Shakespeare was the first (maybe) to ask "What's in a name?" (Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene II). Well, as it turns out, a lot.
Have you ever wondered how you might be different if you had a different name? Would that change who you are, what you like, or how you behave? Most people would say probably not, but I'm not so sure. I've often wondered how I might be different if my parents had chosen a different name for me, a normal name, like, for example, Diane, instead of Dian. You see, it's less about the actual name, and more about the experiences induced by having an unusual name.
Growing up, a lot of kids mocked my name. That's not altogether surprising I guess; that's what kids do. (My third grade teacher was Mrs. Hugaboom, whom we used to say would explode if you hugged her. Unfortunate surname.) But I'd venture to say that a name like Bobby or Jane doesn't get the kind of attention my name did. One school bully called me Dion Sanders and Dion Warwick because that was the way many teachers pronounced my name. Correcting adults on the pronunciation of my name was more embarrassing than helpful. I had a substitute teacher for one day in high school who just couldn't master my name when taking attendance. After the third or fourth try, I just said "Close enough," and the woman fairly yelled at me that it wasn't good enough for her to be "close enough." She wanted to get it right and we went back and forth several times before she got it. It was mortifying, and I never saw her again, so it hardly seems worth it. On another occasion, I tried correcting a teacher on the first day of class. She said "Diane," and I said "It's Dian," only to realize that - oops - there was girl in the class whose name was Diane. So I gave up on correcting people, which is why my eleventh grade English teacher called me Deena all year. Deena.
It's just as annoying as an adult. Someone will say, "Oh, I've never seen Diane spelled like that. How Pretty." It's clearly meant as a compliment, but I always spend a beat too long trying to figure out if I should say "That's because my name is Dian, not Diane," or just smile and say "Thank you," because it feels rude to correct someone paying me a compliment. Or, I'll go to make an appointment with a doctor's office I've been using since I was in college and they can't find me in the system because someone added the E to the end of my name, trying to be helpful I guess, assuming that I must've forgotten the E when I filled out the paper work. Because I can't spell my own name. Most annoying, my own employer, who prints name tags for teachers during staff development events, constantly prints "Diane" for me, and I always scribble the E out with a pen.
But let's set the pronunciation and spelling part to the side for now. Because there's a whole other facet of this name identity for me that may not apply to you, because I'm an identical twin. My sister's name is also unusual, if not in pronunciation, then in spelling - Kira. So what if, just what if...I'm not Dian. What if I'm really Kira and our parents mixed us up as babies? How would we ever know? And the answer to that question is kinda scary - we wouldn't. Someone out there is saying Big Deal, why should that matter? But it does matter. because although Kira and I are genetically the same, a lot of our sameness stops there. We have different personalities, different likes and dislikes, different ways of dealing with stress. I'm pretty OCD in organization and cleaning, while Kira is more comfortable with clutter (though she does have two small boys). Kira is very here is The Line; do not cross The Line. I'm more of a How defined is that line? Is it just a line in the sand you drew with a stick or is it, like, a painted white line on the highway. And when you say I can't cross it, what is your definition of crossing it? What happens if I put a toe on The Line, over it? A foot? A whole leg? And although we are both masters of sarcasm, I've got a leg up on Kira there and I wonder if my sense of humor is a little more developed because of the experiences I've had with my name. And, if I really were Kira, would I have played the violin instead of the clarinet and guitar? Would I listen to Kelly Clarkson instead of Dave Matthews? Would I have a dog instead of two cats? Would I still enjoy camping and hiking? What if, what if, what if?
But there is something positive I can take from my name too because there's something about knowing that my name is unique that makes me feel unique, makes me feel that I'm an unusual and different person. And that's a gift from my parents that a lot of other people don't have. As a teacher, I've met a hundred Jennifers, Laurens, and Emilys (and Dianes, of course). But never another Dian. I've seen a few Deeanns, but never Dian. I might be the only Dian in the whole world. In a way, it makes me feel good about myself, gives me a little extra confidence boost. So now instead of lamenting over my unfortunate name or blaming my parents for childhood bullies, I try to spend more time appreciating my name and thanking my parents for thinking of it. It's part of my identity, part of what defines me, what makes me me. I am Dian. Not Diane.
So, now it's your turn. What's your name? How does it contribute to your identity or how you define yourself?