Frequent readers might have noticed that when I was born, I got strapped with one girly clunker of a name. I’m not even going to tell you what my middle name is because you won’t be able to clean the pee out of your sofa cushions. Let’s just say you could embroider and calligraphy the shit out of it. It practically spouts lace.
This is not to say, however, that I don’t like my name. Elizabeth is a solid name, a bit long (a source of constant frustration to both me and my alter ego “Elizabet” during the standardized test-taking days of the ’90s), but a sturdy tugboat of a name. Flowery? Yes. Trendy? No. Eternally popular, but not too popular? Yep. A total bitch when you’re learning how to write cursive? Indeed.
In general, I’m indifferent about my name. I don’t really care what I get called. Elizabeth, Liz, whatever. When you’ve got four syllables to deal with, it’s best to let the chips fall where they may. I gave up naming control a long time ago, and while a concerned “feel your feelings”-type English professor or two attempted to argue that what I get called makes a difference, it really doesn’t.
But a lot of that probably has to do with the fact that once people find out what my last name is, well, it’s like I never had a first name at all.
That’s partly due to the fact that my last name is fun. Fun to say, fun to call me, fun to make nicknames out of. And the other part has to do with my personality. I’ve never been a particularly girly girl, and to paraphrase one of my guy friends in high school, “If you’re wearing a dress, I’ll call you Elizabeth. But until that happens, it just doesn’t fit.”* And that’s how things mostly go, even with people who aren’t so clear about why they’ve dropped my first name from their vocabularies. I didn’t spend my whole childhood going full-out tomboy, but even at 29, I own more pairs of sneakers than heels. But that’s also due to the fact that I’m more likely to wear tall boots. All the same, I’ve never really been huge on traditional girl things, either because I have a principled objection to some of them (like occasions that involve yelling “WHOO!”) or because they sort of bore me (like occasions that involve yelling “WHOO!”).
Still, I can rock the lady scene pretty well. I’ve recently worked some pink into my wardrobe and, on account of being an “autumn,” I can wear the crap out of a plum sweater. Also, in an attempt to make myself appear more awake, I discovered eyeliner in 2010. And even though I’m a hot mess most of the time and like to dress in a way that allows me to do my activities, I clean up all right when I want to. I’m great in a pinch in situations that involve a team of skilled technicians. I’m reliable with safety pins and curling irons and I can invent quick fixes on the fly. And I’m always carrying a Tide pen, extra tampons, tissues, snacks, Tums, and spare camera batteries.**
But recently, I’ve been wondering what it means to be 29 and still be addressed by friends old and new like I’m everyone’s scrappy little pal.*** I generally don’t mind. Actually, I like it. While my last name isn’t a nickname, the gesture of calling me by it (or by a version of it) is the same. And I like the familiarly and affection that goes into nicknaming. It gives me the warm fuzzies when someone else is that comfortable around me. On the other hand, there’s something else there that I can’t quite put my finger on. Something that makes me feel 15 and relegates me to the sidelines to watch the coats while everyone else slow dances.
Simply put: Am I too old to be sharing a name with Sherlock Holmes’s chief street urchin/informant?****
* Funny story: At a formal in college, this particular friend (not only did we go to college together, but we roomed next door to each other) spent five minutes yelling, “Elizabeth” before another friend told me he had been trying to get my attention. Years of general antagonism made me immune to the sound of his voice saying anything other than my last name, since most things that were “incoming” came with a verbal warning. Though, in terms of using my name to others, I found that this friend — and others like him — would give away who they liked and who they didn’t like by how they made introductions. If it was someone they didn’t like or weren’t sure they wanted me to know (like a creeper frat brother), I was “Elizabeth.” If the party being introduced was cool, then they’d introduce me with the name they were more comfortable with. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t conscious, but it was hugely interesting.
**Go ahead, make fun of the size of my bag. But know this: someday its contents might save your ass.
***Which I guess is true no matter what.
**** See A Study in Scarlet.