What’s in a name?

Today I was feeling uninspired, so I went back to the NaBloPoMo website for ideas.

One question was, “How do you feel about the name given to you at birth?”

Since I have gone through many struggles with my name, I figured it was a good idea to approach it.

I don’t remember when it started, exactly, but there came a time in my elementary school days that I started to despise my name.  DESPISE it.  I don’t know if someone made fun of it, or if it was just because I was the only person I had met up until then who had it or if it was because it was nearly impossible to find any pre-printed items with my name on it, but I was NOT a fan.  When my friends and I would play make believe, I would choose a new name (that is, when we weren’t playing Power Rangers or Mary-Kate & Ashley…when I was of course always Kimberly or Mary-Kate).  I remember using the name “Katie” a lot, which is interesting because not only is it an extremely common name, but by the time I finished high school, I had so many friends named Katie that I had to give some of them nicknames to keep confusion at bay.

My mother likes to tell the story of choosing my name since I’m not named after anyone in particular.  When she found out she was pregnant she asked my father his opinion on baby names.  She told him she didn’t want a junior, so he would have to pick a different name than his own if it was a boy.  After about four months, the only thing he could come up with was Barney Rubble.  She was not amused and in that moment insisted she was having a girl.

Thankfully she’s stubborn; otherwise I would have had a lot more issues with my name than I already did.

Another reason she picked my name is because, when paired with my middle and last name, it’s clever.  See, my initials are V.A.L.  And guess what! A common nickname for “Valerie” is “Val”.

I’ll get into my feelings on that in a moment.

Once when I was probably around seven or eight years old, I remember being at a birthday party for a girl down the street.  Throughout the party there were weird little games that got weird little prizes – not games you could win or lose like Pin the Tail on the Donkey, but games that are akin to what I understand are often played at baby and bridal showers.  For example, whoever’s birthday was closest to being next got a prize.  Et cetera. One prize was going to go to the person with the coolest initials.  One girl was almost immediately awarded the prize because her initials were C.A.T.  I thought to myself, okay that would be cooler if her name was Catherine, but it so wasn’t, so I think I have a shot at this.  I meekly squeaked out something along the lines of, “my initials spell Val” and was instantly met with laughter. He didn’t believe me! He thought I was some kind of idiot-child who didn’t know the difference between a nickname and initials.  In a brief burst of bravery I clarified that my middle name was Anne and that my initials were V-A-L.  He continued to laugh and told me I was making that up.  As I was taught never to argue with adults [besides my parents, of course] and already feeling all kinds of shy and awkward since the girls at the party were all at least two years older than me, I stood silently with my eyes filling up with tears at being thought a fool or a liar.

Luckily just then my friend [really the only positive memory I still retain of this neighbor-girl] chimed in and insisted I was telling the truth and that he could SO call my mother if he didn’t believe us.  Satisfied, he finally gave me my trinket – though the satisfaction of my good name being cleared was the real prize here.

Somewhere along the lines I began to like my name. I was glad it was unique, but not unheard of.  I came to enjoy the letter V and other words and names that began with V. I did reach a little hiccup in the enjoyment of my name when I came across a restaurant in New Hampshire called Val’s Sandwich shop and came to realize that this particular Val was a man.  I did not enjoy having a gender-neutral name.

Come to think of it, maybe this is where my disdain for the nickname began.

Before college, the only time I ever noticed anyone calling me Val was when teachers would do it.  Not teachers I had known for years and went to their room after school and went on field trips with. No.  Teachers who assumed immediately – first day of class, or when substituting – that it was okay.

Valerie?”
“Here!”
“Thanks, Val!”

Uhh. What? No. that’s not the name I just responded to.

I don’t know, it just sounded disrespectful to me. It’s like if they were like, “Welcome to my class. My name is Mrs. Robinson.” And I was like “Yo, Miss R, cool to be here!”

No. Just…no.

Sometimes, during roll call, they would ask.  “Do you go by Val or Valerie?”, to which I would answer “Usually Valerie, but either is fine” secretly hoping they would chose to refer to me by my full name.  I didn’t want to limit them, because the people who did, sounded bitchy to me.  I don’t know, I was weird.

In my adult life, as I began meeting new people on a much more regular basis, the conversation came up more and more often.  Most people were respectful enough not to assume it was okay to shorten my name, since I have never in my memory introduced myself as Val.  If I’ve known a person for a while, and they shorten my name while trying to get my attention, I don’t usually notice or care. Once, I was with two friends and one of them asked me if I minded being called Val.  I had known her for quite some time and though she didn’t do it very often, she had once or twice and it occurred to her that she had never asked. I told her how as long as you didn’t assume it was okay to do all the time, I was usually fine with it. My other friend who was with us interjected and said, “Actually, I’ve had this conversation with our other friend before. We decided you’re just not a Val. You’re Valerie. It fits better.”

Which was fine by me.

However, the next time I went home to Boston, I noticed something quite surprising.  Besides the few friends from high school I had retained, who had nicknames of their own for me, my friends there almost exclusively called me Val.  I had no idea. I had never noticed. I was floored. When I brought this to the attention of my friends in Boston, how in New York I’m only referred to by Valerie, one of my friends spent the day trying to call me Valerie but kept forgetting. So it would often be “Val…ERRRRie!”.  It was mildly entertaining. She just couldn’t do it.  To her? I’ll always be Val.

I guess it’s fitting. I have two parts of me. I have a part of me that is from and will always be from Boston.  But there’s also a part of me that lives in and needs to be in New York.  So I suppose it makes sense that these two sides of me are called two different names.

Though I still never refer to myself or sign anything Val.  Though lately, when I get sick of typing “Valerie” 97,000 times a day, I will sign my emails simply, –V.  I like V better than Val. Sounds more mysterious.

So that’s the long and the short of it. Okay, fine the long of it. I’m a little self-absorbed and could probably go on for a lot longer on this matter.  The conclusion of it is, you can call me whatever you’d like, as long as you don’t call me late to the party. Ba-dum-ktsss.

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~ by Valerie Anne on 01/06/2011.

2 Responses to “What’s in a name?”

  1. Seriously sometimes I think you sneak into my brain and write down what’s there, changing just a few details so I don’t get too suspicious. Watch out, though. I’m on to you.

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