“Hey, can I get a cocoa please?”
“Sure. Can I get your name?”
My mother’s father was Irish. His first son’s name is Patrick, first daughter is Maura, my mother is Anne, his last son is Robert. Never mind that his other three children have very British names.
My mother’s family also has an odd tradition of naming children after other family members. We have two Ellens, two Patricks, two Mauras, two Roberts, and two Michaels (three, if you count an in-law). Names are important.
“My name is Jared.”
“Cool. We’ll have that ready for you in a moment!”
When I was a child, I named things. When I found a name I liked, I would give it to two or three stuffed animals. This explains why I had two dolls, a stuffed turtle, and a rocking horse all named Sally. I was fascinated by names. When I wrote stories, finding appropriate names for my characters was the most important, most time-consuming part. I had books of names and baby-naming websites bookmarked on my dad’s computer. There is still an entire notebook somewhere, full of names I invented. When my sister was born, my parents asked me to help name her because they knew names were special to me.
“Hey, I’d like a turkey-cheese sandwich on white, please.”
“Absolutely. What’s your name?”
My parents had two names in mind in the hours before I was born. They had made lists of names they liked and didn’t like, then combined them and cross-referenced them until they had one list of names they both liked. From there, they narrowed it down one at a time. Two names stuck, and those were the two they considered on the trip to the hospital. One of them was Maureen, a name picked for its Irishness and its similarity to that of the two Mauras already in the family. Following tradition, you know. But, as my mother says, “You just weren’t a Maureen, so we chose the other one.”
“Alright, Kendall, hang tight and we’ll holler when it’s ready.”
It took me months to find my name. I knew something wasn’t right in my head, it became very obvious very quickly that I was Something Different. My host of mental problems could not account for these symptoms. I couldn’t lump it in with depression or anxiety, and it was just far enough from my dissociation issues that I couldn’t really call it that either. I temporarily labeled it an “identity disorder” until I figured it out, and I immediately began my problem-solving rituals. The first one was to change my name. Not publicly, only in my head. I would sign different names at the end of my journal entries, seeing which ones flowed best under my pen. Boy names, girl names, unisex names. Pretty names, ugly names, made-up names. I submitted my writing under aliases, created characters similar to myself and gave them names, put a different name in the address box every time I ordered a package. I lost my old identity.
“Hello, is this tech support?”
“Yes it is. Please hold, we’ll get you an associate. May I have your name?”
My father’s family was less concerned about tradition. My paternal grandparents had three fewer children to contend with and my grandmother’s proud Swedish heritage did not make an impact on her children’s names. She was, however, very careful with my father’s name. His name is William and my grandmother, knowing kids, had the foresight to realize that his friends would likely give him a nickname. In true Grandma Carolyn fashion, she gave him a nickname before anyone else had time to: Bill. She was adamant that he not be called Billy, because if he was Billy as a child he would be Billy as an adult, and “nobody would respect him now, would they?” She was right. As far as anyone is concerned his name is Bill, and he is grateful for her interference in this instance.
“Yes, it’s Quinn.”
“Thank you for calling, Quinn, you won’t be on hold for long.”
I never really felt a connection to my birth name. It’s a fine name, nothing wrong with it, but I answered to it more out of habit than a sense of “yes, that’s me!” It is also deceptively difficult for a child to pronounce. There is an unusual combination of vowels that I could never quite get my mouth around. When I was small, I thought everyone had trouble saying their own name. As a child I asked my mom if she ever did and of course she said “no, why would I?” because Anne is pretty much the easiest name in the world. And I didn’t realize that I had no emotional link to my birth name until I decided I was free to change the syllables people yelled when they wanted my attention.
“Hello, one train ticket please.”
When I finally decided I needed to change my name for real, I made a list of requirements. I would not let anyone sway me, this name had to be a decision I was 100% happy with. It had to be a primarily male name, I would not pick a unisex one like Robin and risk getting misgendered. And it had to be one that I reacted to instantly, one of those names I would hear and think “ooooohhhhmmmmmm, what a wonderful name that is.” So I began my search. I liked Devan and Taylor and Adrian, though they could all be mistaken for female names. David and Loren were nice ones too, but ended up getting cut for reasons I cannot recall. Finally, it came down to two: Jack and Logan. Jack is still one of my favorite names and there are times I wish I had picked it, partially because I have since learned that there are girls named Logan and Jack is unequivocally male. But there was another boy in my small high school named Jack and it would have been markedly Not Good to name myself after him. If not for him, I likely would have chosen it.
