Monday, August 24, 2009

"A generation without name . . ."

(song: ‘Like A Song’)

This post is dedicated to the ‘Jennifers’ and ‘Stephanies’ of the world who are in their 30s.

Yes, while growing up, our classrooms were overrun with us. We went by variations of our names and distinct spellings in an effort to differentiate. It didn’t really help, but it was fun watching our teachers try to remember which of us was ‘Jennifer,’ ‘Jenny,’ ‘Jen,’ ‘Stephanie,’ ‘Steph,’ and ‘Steffy.’

I distinctly remember being ten years old and thinking to the future, deciding that I had real difficulty imagining what it would be like to ‘be grown up’ because I didn’t know a single adult who was named ‘Jennifer.’ I honestly felt like I couldn’t be taken seriously when I got older because I’d always have a kid name. (Of course, I wasn’t considering that all of my ‘Jennifer’ classmates would ALSO be my age along the way. Call it pre-teen lack of critical thinking.)

Let’s just take a brief ‘sharp left’ and cut to modern-day tv viewing, shall we?
There is absolutely no reason whatsoever to watch ABC’s ‘The Bachelor’ or ‘The Bachelorette’ if not for a Texan blogger named Lincee Ray, who incidentally, hates green beans. But I digress.

Dear Lincee should honestly be on ABC’s payroll because countless viewers of these shows only watch because they’re principally readers of her hilarious blog. In her spare time, when she’s not busy avoiding green veggies or dancing around the house to ‘Dancing Queen,’ (LOOOOVVEE!), she’s hard at work recapping the shows and (in the off-season), revealing the life and times of a genuinely wonderful person who has more stories to tell than your average Jane. If you watch either of those brain-cell deleting shows and aren’t reading Lincee’s blog, start now and - - you’re welcome. You (like me!) now have (barely) enough justification to continue. Watching will still kill your brain cells, but it hasn't yet been proven harmful to your liver.

In a recent, off-season, nostalgic backward glance to posts of yesteryear, Lincee reminded us of her jealousy when her sister, Jamie, was able to do her homework with pencils that had her name printed on them. And much to the chagrin of anyone (a) with an uncommon name (b) before Al Gore gifted us with the internet (where you can now find/buy anything) . . . those were called the days of ‘going without.’

Lincee’s lament reminded me of one of my own.
As has already been alluded to, ‘Jennifer’ and ‘Stephanie’ were the most popular girl names for a few years around the time I was born. And what followed was this series of years when it was trendy and popular to have your name emblazoned on, oh, I don’t know, EVERYTHING YOU OWNED. So, though I never met Lincee’s problem, there was another roadblock I encountered on my way to a personalized world-of-wonder, and her name was “mom.”

As long as it wasn’t sold out, there was anything and everything you could want or imagine with ‘Jennifer’ printed on it. And though I had one of the two most popular girl-names in the North American English-speaking universe at the time, my mom would never buy any of the ‘Jennifer’ goodness for me. As it turns out, she was too paranoid it would be used in an evil plot against me.

I remember she was particularly averse to even CONSIDERING the hair barrettes with ‘Jennifer’ on them because she was absolutely convinced that a stranger would read them, call me by name at the mall, and tell me a story that ‘your mom sent me to pick you up because she couldn’t come,’ and successfully kidnap me because he called me by name and I believed him.
“It was on the news!” mom said in her defense against my disbelieving eyes, squinty stares, and pleas to reconsider. I’m pretty sure my behavior and eye-rolling probably also earned (and deserved) quite a few, “You’d better hope your face doesn’t freeze that way”s. But her mind was not to be changed.

When discussion about this topic began on Lincee’s blog, ‘Jenny G’ reminisced not-so-fondly about only wanting a ‘JENNIFER’ license plate for her yellow banana-seat bike, but they were always sold out. Adult-me had to laugh because in the safety of my own home, kid-me HAD one of those . . . pinned to the corkboard in my room, so, you know, only those who already knew my name and were legitimately in my life could see it.

‘baseballmama’ admitted to being a “paranoid mom,” too, who wouldn’t let her kids wear anything personalized, either. After I’d relayed my mom’s fears, baseballmama added, and I quote, ‘It was on the news that kidnappers watched for that.’ (I'm pretty sure that wherever my sweet mom was at the moment that was posted, she inexplicably smirked with satisfaction for reasons she’ll never know.) The explanation continued when baseballmama claimed the fear of personalization ‘was an 80s thing’ and added that her whole family nearly had ‘heart failure’ when her niece got her son a backpack with his name on it. She didn’t say otherwise, so I’ll assume no Amber alerts have been put out for him. Thankfully.

Lincee actually has ‘one up’ on me because, though we share the same memories of impersonal yellow number 2 pencils and Lisa Frank styled homework folders while our friends boasted sparkly doodads with ‘Jessica,’ ‘Kimberly’ and ‘Amy’ all over them, at least Lincee grew up with a unique name that few share with her. Me? No matter where I am, I usually end up one of twelve people who turn to see if ‘they’ mean ‘us’ when they call for ‘Jennifer.’

I know my mom loves me and like any good mother, took note when something extra could be done to keep her child safe. I hold no grudge against my boring school supplies and actually feel kind of guilty that I felt avenged when required by the teacher to write my last name (a far stronger bit of identifying information, no?) in the white block on the front of my hideous, polyester, navy blue gym shorts at school.
Mom would rather endure the eye-rolling that accompanied her ‘safety overkill’ than take the .001% risk of being one of those pleading mothers on the news, and in retrospect, how can you really fault her for that?

I should probably thank Mom, really.
Maybe one of the best lessons I took from it all was that the best way for people to know your name is to make one for yourself.

Growing up personalization-free didn’t scar me for life or cause me to run out and get my name tattooed around my wrist in latent defiance.
It did, however, give me a less-than-stellar defense when I’d say, “Hey, that’s mine!” to my brother and he’d respond snarkily with, “Oh yeah? Is your name on it?"


Juju said...

I always wanted to be a Jennifer or Michelle.

I wanted my name on everything too.

Alas, my mom was just like yours and probably wouldn't have bought it for me anyway.


Michelvis said...

Great post JJ. That was a fun and cute post. I do love me some Lincee.