A couple of days ago, a blogger friend named Cate posted about the name she would choose if she had to change her first name. Her post was based on a prompt from NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month) that she is participating in. I really enjoyed reading her story about her name and how she wanted her name to be different because she wanted to be different. And how others tried to impose their identity on who she was simply by the way they treated her name. Cate’s post reminded me of my own journey with my name.
As a child, I was called Debbie most of the time. That’s what my friends and family called me. That’s what my name became at school, after the first few formal roll calls of the year. I shared the name Debbie with another girl in my class, but our formal names were spelled differently. I had “Deborah”; she had “Debra.” In terms of the spelling, I liked my name better. But in terms of our spoken names, there was no difference.
When it came to hearing my name, I went through a long period of time when I didn’t like my formal name. It probably isn’t as dramatic as I remember it, but “Deborah” seemed reserved for times when I was in trouble, and if it the intent was unclear, you could have no doubt once it was combined with the middle name. That dreaded combination of Deborah Lynne cast fear in my heart. Of course, later it was used in a more joking manner, and maybe that’s when I came to decide it wasn’t so bad.
During high school, I had a mentor of sorts who noticed my aversion to my formal name and made a point of using it in a more “respectful” way. Hearing him say Deborah made is seem not quite so bad. Still, I reserved the formal name for more formal occasions. Fast forward a couple of decades later, and my name was on the front of the church bulletin with the other staff. As Director of Liturgy and Music, my formal name was there for all to see on a weekly basis. Still, in the day to day working environment, I was Debbie to pretty much everyone there, with an occasional Deb here and there.
For reasons that I may or may not talk about in future posts, I was in my 40’s when I went back to college to finish my BA. I decided at that time to do a minor “identity experiment” and used Deborah at school, without changing it at work. I gradually became accustomed to being called Deborah and even began to like it. It felt more sophisticated, more professional. At the same time, my major and ultimately my academic trajectory also changed. By the time, I went to grad school, I was comfortable with the name and with the new direction my life was taking. I intended to keep using my formal name, but pretty quickly, people started calling me Deb, and I decided not to stop them. I now had a formal name that worked professionally, and a relaxed form that was used when I was among colleagues..
On Facebook, I started out with Deborah, though I’ve since changed it to Deb. Sometimes I think about changing it back because of my students. I use Facebook quite a bit to interact with students. And while I tell them in class my name is Deborah and explain to them that I use Deb on Facebook for my family and friends, they very quickly think it’s OK to use Deb. I’m trying to decide if that bothers me. I mean, in general, students don’t use names at all; they often just call me “Teacher,” which actually DID bother me at first, until I learned that it was just a cultural thing. For now, students calling me Deb must not bother me too much, because I haven’t done anything official to rectify it. I could, after all, change my Facebook name back to Deborah. And I may. I just haven’t decided whether or not it’s important, or if perhaps I’m going through another transformation. To this point in Taiwan, I had been using Deborah pretty much across the board, reserving Deb for a few people who knew me well.
When I started my blog last year, I used Deborah. For no special reason other than I was using Deborah for almost everything else. But realistically, I am currently using either Deborah or Deb. Debbie is reserved for family and for long-term friends who have never really used any other form of my name with me. For example, if my siblings ever called me anything other than Debbie, it would seem almost foreign to me.
And that leads to the story of another Kate–my daughter–and her name.
Interestingly, my daughter does not like her formal name. My husband at the time and I had a thing about giving her a solid name with lots of options. So even though we wanted a daughter named Kate, we gave her the nearly impossible moniker of Kathleen Elizabeth. To be fair, I didn’t really think about how enormous the name was. The boys all had sturdy names–Douglas Richard, Erik Daniel, Thomas Andrew–with four syllables. Kathleen Elizabeth got all of that and two more. When she graduated from high school, her name stuck our further than any one else’s! Oooops! , and when my mother uses that dreaded combination on Kate, she just rolls her eyes.
Names and Identities
I’m glad Cate posted about her name. It got me thinking and writing about things like names and what they do and don’t mean to me and how it changes over time. It got me thinking about the things my daughter has said to me about her name over the years. Obviously, our sense of who we are changes over time. Maybe it’s natural that the way we think about our name might also shift from time to time.
What about you? Do you have a story about your name?