Thursday, December 4, 2008

Life in the time of Jennifers

Over the Thanksgiving weekend I dove into the storage closet at mom and dad's house.  It is filled with the boxed childhoods of two little girls in the late 70s and 80s.  Amazing.  I found box after box of Barbies (mostly nude, or dressed like streetwalkers in training), stuffed animals, board games and baby dolls.  We were truly lucky children to have this playtime bounty. 

In one box I found my stash of dolls, and as I sorted through them looking for my childhood favorite, I realized it should have come as no surprise to my mother when I gave my boys unusual names.  Really, I'd given her a clear sign of my inclinations.  My two favorite dolls, my most prized babies were named Baby Anda and Bonanza.  See.  

Maybe my love of uncommon names came from being one of many Lauras in any class.  I remember feeling trapped by the frequency with which I encountered "I'm Laura too!" and frustrated by the tendency of teachers to resort to using surnames, especially since my surname is equally ubiquitous.  Instead of being just Laura, I got elevated to Laura Williams.  Yeah, it still felt about as exotic as white bread.  Sure it wasn't as common as Jennifer, but I only narrowly escaped that, since it was my mother's first choice name.  (I have always thanked my grandma for talking her out if it.)

I know my mom's love of the simple, elegant and familiar names was partly based in the frustration she had with her own name as a child.  She has told me many times she hated having to spell her name and resented people shortening it to a more common similar name.  And her name wasn't even a terribly unusual name, it just wasn't common in her generation.  

I was the opposite, I longed for a name that stood out, that begged to be spelled and required people to ask for me to spell it. Probably only because  mine never did.  At one point, as my mother will never let me forget, in the height of my surly bleached hair, dark eye liner, thrift store shopping punk badass stage, I wished my name were Skye Blu.  Yeah, I know, but remember I was 13, and that fit more with my internal struggle to be cool than Laura Ann.

Over time, I grew to love my own name.  It may not be exotic, but it is lovely.  Even the meaning is charming.  And more importantly, it is who I am, who I have grown to be.  I no longer look to change my name to match an image of myself because I am now comfortable with who I am.  It is entirely appropriate that I married a man named David, and probably even more appropriate that we chose to give our children less usual names.   Once Dave commented how funny it looked on the return address stamp with our four names lined up.  He says you can see the frustration of two parents with common names in the names we chose for our children.

But as I was saying, my mom should not have been surprised when I told her the name I'd picked for my first son, and her initial immediate response "That's a dog name" (no, not Rex, Spot or Lassie) only goes to show that my choice of names may not fit for everyone.  But it fits for me and more importantly my sons.  They are both very proud of their names.  At least until they enter their own years of teenage turmoil and wish to be called Steve or Michael.


Heather said...

I completely and totally agree with you. I'm a Heather and Oh.My.God how many of those did I encounter? My best friend for 15 years was a Heather and we met tons more. And always got that super-original comment, "So, have you seen the movie? snicker snicker." Wow, haven't heard that one before. I don't have children yet, but I've frequently dreamed about giving my children off-the-wall names to make them stand out the way I wanted to. I don't know your sons' names, but give you credit for your choices. :-)

geekymummy said...

I love your name! And your boys names too.

I have to spell my sons name all the time, and correct the pronunciation. I find myself saying "like the tennis player" a lot.

Anonymous said...

Growing up, my name was unusual yet still recognizable. I never had any comments and was glad I was not a Jenny or a Liz (no offense to anyone with those names, but for them it was just as you described). Still, I wanted to give my children very alternative names, and had them all picked out. Problem was, when confronted with a real live baby I just couldn't.
Other less out-there names I really loved my husband refused on the basis they were animal names (so I know how you feel with your MIL!) or names of people he had known and not liked (the list being apparently pretty extensive).
In the end, my choice was pretty limited :-)

Mrs. F said...

Obviously, I have a pretty unpopular name. When I found out that my boss had ordered name tags for us to wear while working I was distraught. It makes me work slower, because people are always stopping me and saying stupid shit like, "Puh-low-muh. Huh. That is an unusual name. You don't hear that everyday!" (Ahem, yes, I do.)

I do LOVE my name though!

chihuahua5 said...

well you know i agree with the unusual name route. and trust me, they will LOVE having unique names when they are grown ups.

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