Like McLean, I Changed Names to Become Myself

BlogHer Review

While I am 30 years old and know almost nothing about basketball, I really related to the main character -- Mclean -- in Sarah Dessen's new young adult novel, What Happened to Goodbye. One other big difference is that my parents aren't divorced -- though they've threatened and even tried a few times over the years. Still, Mclean and I would have been fast friends back in high school.

I never quite fit in. I didn't not fit in either. I kind of floated from group to group. I was a cheerleader. I was a straight A student. I was a musical theater and drama geek. I played softball. I had friends in all groups, but I was never fully a part of any one group. Some people teased and bullied me for various reasons, so I tried to stay under the radar whenever possible (unless I was on stage!).

When Mclean talked about reinventing herself with a new name and a new persona at each high school she attended after moving with her father, I found myself nodding. As a junior, I decided I was totally over being one of eight Jennifers in a class of 106. Over it. I was tired of being a number. I attempted to reinvent myself as Jenna, going so far as to beg and plead to have it printed on the edge of my senior pictures. My mom agreed. My father, to this day, still refuses to call me Jenna. Some friends still called me Jen, but it made it easier when teachers deferred to my new name. I felt hope that maybe I'd be a "new me" with a new name. It didn't quite work. I still didn't fit in, but no one picked on me for the name change.

The following year, everyone from college simply knew me as Jenna. I didn't do any radical change in my demeanor; I still got along with everyone and floated from group to group, adding in a few new ones and ditching a few others. Even still, some of my aunts and uncles still call me -- sigh -- Jenny. But I'm okay with it. Really, I am.

Just as Mclean eventually embraced her real name and finally fell into her true self, it took me time to embrace who I was too. While the majority of people know me as Jenna in my everyday adult life, I still respond to Jennifer, Jen and, yes, even Jenny when it comes to family members. I don't (really) cringe, because I was that Jenny for years and years and years. She is still a part of me, with her dark brown pig tails and her missing teeth. I think, perhaps, the me that I wanted to be at 16 could have benefited from reading about Mclean's attempt to be herself in the face of her parents' divorce, multiple moves and the tricky adventure of figuring out who you are. Our issues may have been different (and I still don't like basketball any more after having read the book), but it would have been awesome to know that I wasn't the only one trying to figure it all out.

Did you change your name at all while growing up?

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