THE NAME GAME
Your name is the story of your life, so don’t let other people draft it.
Having an uncommon name is not always a blessing. It becomes one, after many trials and tribulations during the long and overwhelming journey to adulthood. What was once an easy target for playground jokes becomes something that reinforces the individuality that one finally strives to achieve, after all those years of fighting to blend in. However, although the naughty remarks provoked by juveniles with zits cease, they pave the way for a new kind of phenomenon that people with uncommon names need to face: the tendency of new acquaintances to either abbreviate your name or just not giving a fuck about it at all.
My name is Gintare and I’m a girl. I highlight this for my name doesn’t imply a gender. My last name is as unisex and as difficult to pronounce as the first, which doesn’t make the whole name business any easier. I was given the name because of its meaning (“amber” in Lithuanian) and because my parents liked it. And because, after my birth in 1985, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union were probably not the most common events that mediums predicted. The point being that my parents weren’t Bob Geldof or Frank Zappa. They didn’t feel the urge to call me by a sound or a peculiar word from an esoteric encyclopedia. They chose a name that was not the most common, but definitely familiar to the average ear in the environment I was meant to spend my life in. All possible detrimental effects of my name on my daily life were not what my parents pondered long upon.
A few years and a few major historical turns later, my family moved to Luxembourg where I was instantly subjected to a dizzying variety of pronunciations, nicknames and abbreviations, one more unexpected and weirder than the other. All of a sudden I was confronted with a need to reclaim, justify or fight for the correct pronunciation of my name, the way it was meant to be pronounced by my procreators and the melody of the syllables my ears depended on to respond to. However, what I initially thought was an issue related to my name specifically, as it was unheard of in my new home, turned out to be a common denominator of most names of the world. After years of studying, living, and travelling, as well as becoming more sensitive and attentive to others’ names because of my personal story, I noticed the quickly noticeable: people like to shorten, if not change, other people’s names, often too quickly for comfort.
Since a name is the most frequently verbalised part of an identity, situations where names are prone to be pronounced happen daily and occur everywhere: schools, dinner parties, administrative offices, doctor’s office, job interviews. It’s probably the latter that makes things most complicated though, since it’s one of those rare situations where one craves to please, “to behave”, to not stand out in a negative light, where social and professional hierarchies modify the natural flow and patterns of behaviour. As an actress, I constantly experience casting directors, directors, make-up artists and people from other positions mispronounce or confidently invent a name on the spot. These automatisms may not always be ill-intentioned, fair enough, but they suck, mostly because I am left in this weird position between choosing to
a) not correct them, which makes me feel weak and silly, or
b) correct them, which is quite likely to make me come across as a bitch. By the very easy nature of deduction, this fear makes me feel even sillier.
As mentioned before, for ages I thought that my experience with these awkward moments was due to the complexity of my name, but again, it seems that even friends with familiar names encounter the same unnecessary and unpleasant situations.
-Hi, what’s your name again?
-Yes, Lenny, please take a seat.
There’s a huge difference between you offering an abbreviated version of your name or something completely unrelated maybe (although it’s a tricky thing when you wish to suddenly be called differently after years of introducing yourself the same way) and having someone impose a name without your consent. It’s not only rude, but it’s uncomfortable and touches something so dearly personal and hence very fragile. Being renamed or falsely named automatically injects the feeling of being looked down at and since we are taught to defend everything but our names, when we find ourselves in a situation that potentially calls for us to do so, we suddenly feel stupid. In a twisted way, correcting the other person’s pronunciation of our name or us repeating it for further (hopefully) better understanding has the unexpected effect of making us hesitate, for it has the risk of making us come across as arrogant or pretentious. And then I wonder: when did having one’s name being so easily butchered by someone (often without any hint of remorse) become more acceptable than requiring its respect?
It took me years to learn to own my name, which came once I began liking it. I have not always been innocent in the whole process of people calling me differently, mainly because I didn’t mind being called whatever newly met people wanted to call me. But as I became aware of my apathetic indifference, I took matters in my own mouth and began reclaiming something that had not always been mine. Nowadays, I introduce myself with my entire first name, without any shortened versions that might attempt to adapt to the familiarity of local ears and I have unlimited supplies of patience with people I meet. Lately, I began helping others visualise the name better by writing it on my arm, which not only helps people remember it, but also succeeds at heightening the spirits and uplifting the mood in a flash. I am not neurotic, I don’t frown on a hairdresser who calls me something entirely different. A mistake is always human and it’s friggin’ funny. But I do care when I feel that I the accident comes from a place of indifference and unfriendliness and I make sure to at least try to stand up for myself. I don’t always dare to. But courage is a muscle.
If people justify their urge to edit your name based on its difficulty, you ought to defend the basic right that is yours to be called however you wish to be, be it your actual name or not. It’s your right not give in easily on the basis of shyness or politeness. It also seems important to tell the Toms, Pauls and Sandras of this world that it is equally difficult to remember their names, perhaps not because they’re difficult to pronounce, but because their popularity makes them extremely difficult to match a single face with. And that I do my very best to do so. Obviously and naturally. Each time.
I am sometimes exhausted in advance when thinking about the fights we will have with my partner regarding name castings once we will decide to start a family. For, in my daydreaming fantasies, I hope to give my children long names. Not because they might offer them a whole range of possible abbreviations or more possibilities to get nicknames, but because they will hopefully help the kids to learn to defend their territory, be opinionated, assertive and grow character-balls from an early age. I most likely will not be the only one to have a say in this since I am not alone in the conception process. But just so you know, if it were only up to me, a long name it would be. I celebrate the ownership of a multisyllabic title for life.