Cultural Appropriations · Rants For Thought

A Rose By Any Other: Why I Changed My Name

As is normal for my Sunday mornings, I sit in my comfy chair in front of my living room window and peruse websites and newspapers while drinking tea and enjoying whatever I find for breakfast (this morning, it was Lipton chicken noodle soup, since I need to go grocery shopping!). I came across this article from the New York Times about baby names, and since names in general are interesting to me as a writer constantly trying to find perfect names for my characters, I clicked.

After I got rid of my unattractive jawdrop at the sheer ridiculousness of hiring “baby name consultants” and worrying extensively about how a child’s name is going to shape his destiny, I took to Twitter and started discussing the article with my friends. Most of the names being chosen in the article are names I wouldn’t choose for my dog, let alone my child. (Here’s the part where I’m going to tell you that my cats are named Athena and Ophelia – my longstanding love affair with literature coming out in the flesh, I guess!) But it doesn’t matter about my taste, and that’s the point of this blog. It doesn’t matter what someone’s name is in the end, because they’re the ones that have to live with it, and if they’re anything like me, they’re going to pick a name for themselves that better represents who they are.

There’s a quotation in the article that states, “I feel as though heโ€™ll be less likely to be a follower if he starts out from the beginning being different.” This is about the stupidest thing I’ve literally ever heard. A child with a unique name has no more or less of a chance of being a follower than a child with a traditional name does. It comes down to personality, the way you raise them, and their own sense of self that makes them leaders or followers. By all means, choose a name that you think represents your child and his destiny, but let’s not pretend that the name “Roman” is going to make him any more of a senator than the name “Sam” would.

My name, for the first 18 years of my life, was Andrea. It’s my middle name, and I was given the name to honour my Aunt Andrea, my mother’s sister and a damned awesome lady. But I chose to change my name for several reasons, and that’s why I’m saying that while the name you give your child isn’t going to make him automatically successful, it does have to be a name that he feels is going to represent him through all stages of his life.

There’s nothing wrong with the name Andrea. I’m sure there are a million successful, happy Andreas out there. But me, I never felt comfortable as an Andrea. Andrea was a shy, messed up child. She had emotional issues and problems with using the phone to talk to strangers. She cried easily and she had no friends. She had a name that could be stretched out in a patronizing tone – “Annnnndreaaaaahh” – and that made her cringe. There were no nicknames for this Andrea – something that bothered her. And this Andrea’s name was her middle name, not her first, which caused a litany of problems with doctors, teachers, and any government officials.

Eventually, I began to turn to my first name, Elizabeth, as a way to empower myself as a person. Elizabeth may have a messed-up past where she was depressed and suicidal, but she came through it to be a stronger person. Elizabeth is an amazing writer, a strong-minded feminist, and a good friend. Elizabeth is successful professionally and compassionate personally. Elizabeth has elements of Andrea in her . . . but she’s Andrea all grown up. And so I became Elizabeth when I went to university and Andrea faded back into my childhood.

There are people in my life, my family first and foremost, who refuse to use my first name to refer to me. Okay. That’s their choice, and obviously since I was Andrea for a great part of my life, I’m used to responding to the name. But I often wonder why they refuse to refer to me by the name I chose for myself. They chose the name, too – after all, it’s my first name on my birth certificate – but it’s got to be more than that. Maybe it’s because they deliberately chose Andrea to honour my aunt. And I don’t want to dishonour her, but I feel like I honour her better being a woman she’d be proud of. I feel like being Andrea makes me into a person I don’t like to be. It’s a constant discussion and circle – what does a name really mean?

In the end, you can name your kid Apple or you can name her Anna. You can choose a name that means something obscure or you can laugh and choose an old-fashioned name to buck the trend. You might hit the mark and find a name that your kid feels represents her, or you might miss completely and find yourself calling her a name you didn’t choose.

In the end, choose the name you feel suits your kid best. Stop worrying about trends. They’re going to change in a few years, anyway. And if your kid does change her name, be proud. You’ve raised a child with a good sense of self, which is more than any name can do.

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8 thoughts on “A Rose By Any Other: Why I Changed My Name

  1. “Proper names are poetry in the raw.” – W.H. Auden.

    Given our conversation on twitter, I’m sure you know I agree with this 100%. I think both Elizabeth and Andrea are beautiful names, but I can understand your reasoning for choosing to respond to a different name after experiences in your youth (which sounds so odd to say, given that it was your first name to begin with anyway!). I can’t picture you as anything other than a Liz. And yes, you are most certainly honoring your aunt by being the kind of person you are.

  2. I, too, changed my name. I was born Daphne and when I got older, that name represented a painful childhood and a person I wished were more out-going, more witty, and more empowered. I never felt like a Daphne, either. On my 21st birthday, I decided to gift myself with a name change. A lot of people gave me flack for it, with some being rather cruel. I found a lovely name that went far back into my family tree, and was last used as the middle name of my great-grandmother. I became Catherine and I’ve never regretted the name change. I feel like a Catherine and it’s a name I’m proud of. My family refuses to make the effort to call me by my name, and maintain that I am still Daphne. It doesn’t necessarily bother me that they won’t call me by the name, but I wonder why they are so against it. I actually kept Daphne as a second middle name, choosing another middle name with special meaning. I understand totally where you are coming from and I commend you!

    1. In the end, it has to be a name that empowers you and that you feel comfortable with. Your name is a huge part of your identity, so I get why people fuss over it, but unique =/= better, nor does traditional necessarily mean better. Thanks for sharing your story ๐Ÿ™‚ I think Catherine is a gorgeous name!

  3. this is such interesting insight. when i was young i was a boy but my heart tells me i am a woman i want to choose a name that represents my identity like you have. you are compassionate person with nice name.

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