A Rose By Any Other: Why I Changed My Name

As is normal for my Sunday mornings, I sit in my comfy chair in front of my living room window and peruse websites and newspapers while drinking tea and enjoying whatever I find for breakfast (this morning, it was Lipton chicken noodle soup, since I need to go grocery shopping!). I came across this article from the New York Times about baby names, and since names in general are interesting to me as a writer constantly trying to find perfect names for my characters, I clicked.

After I got rid of my unattractive jawdrop at the sheer ridiculousness of hiring “baby name consultants” and worrying extensively about how a child’s name is going to shape his destiny, I took to Twitter and started discussing the article with my friends. Most of the names being chosen in the article are names I wouldn’t choose for my dog, let alone my child. (Here’s the part where I’m going to tell you that my cats are named Athena and Ophelia – my longstanding love affair with literature coming out in the flesh, I guess!) But it doesn’t matter about my taste, and that’s the point of this blog. It doesn’t matter what someone’s name is in the end, because they’re the ones that have to live with it, and if they’re anything like me, they’re going to pick a name for themselves that better represents who they are.

There’s a quotation in the article that states, “I feel as though he’ll be less likely to be a follower if he starts out from the beginning being different.” This is about the stupidest thing I’ve literally ever heard. A child with a unique name has no more or less of a chance of being a follower than a child with a traditional name does. It comes down to personality, the way you raise them, and their own sense of self that makes them leaders or followers. By all means, choose a name that you think represents your child and his destiny, but let’s not pretend that the name “Roman” is going to make him any more of a senator than the name “Sam” would.

My name, for the first 18 years of my life, was Andrea. It’s my middle name, and I was given the name to honour my Aunt Andrea, my mother’s sister and a damned awesome lady. But I chose to change my name for several reasons, and that’s why I’m saying that while the name you give your child isn’t going to make him automatically successful, it does have to be a name that he feels is going to represent him through all stages of his life.

There’s nothing wrong with the name Andrea. I’m sure there are a million successful, happy Andreas out there. But me, I never felt comfortable as an Andrea. Andrea was a shy, messed up child. She had emotional issues and problems with using the phone to talk to strangers. She cried easily and she had no friends. She had a name that could be stretched out in a patronizing tone – “Annnnndreaaaaahh” – and that made her cringe. There were no nicknames for this Andrea – something that bothered her. And this Andrea’s name was her middle name, not her first, which caused a litany of problems with doctors, teachers, and any government officials.

Eventually, I began to turn to my first name, Elizabeth, as a way to empower myself as a person. Elizabeth may have a messed-up past where she was depressed and suicidal, but she came through it to be a stronger person. Elizabeth is an amazing writer, a strong-minded feminist, and a good friend. Elizabeth is successful professionally and compassionate personally. Elizabeth has elements of Andrea in her . . . but she’s Andrea all grown up. And so I became Elizabeth when I went to university and Andrea faded back into my childhood.

There are people in my life, my family first and foremost, who refuse to use my first name to refer to me. Okay. That’s their choice, and obviously since I was Andrea for a great part of my life, I’m used to responding to the name. But I often wonder why they refuse to refer to me by the name I chose for myself. They chose the name, too – after all, it’s my first name on my birth certificate – but it’s got to be more than that. Maybe it’s because they deliberately chose Andrea to honour my aunt. And I don’t want to dishonour her, but I feel like I honour her better being a woman she’d be proud of. I feel like being Andrea makes me into a person I don’t like to be. It’s a constant discussion and circle – what does a name really mean?

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