What’s in a Name?

Something very weird happened this week. I was logging into Pinterest (no, that’s not the weird thing) and instead of http://pinterest.com/keanneh, I typed http://pinterest.com/keanne. And a profile came up. A profile for another woman with the name “KeAnne.” I got goose bumps because when I’ve Googled myself (don’t laugh), I’ve seen variations like “Keane” and “Keanne” appear and assumed they were pronounced “keen.” Fun fact: there are apparently a few porn stars with “keanne” as a name, and it makes me giggle to think of high school classmates wondering if it’s me because I was rather flat-chested in high school; although, they could believe it was plausible given my time in theater and occasional melodramatic acts such as bringing black-iced heart-shaped cookies on Valentine’s Day, dressing like Morticia Adams-meets-The-Limited while carrying a single rose and declaring myself in mourning for my lost childhood. Hmm.

Anyway, the capital “A” in my name is important because it theoretically should clue in people that my name is pronounced like “LeAnne” with a “K.” Like “Kee-Anne.” I say theoretically because even though I sign every email or other correspondence with my name spelled correctly, I have coworkers with whom I’ve worked for 12 years that have never noticed that the “A” is capitalized and misspell my name. Every.Single.Time. No, I’m not bitter (I am), but consider that an example of what your child can expect if you give him/her an unusual name.

Back to the Pinterest account. Unlike the others I had seen, http://pinterest.com/keanne spelled her name with a capital “A.” KeAnne. Hold up…another “KeAnne?” And not only “KeAnne” but “KeAnne H.” MY last name starts with an “H” too. At this point, my brain exploded, up became down, and cats became friendly and trainable.

I’ve never met or known of anyone with my name before. Yes, intellectually I understand that on a planet with billions of people, there was likely to be at least ONE other person who shared my name. But in reality, I’d grown used to being the only one. When I’d meet people, they almost invariably responded with “What a pretty name!” I flippantly joked that I was like Cher, Madonna or the Mona Lisa in that I didn’t need a last name; chances are that people would remember and know me by my first name (it’s actually my middle name but that’s a story for another day).

I griped over the years about how I disliked having an unusual name. The first day of school/college/work could be painful as I watched people struggle with how to pronounce my name. So simple, yet so unusual apparently. I never felt like I fit in, and my name contributed to that feeling, but as I aged, I really appreciated my name. Yeah, it might be difficult, but so am I.

While I felt set apart by my name, I also felt like I owned it, and I was intrigued by what it felt like to share your name with others. When I started college, there were a billion Jennifers, Katherines, Elizabeths and Merediths. A few years ago at a conference, I sat at a table with two Davids and asked them how it felt to share a name. I don’t remember their response, but gist was that they had never thought much about it.

Never having the experience of sharing a name (until now!), I’m really curious. What do you think when you meet someone with the same name? Do you shrug and move on? Does it impact how you see yourself? Do you feel more or less connected to the rest of the world?

Last week I would have told you it would be fun to meet someone who shared the same name. But now that it’s happened, I’m not sure how I feel. Maybe less unique? Although that feeling was likely false to begin with. Is anyone truly unique? Or are we unique in spite of the name we may or may not share with others?

How do you feel about your name and its popularity or lack thereof?

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3 comments

  1. Having the name Ann means that I’ve run in to many, many other Anns in my life (and even more who have Ann as a middle name). One of the first questions us Anns ask is “e or no e?” I’ll admit, I feel more of a connection to the Anns than I do to the Annes – Ann with no e was slightly more popular in my birth year, but since then, Anne with an e has way taken over in popularity. I do have a very uncommon last name, though. I’ve met one other woman with nearly the same last name (she has an extra “w” in the middle) in college, and her middle name? Yeah, it’s Ann. I actually went through a phase of believing that my college thought we were the same person and accidentally admitted me when they really meant to only admit her. But it really was a shock for me to see someone with a name so close to mine – it was also hard to ignore, since we always got each other’s mail. It became a joke between us, and we’ve since become friends.

  2. OMG: I love the Valentine’s Day story. It reminds me of Darcy’s high school story: he went to a liberal arts school and every day during assembly there was free time, until Darcy’s friend got up on stage with an oil can pulled out a boy scout knife, cut his finger, let the blood drip over the oil can. Then he announced: “This will be the last blood ever spilled over oil.”

    That was the end of free time during assembly.

    I love your name and I always pronounced it correctly in my head. I hope I didn’t misspell it!!

  3. “dressing like Morticia Adams-meets-The-Limited while carrying a single rose and declaring myself in mourning for my lost childhood” – so totally something I would have wished I had done (if that makes sense)!

    My name is pretty common but it’s also one with tons of nicknames you can make out of it, so that makes it simpler I think. In college I knew three Davids who gave themselves extremely unusual nicknames (Corwin, Lester, and Otis) – so that’s my counterexample to your Davids who didn’t care 🙂

    I think everyone is unique, but there’s something about the names we are given – I do think they shape people’s initial impressions of us, or expectations about us, but I also think really strong personalities can imbue their name with certain qualities in other people’s minds. It really is fascinating the things we do, socially and symbolically, with names.

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