Way back, in the 7th grade, when I was 12, I started at a new middle school in a new neighborhood with zero friends. I had already completed 6th grade in a middle school setting so I wasn’t frightened by the change like many of the kids at this new school were. Their advantage however, lay in the fact that many of them had gone to Elementary school together and knew one another.
In my first class of the day the teacher was busy calling out names and pointing to seats so we’d know where we would be forced to plant ourselves day after day when we filed in for that particular class. Being that my last name starts with a Z I was used to being placed in the back so I made my way in that general direction and waited to be called last.
The other part of the routine that I was more than familiar with was the teacher inevitably butchering my name. Honestly it’s not that hard. See my name is spelled Janise and it’s pronounced jah-niece but many people tend to say jan-niss or even duh-niece. Yeah, that’s right, they would actually make a D sound when it’s clearly a J in the beginning of my name. Once I even had a substitute say (with much conviction) jan-is-ee.
There’s just something about the spelling of my name I suppose that puts people off. I’m this weird combination of Denise and Janice. Anyway, back to that first 7th grade class seating moment. Finally the teacher made her way to me and of course couldn’t get my name right. When I corrected her I remember a girl sitting not far from me say, “What a weird name. Why didn’t your mom just give you a normal name? I bet cuz your name is weird, you’re weird.”
Now she didn’t say this loud enough for the receding teacher to hear but she made a few people around her chuckle. It wasn’t the first time I had been branded as strange and also not the first time my demeanor was connected to my equally strange name. Yet to this day I remember that particular moment so clearly. It’s not because I was particularly hurt by her intentionally nasty words and tone but because she had sparked an idea in me.
What if I had just grown into my name? What if my name was strange to begin with and I simply followed suit? The possibilities of this notion flew around my head for the rest of that day and for many days since. There had been so many times as a small child I had stared at my name on paper or pictured it in my head. I had placed it next to common names like Amanda or Jennifer and pondered the differences.
It used to bug me endlessly that I couldn’t picture a face with my name besides my own. Sometimes while watching a show or listening to a song I’d suddenly become so irrationally upset because I would realize over and over again that I may never see my name in a book, watch a character in a show that bore my name or hear it in a song.
There was something so alienating about that simple thought. I mean I’m sure there are some other names out there that maybe haven’t been used in popular TV, movies, books, or songs but that didn’t stop me from wondering for my own name.