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Thursday, February 26, 2004

Any Other Name Would Smell As Sweet* 

Another interesting little exercise last weekend was introducing ourselves, one-on-one, to our classmates. We were instructed to use the format: "Hi, I was given the name [blank] and I expect to get [blank] from this weekend." Shortly it became clear that we would be thinking about how we'd spent our lifetimes encapsulating infinite beings into a finite package – how, for example, I've become this thing named "Renice" with all the expectations it includes.

I hated my name as a kid. I think part of the reason was that my parents were disappointed with having a girl and had no girls' names ready – they couldn't even think past "Stephen Louis". Mine was a made-up name a family friend constructed. Between 4 and 5, I wanted to rename myself "Charlie". My grandfather encouraged me, which infuriated my mother. (I felt a little cheated when the fragrance Charlie came out in 1973 and the adverts featured a gorgeous model supposedly named Charlie.)

When my daughter was 2, I enrolled her in the only preschool in Austin where all the teachers were degreed and the teacher-student ratio was 1 or 2 to 5 or 6. The catch was that it was in the middle of the worst housing projects in Austin. Her classmates pronounced her name "Joe LEE". When we moved to Illinois, she introduced herself to her new preschool classmates using the same pronunciation. I corrected her: "Jolie, your name is not Joe LEE, it's JO-lee." "No it is NOT," responded my headstrong little 3-year-old. And so we argued for a few rounds, until I finally resorted to, "Look, I named you and I know how to pronounce it!" She looked absolutely horrified, "You NAMED me?!"

Now she says that I branded her – that all the Jolies she knows are doing something fashion related. It's a little frightening that the Kabalarians might have it right: "your name creates your thinking".

* Apologies, Will


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