Friday, May 22, 2015

What's in a Name?

Do our names really influence who we will become?

I mean, we don't get to choose them, that honor is left up to our well-meaning, but occasionally clueless, parents. And for the most part, we live with whatever moniker has been foisted upon us by emotionally-compromised fathers or mothers who may or may not have had a little too much pain medication prior to completing our birth certificate. It is not a typical matter for deep philosophical reflection. Unless you were the victim of an extremely malicious parent like that unfortunate boy named Sue, then you probably suffered no lasting trauma associated with your name.

Not long ago, I was asked, "Do you love your name? Or hate it?" The question itself implies that people fall in one of two very distinct camps. But after a great deal of reflection, I decided there are too many gray areas involved to give a definitive answer. Over the course of my life, there have been many times I didn't particularly care for my name, but for better or worse, it is mine. So, here is my answer to that well-meaning, but poorly phrased, question.

It Could Have Been Worse

Before I came to live in this world, my mom and dad engaged in a typical debate held between couples readying themselves for the arrival of a new family member. They could not agree on a name. Although they each produced solid arguments for their choices and tenaciously defended their positions, my mom emerged the winner. Victorious, she named me Carey – but it could have been worse.

People have always struggled with the proper spelling of my name. In an attempt to make a common name less ordinary, Mom decided a change in spelling was necessary.  Businesses, employers, friends, and even family have frequently misspelled my name over the course of my life. My own grandpa never learned to spell my name accurately, which led to the receipt of yearly handwritten birthday greetings addressed to C-a-r-r-y, C-a-r-r-i-e, C-a-r-y, and even K-e-r-r-y. Of course, it could have been worse. Even though the name is misspelled, I still know they are talking to me. They could have gotten the name completely wrong. Can you imagine being referred to as Terry or Sherry or even as Mary. Misspelling doesn’t seem quite so bad when compared to misidentification.

Elementary school was no picnic either. Do you know how many words rhyme with Carey? A lot, that’s how many. Fairy Carey, Merry Carey, Scary Carey, Hairy Carey. Small children love to speak in verse, and when you have a name custom-made for rhyming, that is exactly what you get. However, it could have been worse. These monikers could have followed me into adolescence. Can you imagine being saddled with ‘Hairy Carey’ throughout puberty? That could have been truly devastating.

In high school, I discovered another problem with my given name. It was boring. While my friends possessed beautiful, interesting names – Yvonne, Gwendolyn, Katrina – I held on to plain, old Carey. I was the third Ingall’s sister, the one that never had any exciting adventures or whirlwind love affairs. The clumsy sister that fell down trying to run through the field during the opening credits – yep, that was me. During these years, I sampled new names. I became Talia for several months, and then adopted Meike for nearly a year. Ultimately, I returned to Carey because it could have been worse. My mom could have chosen an old family name like Gladys, Agnes, Gertrude, or Mildred. Can you imagine trying to live with one of those unusual names around other teenagers? Talk about character building! No thank you, I will just stick with simple, traditional, awkward Carey.

In the end, I decided to embrace the name my mom fought to bestow upon me. It is my identifier, and I cannot imagine having any other appellation. I am Carey. Carey is me. Besides, it could have been worse. My dad could have won. Then, I would have been Cadence. Can you imagine being named after a military march song? Yeah, me neither.

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