of “baby boy.” When we name our own children and start to see their personalities, we make judgments, ‘Oh, she’s definitely more of a Joy than a Sally. I’m glad we went with our gut.”

I know that my name has always been a bit of a puzzle from childhood. See, my first name isn’t Genevieve. It’s Mary. My mom’s family came from a tradition of naming girls Mary Something and calling them by their middle names. Only, I was the only girl, so it made less sense when explaining it to people. It also was frustrating when I got my kindergarten name tag in the mail the week before school and it said, “Mary.” I cried, and we had to call the school and ask for a new nametag.

The other thing about my name is that my parents intended to call me “Jenny” from the get-go. (If you’re familiar with Camelot, you’ll recognize that Arthur and Lancelot called Guinevere “Jenny.” Try explaining this to my blue-haired kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Brasil.)

So, every beginning of the school year was the same. I got to be an expert at it by the time I was in 4th grade.

But then something changed. When I was in college, suddenly people started formalizing my name and calling me “Jennifer.” I guess they figured “Jenny” was too childish? Who knows, but it drove me crazy. I had lots of friends named Jennifer, and Jennifer was a fine name, but it wasn’t ME. So, I started correcting people and sure enough, I had people asking me, “Why don’t you just go by Genevieve? It’s so pretty.”

Well, they stumped me.

Sure, when I was younger, spelling Genevieve was dicey, so calling me Jenny was easier. I’m sure that was part of my parents’ thought process (along with just liking the name), but now that I was almost an adult, why not go by my whole name?

Once I started using my full name, I got very used to spelling my name for people. I suppose that most people have to spell their names for people at one time or another. Even when I went by Jenny, I remember being in kindergarten and being frustrated by the teacher’s aide spelling my name wrong. I knew how to spell my name AND write my name, so when she insisted on writing my name for me- and wrote it “Jennie” every single time- I argued about it every single time, and fought a losing battle. (When I was a kindergarten teacher my students wrote their own names, so that never happened.)

Our name is our calling card. It’s our identity. It’s how we identify ourselves in the world. We meet new people and introduce ourselves. “I’m Genevieve.” Most of the time it’s the name our parents chose for us, but sometimes it’s a name we chose for ourselves along the way, or even a nickname we’ve adopted at some point in our lives. No matter how we got our names, it’s who we are.

I accept that I have a unique name that isn’t easy to spell. I used to go to coffee shops and ask the cashiers if they wanted me to spell my name for them, so they could put it on the cup. These days, I’ve decided to make it a game. If they ask me my name, I simply smile and give them my name. I don’t ask them if they want me to spell it. If they ask, I’ll spell it. But most of the time, they don’t want to look like they don’t know, so they just guess.

Because the spellings are always so unusual, and none of them have been the same, I’ve decided to keep a photo journal of all the spellings they come up with.

Most of the time, it’s spelled with a J.

Sometimes they throw in an “a” in the middle, and some extra “ee”s.

I’m keeping a photo journal of the different spellings – including coffee cups, nametags from weddings, and any other written misspelling of my name.

I especially like the coffee cups, because they can ask me right there how to spell it, but they don’t. I used to shorten my name to Jenny or Jen, or ask them if they wanted me to spell it for them, but now that I’m doing this as an experiment, I just smile and say my name and see what they do. No one has asked me to spell it yet.

In the instance of a wedding placecard, or a Christmas card, the party involved simply has to ask, but perhaps they are too embarrassed. It’s fine with me, since I get to take another photo for my journal. šŸ™‚

I know my name isn’t easy, and I don’t expect people to just know how to spell it. I guess my point is – it’s okay to ask.


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