Hello, my name is:
Awhile back, I wrote about my failed attempt to rename myself and the lingering desire to try it again. To sum up the original story: During my freshman year of college, I tried to add a vowel to the end of my name in hopes that it would make me stand out from the sea of Jenn's in my generation. Due to a friend's honest question and my timidity, it didn't stick.
But over the past year, I've realized that the name Jenna calls to me, beyond my desire to be different . There's something about it that appeals to me. I wondered if it could feel like home, but I wasn't sure I was ready to rename myself. In June, I wrote, "Names get into our being. They're part of the story we tell to ourselves and about ourselves. I don't know if I can cast aside Jenn or Jennifer for Jenna."
Three months after writing that, I decided to take Jenna out for a test run. I've always been fascinated with the idea of going to a place where nobody knows me and creating a new persona for myself; not because I'm ashamed of who I am in my "real" life, but because so often I get bogged down in who I'm expected to be. Or more accurately, who I'm accustomed to being, which, despite my best attempts to live authentically, does not always line up with who I really am or want to be.
So in September, I traveled to the woods of New Hampshire to meet more than 100 strangers at the Squam Art Workshops. I "knew" a few of the women there through blogging, but had met none of them in person and had never spoken with any of them on the phone. The extent of our interaction had been reading and commenting on each others' blogs and sharing an occasional email. It was as good a place as any for my name experiment.
Two months earlier, I trotted out my new name a few times while at BlogHer in San Francisco, but I had a hard time being consistent with it because I'd already met several of the people there. I wasn't completely ready to commit to that extra letter.
But for five days in New England, I said, "Hi, my name is Jenna." For five days, I heard people say, "Hey, Jenna...." and then realized they were talking to me. If I'm being completely honest, I felt like I was lying about my identity. It was just one tiny extra syllable on top of "Jenn," but I may as well have introduced myself as Mathilda. My own name sounded foreign to me.
And yet, I stuck with it during the whole retreat. I resisted the urge to abandon my experiment and fall back on the familiar. So now a whole group of people know me as Jenna. I told one of my closest and oldest friends about this experiment, and she admitted that she could never think of me as a Jenna. I understand that. The verdict is still out on whether or not I can.
Then today I read something that Karen Maezen Miller wrote on her blog:
Our mind is so swiftly conditioned to an acquired understanding of names and labels. Like all forms of delusion, we attach and identify erroneously with names when they are just tools. Identifying yourself with a certain name is like mistaking the fork for the food.
It reminds me of Popeye's famously jaunty song: I yam what I yam, and that's all that I yam.
I am Jennifer/Jennie/Jenn/Jenna Ann McGuiggan. Call me what you will, I'm still me. And that's all that I yam.