For The Kids Who Can’t Find Their Names on Keychains
One day, when I was little, I slid into my mother’s room and interrupted what was possibly a well earned nap. I told her I wanted a new name, a better name, something easy to pronounce and where I didn’t have a nickname that people deliberately would say wrong. I told her I wanted to be called Christie, after one of my Barbie dolls. I wasn’t that innovative back in the day, I just knew it sounded more doable then Seniqua (pronounced Sen-e-qua). It was around this time, elementary school, when I consciously realized my name was considered difficult or different. I went to a Catholic school, where my class had a Caitlin, at least 3 Chelseas, and 2 Samanthas that made up more than half of the girls I knew at the time; maybe a Danielle or Emily sprinkled here and there. But there was only Seniqua.
My mom just met my request with an odd look and I don’t remember exactly what she said but for a grade-schooler, I really felt like I put my foot down. I sashayed my way from her bedroom through the hallway to continue my activities. This new name lasted barely an hour. My mom did not go for it. It took me some time to realize I wasn’t going to win this one.
The thing with having a different name is at some point you learn to be accommodating, sometimes too accommodating, on what you allow people to call you. I, personally, am tired of correcting people. But I don’t want to seem embarrassed or mean either. However, it’s hard not to be offended when someone carelessly throws around combinations that I can’t fathom how they made when my name is only seven letters long. Some of the more memorable names I’ve heard are; “Shaniqua/h,” “Cyndaquil, “Shen,” “Jen,” “Sin” and “ Jessica” (which completely threw me off, by the way).
Could you imagine your name not only being part of your introduction, but the opening conversation too? Could you also imagine having to manage the excitement of other people as they act like upon meeting you they’ve unearthed a new language? I credit a great deal of my patience to twenty-seven years of helping others work through what to call me.
As I aged and my community began to diversify, this continued to come up. The normal school bullying ensued, I was called a Pokemon up until high school (which I do admit was pretty funny). But I’ve had a church pastor laugh in my face; I have family members who don’t even know my real name; When I got to college, my name was labeled “ethnic” and “ghetto,” by some of my peers. At one point I only went by my nickname, which I typically still have to spell out for people (“send without the D”) but it’s better than nothing. And to top it all off, I could never find my name on any of the cool keychains I wanted.
To give my family some credit, they did order a number of things that my name could be displayed on; shirts, bracelets, necklaces, jewelry boxes and bags. I didn’t feel as left out as I probably could have. But disappointment still found its way on my face when I’d search the racks of generic trinkets and see none were meant for me.
I was so fed up once that I really wanted to ask my mother why she gave me this name—I have four other siblings with reasonable first names. At that time, I think I was also afraid of the answer I would’ve gotten. What if I didn’t like it?
But nevertheless, I’ve adapted. In my work environment, I don’t allow clients to know my full name, as to avoid the inevitable where do you come from conversations or the slew of awkward compliments on how it’s so different. I find going by an alias just makes simple things—food orders, email exchanges and group activities— a ton easier. Essentially, you can say I’ve taken on this mentality that I’ve got to work with what my mother gave me. I wouldn’t say that it’s always ideal, but it’s been working for me, especially since it’s become very common for people to use nicknames nowadays.
The Improper Bostonian has a viral interview with Orange Is the New Black actress, Uzo Aduba where she talks about why she hasn’t changed her name:
“…So I went home and asked my mother if I could be called Zoe. I remember she was cooking, and in her Nigerian accent she said, “Why?” I said, “Nobody can pronounce it.” Without missing a beat, she said, “If they can learn to say Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo and Dostoyevsky, they can learn to say Uzoamaka.”
Thinking about this interview, I end up revisiting that memory of telling my mother how I wanted an easier name, because I thought easy was better. How I wanted the kids at school and my teachers to not have me correct them every time their tongues jammed when trying to call me. That child, if given the option, would’ve gone by Christie – like my original plan. However, as I’ve aged those desires to fit in, those hurt feelings, dwindled.
The turning point for me? Well, I think it was an Uber ride I took in my early twenties. The driver and I both had shared similar experiences with our names. However, when I expressed all the ways I shortened or offered explanations for my name to make others feel more comfortable – to appease someone other than myself she looked at me in shock. At least, that’s how I would describe her expression from the mirror. And she said something much along the lines of what Uzo Aduba’s mother had said – while adding that there was no need to adjust my identity, or to shrink myself for others. Why would I want to be like everyone else? Why wouldn’t I want to be called something different – when I was different? Isn’t that cool?
I had never considered that all the adjustments I had made could contribute to me feeling these negative things about my name. And that I had been shrinking myself for years, when really I should’ve been growing into myself. Now there’s more to self acceptance and love than just loving your name – but we all have to get our first taste somehow, right?
I’ll never find my name on a keychain or a coke bottle, and that’s fine. And when I use my nickname it’ll be because I want to. These are things I’ve realized, now as an adult. After all, there’s something special about having a name that takes time to learn, and I have a warm appreciation for the special people around me that do take the time to learn it. I guess my mom was right.