What’s in a name?

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.

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18 comments

  1. Interesting stuff, I’m actually a little of the opposite (which may be why I insist on using my real name). With a last name like Hole you have to own it and I do. Also people can never seem to get my first name right (it’s not that difficult, it confuses me to no end), I get Chris, Cole, Kurt, basically everything other than Craig. I think all this has made me a little stubborn when it comes to using my name. I had another author suggest that I use a pseudonym because my last name might turn readers away, I told them to shove it.

    There is a lot more to a name than just something to call another person, you never really stop to think how loaded something like a name is. Also your mom sounds pretty cool, sounds like she was an interesting woman, I’m sure it has been a few years since her passing but I’m sorry for your loss.

    Liked by 2 people

    • There is a lot more to a name than just what you call them, you’re right, and it isn’t the meaning of the name. You’re not just naming your newborn when you have a baby. You’re describing the man/woman they’re going to be. Take Oliver, for example. “Olive” is in the name Oliver. Two things:
      1) In Greek Mythology, Hera’s symbol was an olive tree, and she was the goddess of marriage, children and peace.
      2) In the Bible, an olive tree was the symbol of peace.
      From all that, you can guess that Oliver will be happily married, have many children, and will be peaceful.
      Now do that with you’re name!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I understand the need to get out from shadows. I also understand the need for a pseudonym to hide from the corporate nazis. I can sympathise with both. They are the same reasons I use a pen name 😉 I won’t tell if you don’t.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m really glad I’m not the only one! Often on WP I wonder how common pseudonyms, or even semi-pseudonyms like mine, really are. There can be both a feeling of liberation and falseness to using one. Do you find that as well?

      And, our secrets are safe! 😉

      Liked by 2 people

      • It does sometimes feel a bit false, especially when people address me by the name, but I get a feeling of separation. It’s almost like I have created another me, a superhero alternate identity if you will. By day I am but a humble teacher… By night I am JJ, the word slinging creator of worlds! I see it as a shield too. When they attack, they’re attacking him, not me. It makes it hurt a bit less. Only a bit, but every little bit counts.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Yes, precisely!! That superhero dual identity thing is exactly how I’ve begun to feel. I like to imagine that one day I will maybe, just maybe, legally change my name and just keep my superhero identity on all the time, but then, as you say, the sense of separation and protection is nice too.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. This is a really interesting aspect if named and the legacy that being ‘named after someone’ can create. Our name is a big part of our identify but not something I think about for myself that often. I too protect my full identify for professional reasons. My blog is personal. It’s great for you that being a writer and a Blogger has given you the opportunity to have your own name. I too am sorry for your loss. Loosing a parent can affect our identify in ways we don’t always realise.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment! Yes, I totally agree about the whole concept of being named after someone. What I find particularly interesting is that the whole Junior, the Third, the Fourth, etc thing is a distinctly male phenomenon. I recall when I first learned that as a child, and thinking how bizarre that only men could have those suffixes, and only if they took all of their father’s names. I haven’t known that many boys who were Juniors, but I’ve always asked the ones I did know if they felt the way I did about resenting sharing a name. Interestingly, none felt that way. Or at least, none admitted to it.

      If there’s anything this post has really helped me with, it’s with feeling a lot better and less alone in using a semi-pseudonym. I’m glad to know you and some other readers do as well.

      And thank you, that is so true about losing a parent. The difference between how you think it will feel and how it actually feels can be quite stark, especially as it relates to our identities.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I also had a similar situation. There was another girl in my class with my same name, so she went by her middle name. She still knew that her name was R*****, (I also value privacy) not S********. I can understand how you were confused, only being 2 and all. I’m sure that, once you/ she moved away/left, you/she went back to being called “Susan”. Love you, Charlotte! Thanks for liking my blog! Could we bump it up to a follow? 😉

    Liked by 2 people

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