Friday, January 8, 2010

My own oafish self.

of my entire history of attending school, I have had to write an essay about my name.
Okay, maybe not every year. But I have certainly churned out my share of swirling, whirly commentaries about one single word.
It's not the easiest thing on earth, writing an entire essay about your name. I try to keep it going by first saying what my name means, then why my parents named me it, then whether or not I like it, and what I would change it to if I could, and blah blab blahbbl blah. My essays were lies. I loved my name, I hated it, it was the name of the daughter of the cousin of the king of Wales, it was my super-Nazi great-grandmother's name, I would change it to Scarlett, if I could, I would change it to Jennyanne, I would change it to Esmerelda. Maybe I didn't say all those things. Maybe I said none of them. Who knows? I have written so many "My Name" essays that they have all blurred together like sweet potatoes in a blender.
This year we were instructed to write not an essay on our name, but a vignette.
Just to, you know, spice things up a little.
And since I realized I have nothing else, really, to post, I shalt post it.

My name is Jennifer, and it means “fair one.” I’m not so sure how I feel about that. In sixth grade, my mother’s teacher read her a story, and one of the character’s names was Jennifer. My mother decided that it was the most beautiful name she had ever heard, and stored it away in an airtight container pushed to the back of a shelf in the corner of her mind. She must have packed it away too well, though; by a slip of memory her firstborn was named Laura. By the time I arrived, though, my mother had found the dusty old airtight container and brushed off the grime. I was to be called Jennifer. By preschool, that had changed. They called me JJ, which I hated, but I couldn’t protest because I was abnormally quiet not only for my age, but for my species. There was not a child quieter than I, nor a turtle, nor a rabbit, nor a mouse. I don’t know if my mother cared that they had chopped down her resplendent Jennifer to a pair of short, stabby letters. She wanted me to be Jennifer, but I was JJ. If she minded, she never let on. Maybe Jennifer had been beautiful when the name had first endowed her sixth-grade ears, but its radiance had been leached away after years of it being part of her daily vocabulary. “Pick up your toys, Jennifer.” “Time to go to school, Jennifer.” “Jennifer, go get your sister for me.” The word ‘Jennifer’ was becoming a drooping decaying deteriorating dishrag that had scrubbed the leftover gunk off of one too many dirty plates. And then, as silently and obscurely as I had slipped into being “JJ,” I turned into “Jen.” Then I was “Jenny.” “Jenny” stuck around for many years, and became so much a part of me that even my mother addressed me by that name. By fifth grade, I knew enough to hate it. Jenny was the name of an awkward loser who couldn’t figure out how to grow up. When I thought of what kind of person deserved a name like Jenny, I thought of an ungainly wreck, inept in the ways of the world. It only angered me further when I realized I had painted a perfect mental picture of my own oafish self. I envy the graceful Gabrielles, assured Alices, and poised Phoebes. With an incapable name like Jennifer, or Jenny, or Jen, or JJ, or whatever bits and pieces you can hack my name into, I know I am doomed to forevermore be a vagrant in the competitive universe of 21st-century society.

I realized that "Jennifer" really is a very awkward name, which explains, you know, me. I have been trying to fix that, by the way. I even bookmarked an "overcoming social awkwardness" page that I'll get around to actually reading at one point or another.

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