Prompt: New name.
Let's meet again, for the first time.
If you could introduce yourself to strangers by another name
for just one day, what would it be and why?
So, I'm going to go out of order and answer this one today, because it inspired such disdain in Dr. Crazy, and for once, I actually liked one of the more goofy prompts.
Now, I have a hard time actually answering this, because it would help if you knew my real name (which I think about 95% of you reading this do know, but we'll pretend you don't). My real last name is pretty identifiably ethnic (Slovak), with a couple of consonants that tend to throw English-speakers into a tizzy when they appear together. The name is pronounced exactly as it's spelled, actually, and is really not that complicated, but no one ever believes that the first time they encounter it. And it is legitimately difficult to get correct from just hearing it spoken the first time, because a lot of combinations of consonants could create its sounds, and there are very few of us with this name floating around. (I have always been the only My Last Name in the phone book everywhere I've lived, for instance, although I'm told there are multiples in Winnipeg and Chicago). When my parents first moved back to the states, my mom found that people kept mixing our last name up with that of a prominent figure in the Czech movement for independence from the Soviet Union, in fact. (Not that the name is Czech, but back then it was Czechoslovakia, not the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Which made doing the obligatory fourth-grade report on Where My Family Came From a bit more complicated than for those whose ancestors were from, say, Canada, or France, or Ireland.)
Anyway, my real point here is that it's not the easiest name to match (unless of course you lived in Slovakia and went with a Slovakian first name, I presume). My first name is actually a pretty good match, because it is basically one of those universal names - the same in almost all languages. (You know how when you take a foreign language class, you often get assigned your "Foreign Language" name? So John becomes Jean and Mary becomes Maria and so on? I've pretty much always got to keep my first name.) However, perhaps because of that universality, I've never much liked my first name. I've always considered it kind of bland and boring.
(I'll admit now, though, that I prefer it to my sister's first name, which is Scandinavian in origin, and a lovely name - if immensely immensely popular in the early 1970s - but I kind of prefer universality to a Scandinavian-Slovak mix. Don't tell my sister that.)
So, when I was a kid, I often thought about possible alternate names. My favorite alternate is one that my parents actually considered - Alexandra. Alexandra plus my last name would have been this incredibly imperial combination! And there are so many cool nicknames for Alexandra! (My real first name is too short for nicknames, except that it has a really obvious rhyme, and it kind of featured in a famous SNL skit that extends the name rather than shortening it, so people have made nicknames by adding to it. So those are fun and all, but not actual nicknames you could go by instead of the name itself, the way that a Samantha could be known as Sam without looking goofy.)
I also tried out entirely different names. I came up with pen names for myself (yes, I thought I would be a writer from about age 7 on), and tried them out. I can't remember any now, except one that turned out to be the name of my dad's secretary combined with the name of a late 60s movie star. It's the most pedestrian of names, but for some reason when I was in grade school I thought it the most mellifluous of combinations (probably because it doesn't have any of the troublesome consonants in my real name!).
So I think I've always been kind of fascinated by the question of how much your name shape people's reactions to you, what role it plays in the image you present to the world. For instance, all those names that people identify as fodder for getting beat up on the playground - Eugene, say, or naming a boy Leslie, or giving a girl a "hooker" name or really cutesy girly name: does naming a kid Eugene doom him to be the class nerd? Will other people's associations with the name color how they treat him, and does that in turn shape how he grows up? There's no easy answer to this - is a Eugene destined to be a pocket-protector-wearing geek? Or is he destined to overcompensate and be a killer jock to avoid being the pocket-protector-wearing geek? Can your daughter grow up to be a CEO if she's named Candi? (Not Candace nicknamed Candi - just Candi.)* I know personality development is nowhere near as simple as this, but it's still something that fascinates me, and it must be something other people think about, too, or naming our kids wouldn't be so fraught.
(For instance, my dad's first name was the same as the lisping cartoon hunter who was always trying to catch the wascally wabbit. It was a reasonably popular name in 1921, when my dad was born. If I had a son, though - which isn't going to happen, but hypothetically speaking - I would love to honor my dad by naming my son after him, but that name? Really? On the other hand, I can see that name being so retro that pork-pie hat wearing hipsters would think it cool. And if you shortened it to one syllable, that would be a cool nickname. And yet then there's the muppet. And how much of a difference would any of these things make?)
I'm not sure this quite gets to the question that was asked, which is what other name you would use. I would be awfully tempted to go with Alexandra, but the real question is: would I be able to pull it off? Can I be that imperial, or would I crumple under its majesty and look even less imperial than usual? Would such a name simply highlight my essential ordinariness?
And I have also thought about what name I might use if I ever published a work of fiction (I would have to write one, first, of course. In college I wrote a lot of fiction, but grad school - both rounds - has beat this out of me a bit. So this is very hypothetical). See, if I published something scholarly or pseudo-scholarly - in history or law or legal history or what have you - I'd publish it under my name, my professional name. But if I published fiction, completely outside of my professional arena, I think I'd like a pen name, and I think I'd do my first name + my mom's maiden name + NLLDH's last name. Partly, they all sound really good together (if a bit like a writer of genteel mysteries set in the British countryside). But partly they would also express a part of my identity that isn't currently expressed in my name.
Because what's funny about all this musing is that in the end, I can't really imagine changing my name. I mean, I didn't change it when I got married, because it represents me. I wouldn't change my boring first name, because it is who I am, and adopting Alexandra would be like putting on a cloak that's too big and fancy for my real life. It's also my "professional" name - the one I've published under, and the one I want to be known by to the professional world. I know that my "maiden" name is my father's name, and I'm proud to bear it. I sort of feel like after spending this many years spelling it to people all the time, people had BETTER learn how to spell it, dammit! I do regret, a little, that my mom's maiden name isn't in there anywhere. But I can't magically change my identity to fit it in. (It REALLY doesn't go with my last name.)
I do, however, frequently play with wanting to be someone other than who I am, and wondering how to shape what others think of me, which is maybe why I found this prompt more intriguing than Crazy did.
*My apologies to all the noble Eugenes and Candis of the world, who can and should be any way and anything they want to be.