What’s In a Name?

I have a secret. I’m not who you think I am.

Well, I am, but it’s a little more complicated than that.

For numerous reasons, I was named after a German movie actress famous in the 1930s. It sounded nice with my last name, the movie star was glamorous and when pronounced correctly, it’s a nice name. But when pronounced as written as on my birth certificate, it reads long and ugly. When pronounced correctly, it’s lyrical and watery.

I struggled with this throughout school, cringing when roll call was read or someone tried to spell my name. It was embarrassing. In middle school I started signing notes with “M,” to circumvent mispronunciation and awkwardness. I persevered with correcting instructors and new friends through grad school and my first job out of school, but started to realize that the real reason I cringed or waited for the imminent mistake was that people hate to feel stupid. They would read my name or try and figure out who I was and I would tense up. But more than that, people would stammer or become uncomfortable when I corrected them.

So when I was laid off from this first job, I changed the spelling to fit the pronunciation. Not legally, but just replaced one letter with another on my resume. How easy it was! Now I only have to bother an HR person every now and then to make sure what needs to be legally correct is. Sure, there are still people who read the middle of my name with a long screeching sound, but on the whole, life is better. My husband and I refer to it as my “fake name.”

But a funny thing happened. Family, obviously, know the “real” me, and so do friends before 2002. But as I’ve placed more roots in this town and I move to different jobs and create strong friendships, more and more people know me by my fake name. I lovingly sign cards with the fake name. I introduce myself with my fake name. Now the roster of people who know the fake name me is bigger than those who don’t.

Sometimes I obsess about this. What will I do when my baby enters school? Which spelling do I use? What about when I die? What will my obituary read? Will my husband one day start using the fake spelling and forget the real me.

However you know me, the spelling might be fake, but I’m real.


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