“My name is Liam.”
“Gotcha. That’ll be four dollars and fifty-three cents.”
When I was four or five, I heard a name that really stuck with me. My parents were talking about their favorite TV shows from childhood and my mom brought up Bewitched. “My favorite part,” she said, “was when little Tabitha would wiggle her magic nose with her hand.” Tabitha. What a singularly exquisite name. For a month or two after that, I insisted to my parents that I be called Tabitha. I would not let them refer to me as my birth name on the phone to my grandparents, and if anyone called me by anything other than Tabitha I would act pointedly as if I had not heard. My parents humored me for as long as I wanted, though it was not hard for them to switch back to my old name when I got bored with Tabitha. It finally became too much work for my young brain to learn to respond to something new.
“Hello, Amazon tracking services? I’m inquiring about a package I ordered.”
“Sure. What’s the name on the package?”
The first time I encountered Logan, it was in a Babysitter’s Club book. The Babysitter’s Club books are not great; I was only reading it because one of my friends said it was good and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I was eight and far more interested in fantasy. It was the first of the Babysitter’s Club books I read (and by all rights should have been the last, but I went on to read two or three more before I finally gave up). This particular book, titled Logan Likes Mary Anne!, involves the arrival of a new boy in town. He is described as having thick blond hair being infallibly charming. He is also thirteen, which seemed so very mature to me. Thus, my immediate positive association with Logan as a name. It stuck, and Logan hung out in the back of my head for years as one of my favorite boy names.
“Do you have a tracking number, Zane?”
My sister’s name is Chinese. She is adopted and once my parents heard that her Chinese name meant “trust and faith,” they decided they had a real winner and kept it. They did Americanize the pronunciation a bit so that she would not have to constantly spell out her name when introducing herself (she still does, but less so. It’s only three letters, after all). The root of my birth name can be traced back to a plant, though it’s not literal and therefore not the immediate conclusion upon hearing it, as names like Lilac and Daisy are. My favorite joke was always, “yeah, her name means trust, which is just great because my parents named me after a bush.” It always got a laugh. I can’t really make that joke anymore, even though Logan means “little hollow” or something equally ridiculous, because I picked it and I have nobody but myself to blame for its silly meaning.
“Hey, Logan!” I turn, smiling, instantly validated by the use of my real name. Every time I am called this way, it erases my birth name from my memory. It has been three years now, and though I still twitch when someone else is called by my birth name, I no longer turn around, “What?” when I hear it. I am better now. I have learned to take up space. I have learned to be a human, mostly. The other things going on in my head are still there, of course, they will not be sated by medication and bad coping strategies. But I am braver, stronger, better equipped to deal with them than I was before. I am trying to stay functional. And so far, it’s working.
My sister and I share a middle and last name. The middle name is really my mother’s surname, she elected to keep it when she married my father. Often I have wished I could have been given a middle name that was my own. I would not have minded having two middle names if it meant more individuality and separation from my sister. But it would also mean ultimately dropping another name from the list of syllables my parents chose for me. I know it pained them when I chose not to simply adopt the masculine version of my birth name, when I picked a name not wildly different but different enough that I can clearly mark the change. What would my female middle name have been? Maureen would not have flowed well following my birth name. Something with the rhythm of Amanda or Linnea would have sounded nice. Perhaps it would have been a family name, Carolyn or Ellen or Ruth. I am glad I do not have to choose to drop a family member’s legacy from my birth certificate.
“Hey, could I get a chai latte, please?”
“Sure, you got a name?”
I do not hesitate.
It was July when I changed everything. I remember this very clearly, because I cut off three feet of blonde hair the day I got back from summer camp. I was sixteen. It grew back darker. It was not until the fall that I had the opportunity to go to a Starbucks again. I was walking to the bus from a voice lesson. The air was crisp, red leaves against a clear blue sky. I was wearing a scarf. The bus would not come for another hour and I was cold. The coffee shop on 12th on Capitol Hill was a cozy respite and I entered eagerly, thankful for the relief of warm, coffee-scented air flowing over me. The man behind the counter asked my name and I grinned as I gave it to him. He wrote it in such pretty handwriting that when I got home, I cut it out of the cup and kept it. It seemed fitting that the first time I gave my name to a stranger, he carved it in looping letters for me.
“Coming right up!”