Wednesday, August 18, 2010

My Name

Every fall, I give my students a short diagnostic essay prompt so that I can evaluate their writing skills.  I ask them to write about the story of their names, a humorous or interesting story about how they got it, what, what it means to them, etc.  Since I start teaching tomorrow, I dug out the prompt and I was inspired to write an answer of my own.  Here it is:

          There are times when I feel like the story of my name is so far divorced from who I am.  My parents named me after Barbi Benton, who when I was born, was a famous Playboy playmate. It’s a funny story certainly, and it’s certainly a unique origin for a name.  And when I was a kid, I hated my name.  My mother, in her infinite motherly wisdom tried to tell me that I was definitely a Barbi.  She often tells me that it was my parents’ intention to call me by my middle name since both of my parents go by their middle rather than first names.  But after I was born, she took one look at me and knew that I was a Barbi. 
But I was stubborn (I still am).  I was absolutely determined to change my name the day I turned 18 because I couldn’t stand being Barbi anymore.  I was going to choose something that I thought sounded more like me, like Rebecca.  I was obsessed with the name Rebecca for a number of years.  Rebecca, to me, connoted a dark haired sophisticated beauty who was as intelligent as she was beautiful (that way people would overlook the fact that she was a total trekkie sci-fi nerd).  However, by the time I turned 18, I had other things to think about like graduating from high school, service work, who to vote for in my first election, what college I was going to attend, and what major I was going to choose.  I had too much on my plate to change my name to something that would fit me or to even contemplate what name exactly did fit me. 
                It wasn’t until years later that I realized that it isn’t a name that fits a person; it’s a person that fits a name.  Barbi representative of who I am simply because it’s the name I’ve used all of my life.  Barbi isn’t some dark haired sophisticated beauty, although I do like to think I turned out to be a fairly intelligent person.  The name Barbi indicates a woman who has a love of really bright colors and has the wardrobe to prove it.  Barbi connotes someone who is kind, compassionate, and loyal—and a total softy when it comes to cats.  She has a deep (and perhaps a bit obsessive) love of literature, particularly when it’s from 19th century England.  Barbi is the name of person who now embraces her love of science fiction and Star Trek, and isn’t ashamed to admit it.  It’s the name of a woman who is finding it hard to learn to be happy with what she has instead of what she wants or thinks she should have.  Barbi is a cute, quirky kind of name, and I find that it suits me far more than Rebecca ever could. 
                In short, learning to accept my name, for me, meant learning to accept who I am as person, warts and all.  And honestly, it’s not easy.  There are still days when I think my name is really stupid and I question my parents’ wisdom in giving me such an odd name, and those are often the days when I have trouble accepting myself for who I am.  But it’s a process, and I’ve found that the more I come to love my name, the more I come to love myself, because, in the end, Barbi is who I am.  My mother was right all along.