Cliché title, I know. But I can’t think of a non-cliché title that I like better. Because today I want to blog about how crazy important names are, and a bit of the story behind my name. I like to think it’s vaguely interesting. Or at least, it shouldn’t be so boring as to put anyone to sleep.
Not so long ago, in a galaxy quite like our own, I was born to parents John and Jane Doe*. (*not at all their real first or last names by any stretch of the imagination — but I value privacy!*)
Before I was born, I was meant to be called Alexandra, or Sasha for short. (That bit is unaltered — why change a name I never got?).
But then, when I was born, my parents had the brilliant idea to name me after my mom, but call me by my middle name. Jane Susan Doe, but called Susan. (*again, not my real name*)
Everyone called me Susan. I was Susan.
Around age two, off I went to preschool, and lo and behold, there was another girl there already called Susan. The teacher took it upon herself to begin calling me Jane, without consulting my parents, of course. I mean, it’s not like you can have two children with the same name!! *sarcasm*
I grew very confused. By day people were calling me Jane, and at home I was being called Susan.
My parents eventually realized what was going on, and instead of having a stern word with the teacher for just up and changing my name like that, they were like “Eh, let’s just split the difference and call her both.” Never mind that my name was meant to be Susan, not Jane Susan. Never mind that a teacher shouldn’t have had that much power in what I was called. Whatever. I’m not bitter.
So, from then on, I was Jane Susan. Not Jane. Not Susan. Jane Susan. Where I’m from, double-barrel first names are actually fairly common, especially among girls, but still, it was always the biggest headache to get teachers to remember my full name. And any kind of government form? Well, forget it. All they care about is your legal first name.
Then there’s my mom. My beautiful, creative, outgoing mom, may she rest in peace. My mom, in spite of her flaws, was truly the most gorgeous creature inside and out that I’ve ever known. Long, flowing, fiery red hair, with a feisty temperament to match. Creative beyond belief. She was a professional ballerina before I was born, traveling the country and the world dancing. Then when I came along, she got her degree in English and became a professional writer. She was one of those people who knew everyone in town, who was never shy, never diffident, always on.
You’re the spitting image of Jane! You’re just a little miniature Jane running around! Oh Jane, she’s just like you!
Based on my praise of my mom, these should have all felt like compliments, right? Well, it’s certainly not that I ever took them as insults, but it pained me so much every time someone said I was her carbon copy, no matter how well intentioned their words were.
Why can’t I just be my own person? Why do I have to look like her, laugh like her, smile like her? Why, God, do I have to have her name too? Can’t I just have one thing all to myself?
The pieces are probably coming together now for why I use a semi-pseudonym, huh?
The one person in the world I’ve never wanted to be is Jane. Jane is my mom. She is her, and I am me. But being called Jane Susan, with Jane being my legal first name and what appears on all official documents and such, it’s dang hard not to be even accidentally called just Jane on at least a weekly basis.
And can I tell you something? Nothing incenses me more than being called Jane. Hearing that singular name being applied to my person is like having ice picks jammed into my ears. If that sounds melodramatic, it probably is. But for my whole life that I can remember, I’ve fought to stand out from her shadow and be my own person, with my own identity. And what’s a more succinct summary of a person than her name? It’s like, this is the English word that shows up in the dictionary next to me.
I realize that when people I’ve just met accidentally call me just Jane instead of Jane Susan, they don’t realize how badly it hurts, how it’s another rub of salt on a very, very old wound. So I try my best to be patient with people who are getting to know me, although I can’t deny I’ve grown a bit testy with coworkers who can’t seem to get it right.
“I am not my dead mother. I am me,” I want to shout across the boardroom table. Instead, I smile politely, if stiffly, and say, “Actually, I go by Jane Susan.”
I once told a coworker that I’d honestly rather someone address me as b!*%h than just Jane. She thought I was joking. I kind of wasn’t.
Obviously, if someone addressed me by a curse word, his or her intentions would arguably be much darker than if he or she called me by just Jane. But that comparison accurately sums up the difference in my internal reaction to how badly it hurts and angers me to be called by just her name.
So, here we are. Mom in heaven, but still I can’t tell you how often people say I’m her spitting image. Even at her funeral, her admirers took turns shaking my hand after I gave the eulogy. You look just like Jane. Jane would be so proud of you.
I know she would be proud of me. I also know she’d always want me to be my own person. That’s the irony of it all, really. She always, always, always encouraged me to be myself and follow my dreams.
I feel like this post has taken a turn for the dark. Let’s turn it around, shall we?
Right. So, for as long as I’ve been creatively writing — which is to say, a few years now — I’ve known I’d want to write under a pseudonym of some sort. Reason number one being all of the above. Reason number two, which is equally compelling, is the fact that I work in a ridiculously conservative, stuffy industry. I’m not over here writing erotica or anything, but the higher I climb the corporate ladder, the more things like writing books about magical dragons may undermine my professional credibility. Plus, I mean, I honestly don’t like the idea of my employer Googling my legal name and reading my whole blog.
Dear Boyfriend helped me brainstorm ways to modify my real legal name to something close to it but not close enough to pop up on a Google search of my real legal name.
So, I am Charlotte Graham. And I love, love, love finally having my own name.