By any other name
What it boils down to is this: they ran out of ideas.
I’m the youngest of six kids, and my parents had simply used up all the names they could think of. So they asked my grandma for ideas. She had been watching a mini series and really liked the lead actress, who went by Piper Laurie*. That is why my first given name is Piper.
I don’t like my name. I never have. As a child it was more or less fine, except for the fact that I had the repeated misfortune of being in the same class as a kid my age named Peter. Peter and I both were teased about our pecks of pickled peppers, and our pizza place. I didn’t like being teased, no one does. While I know that lots of people are teased about their names, I still think I was teased worse than most simply because my name was so unusual that it attracted more attention. To this day I hate telling people my name because it always elicits a comment of some sort.
As an adult I just don’t think my name fits me, and I feel like it skews people’s perceptions of me. The most common response when I introduce myself is “What a cute name!” And they’re right. It is a cute name. But I don’t especially care to be thought of primarily as cute. I don’t have a cute personality, I’m not bubbly or happy go lucky. In a lot of ways I’m very dour and tend to take myself far too seriously. I’ve often wondered if I’m overcompensating for my name- I think that people expect me to be fun, bubbly, and cheerful, so I overdo the seriousness just to counteract the expectations. I think I would have been much happier if Piper were my nickname, and I had an adult name that I could have grown into. I’ve toyed with idea of changing my name, though at this point it feels like it is too late.
Certainly in an ideal world the collection of sounds a person uses to refer to themselves wouldn’t color the way others respond to that person. But this isn’t an ideal world, and connotations, first impressions, and stereotypes very much shape the way we see the world and people around us, often in unfair ways.
So much of feminist discourse about names focuses on last names- whether or not a woman did or didn’t, should or shouldn’t change her name upon marriage. I can’t help but think that we’re overlooking something important. The names we give our daughters (and sons) will shape the way they move through the world. When we give them cutesy names we shouldn’t be surprised when no one is inclined to take them and their ideas very seriously. We also shouldn’t be surprised when they take themselves less seriously.
*Interestingly enough, Piper Laurie is just a screen name, her real name is Rosetta Jacobs. For some reason that really bothers me.