Killing Patty: Why I dumped the nickname I didn't choose ... and how I'm still becoming Tricia
My real estate agent calls me "Tricia."
I've never told her to call me that. I always introduce myself as "Trish" and that's also how I sign my name.
But she got me thinking about a time years ago when I decided to reclaim my name. You see, for most of my childhood and my teenage years I was "Patty."
Good crap, I hated being called that.
I didn't start out as Patty. Until the second grade, I was always Patricia at school. I was Trish (or Trishy) at home.
Then we moved. The first day at my new school, my teacher called me Patty. I was too shy to squeak up and correct her. Instead, I accepted my new name in silence and went about becoming Patty.
I was Patty there for four years until we moved. But by that time, I was used to being called Patty. I had even stamped the front cover of all my Judy Blume books with my heart-shaped Patty stamp. Certainly, that meant I must be Patty, right? So when we moved to a new town, once again, Patty it was.
As I got older, "Patty" felt more and more uncomfortable. In my mind, a person named Patty was supposed to be perky, wholesome ... all milky white skin, rounded edges ... the very picture of agreeable-ness.
But I was a smartass. A potty mouth (and a bit of a prodigy in that department from a young age, I might add). A girl who liked really loud music with lots of guitars. A girl with a dark sense of humor. A girl who was super quiet around people I didn't know, and a complete nutjob with the people I did.
But it felt too late to change my name. The world expected me to be Patty, so Patty I was.
I am not my label
Looking back now, it's funny how I felt so oppressed by that name -- a name that was casually given to me on the second floor of McKinley Elementary in Rockland, Massachusetts, by someone who didn't know me.
My inability to correct my teacher snowballed into close to a decade of being called a name that I hated.
Seems so ridiculous.
But hey, don't we all do this all the time? Let people call us things that we aren't? Accept labels that, on the surface, may sound like compliments but actually often carry deep undertones of judgment? Labels that put us in tidy, limiting boxes -- because that's who the world keeps telling us we are?
"You are the sensible sister."
"You're so free-spirited ...."
"You're the smart one."
"You're the fragile one."
"You're too pretty for that." (If I had a buck for every time I've heard that one ...)
"You're such a go-getter."
"You're the shy one."
Hello, my name is ...
By the time I got to college, I had had it with Patty. "Call me Trish," I announced during the roll in each new class. That was awkward, because a lot of people from my high school went to the same college. They were confused at my name change -- all except my best friend, who'd begun, of her own accord, to call me Trish years and years earlier.
And in fact, even though I seemed to be making a radical move by telling the entire world to call me by a different word, the fact is that I still low-balled it.
Because I really wanted to be Tricia.
Why could I tell people to call me Trish but not Tricia? Why didn't I feel entitled to that name even though my given name is Patricia?
Because Tricia was a pretty girl's name. A Tricia might be worth looking at if you saw her across the room. A Tricia was going to go ahead and demand three vowels in a five-letter name and make you think a second or two about how to spell it. There might be more than meets the eye with a Tricia. She might be creative, complex and passionate. A Tricia might not always make it so easy for you ... she certainly wouldn't ever define herself as "low maintenance" because a Tricia knows herself and doesn't apologize for needing what she needs, wanting what she wants. A Tricia might be fussy about her appearance sometimes. A Tricia might be mercurial and opinionated. A Tricia might be someone who is hard to quantify.
Trish, on the other hand? What you see is what you get. She's not going to bother you with more than one syllable. She's got some oomph -- she's an exclamation point! She's no trouble. She's, like , OK-looking but not beautiful. She's all-purpose. She's practical. She's totally cool with whatever you want to do. Trish rolls with it. Trish certainly doesn't care if you notice her or not.
Choosing your choice
I really admire people who can hit on the perfect word that completely embodies who they are -- or who can mold their given name into the shape they demand it to be.
And now, I present a roll call of people I know who wear their names with absolute style:
A former boss would walk into an ad agency on Madison Avenue to cut a big-money deal and tell the receptionist that "Billy" was there for his appointment. Hey New York City, guess what? There's a Texan in the house.
A friend named Heather always signs her name with the biggest, floofiest "H" you've ever seen. It always looks an "F'" to me. For years now, I have called her the Divine Ms. Feather. It suits her. She is divine.
One of my best friends in the whole world is Nicole. She could never find a nickname she liked and she hates being called Nicky. Years ago, she re-christened herself "Cole." It's an original, just like her.
Beyonce Knowles is Beyonce. Madonna Ciccone is Madonna. And John Walston is Walston. I can't speak from personal experience about the first two, but you know it when Walston enters a room. Someone called "Walston" could only be the been-there, done-that former newspaperman, the elder statesmen of the newsroom, a wise and colorful storyteller who vaguely smells of coffee at all times.
A friend's license plate says "VALBABY." It was a nickname she got when she was in her late teens/early 20s -- when she just busting into adulthood, getting into all kinds of mischief and probably spending a lot of time laughing. I bet back then she never imagined she'd see that name stuck to the back of her minivan, but I imagine it's a nice reminder to herself that Momma Valerie has an inner ValBaby that's just looking for some trouble to get into.
Another former coworker was blessed with an unusual last name: Sweatman. We all called him -- and he proudly called himself -- "Sweaty." I once remarked that it might be hard to find a woman to marry him with that last name. He grinned and told me that the woman who eventually married him would have to be worthy of the name.
A Facebook friend whom I adore but have never met in person decided to take "Audacity" as her middle name years ago. When she did, she proclaimed to herself and to all the world that she now had the AUDACITY to be who she really was, thank you very much. She's a helluva writer, and she has a great quote in one of her pieces about her history of letting people choose her instead of the other way around. I think claiming AUDACITY as her name means she's choosing herself these days.
Claim yo labels
So today, pay attention. What does the world call you? How does it make you feel? Which labels do you accept? Which ones do you reject?
As for me, I'll be right here ... claiming my inner Tricia.
Trish Sammer Johnston