What’s in a Name?

As I embark on my latest life adventure – moving across the country and reinventing myself yet again (a life-long habit) in a new place – I find myself wondering whether it might also be time to change my name.

That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.

William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

No, I don’t want to be called Rose.

Nor am I suggesting a legal name change.

Let me explain.

When I was born, I was gifted the middle names of each of my grandmothers. My first name, Rebecca, comes from my paternal grandmother (Ethel Rebecca) and my middle name, Marie, from my maternal grandmother (Calista Marie).

I could have been named Ethel Calista. Dodged a bullet, there!

Growing up, I had a vague notion that Rebecca was a Biblical name, but since we weren’t religious, I didn’t pay much attention to that aspect.

Whatever.

From earliest memory I was called Becky. By everyone. Family, neighbors, friends, classmates and teachers. The only time I was called Rebecca was when Bryant Feveryear, an awkward, nerdy kid in my third-grade class, teased me by calling me “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.” When I complained to my mother, she explained it was because Bryant liked me. That idea was even more distasteful than his teasing. But I digress.

Throughout those early years, I hated being called Rebecca. It grated on my ear, sounding old-fashioned, like I was an old lady. I was a girl! I especially took umbrage when someone misspelled it as Rebekah, which seemed even more…hillbilly.

Through college and law school I remained Becky. And please, not Beck, as too many men who didn’t know me well tried to call me. WTF? It’s Becky.

Symbolic meaning, Japanese kanji.

After graduating law school and passing the bar exam, I began searching for a job. I decided to accept a position in a two-man law firm in a tiny agricultural town in the eastern part of Washington, my home state. Cue my first name reinvention, starting completely fresh in a new location, far from family and friends. An adventure! I decided that, at 27 years of age and the first female attorney in a hundred-mile radius, I might be taken more seriously if I went by Rebecca. So, overnight, I switched from Becky to Rebecca.

It wasn’t easy. Especially when it came to introducing myself. I remember frequent stumbles: “Hi, I’m Becky. Um, or, Rebecca. I answer to either.”

It took practice, but eventually I got better and consistent. I even started liking and preferring Rebecca. I practiced my signature using Rebecca. We lawyers sign our names on tons of legal documents.

Soon after arriving in that new town, sitting in my office as a newly-minted attorney, the receptionist patched a phone call through to me. “Hello, this is Rebecca,” I answered. “Oh, so it’s Rebecca, now!” my uncle Jesse said, laughing teasingly.

Busted. I hadn’t told my family I was going by Rebecca. It almost felt like a betrayal.

I’m pretty sure they thought I was being pretentious.

Family never changed, always calling me Becky. And I was fine with that. Although I did sometimes complain that the few references to a Becky in song lyrics didn’t bode well (Becky was always abused or raped). Nor did the name Rebecca have good connotations in popular literature/film.

Rebecca, the haunting former wife.

The mix of new and old names, for me, eventually led to decades of split identity.

To family and friends, I remained Becky. But professionally, I was Rebecca, which ironically was helpful back in the days before caller ID (and no cells phones; gawd, we’re talking the mid-1980s). On my home phone I could tell it was a sales call when I’d answer “Hello?” and the caller would ask, “Could I speak to Rebecca?” Click.

As time went on, the two camps became more distinct: family and friends, including all of my friends in the road- and trail-running communities, called me Becky. As an attorney, though, I was Rebecca. It was a nice line drawn in the cultural sand: in my leisure life I was Becky; when working, I was Rebecca. There was occasional overlap, but not much.

Then, in 2005, I moved to Idaho. I introduced myself as Rebecca to everyone, regardless of social or professional sphere.

And so, for the past sixteen years, except for family and those friends from my pre-Idaho days, I’m known as Rebecca.

Which, now that I’m fast approaching age 65, sounds…a bit old, to my ears.

Maybe it’s time to flirt with the youngish-sounding Becky again? Especially when so much else about my life is about to change?

There’s a certain appeal, reverting to my girlish nickname at my (ahem) advanced age, while beginning a new adventure in a new state. It feels like another way of throwing off the weight of a long legal career where I was always known as Rebecca, starting fresh, focusing on Becky the runner and outdoorsperson.

But then there’s Rebecca the writer, the published author, who will always be Rebecca. Professional sounding. And that’s okay. It allows the appropriate distance between my writing (Rebecca) and my new personal life (Becky).

When I arrive in my new home – wherever, exactly, in Vermont that will be – it will be fun to reverse these long-ago, post-law school awkward introductions, and start saying, “Hi, I’m Becky.” I’m sure I’ll stumble the first several times, introducing myself as Rebecca, but as always I explained way back then, I answer to either. And always will.

Becky is growing on me.

It makes me feel…rejuvenated.

On to new adventures!

26 thoughts on “What’s in a Name?”

  1. You’re probably on the leading edge of a big name trend. No one goes by Becky anymore which means soon everyone will. Once when I started a new job everyone called me Jeffrey. At first I went with it but then I decided I really don’t like the name.

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    1. Or the trailing edge, which is how I tend to follow fashions, adopting them long after everyone else has and the trend is already fading. But hey, being fashionable and trendy is overrated, right?

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  2. I was named after my father, whom I ended up in practice with in 1984. As I had been a teen in and out of the courthouse with him in the 10 years prior my kid nickname “Pete” stuck with me, even now the judges here call me Pete.

    At first I resented it but when I saw Top Gun and recognized the lead character is named “Pete” I decided to stay with it. How is that for a reason to retain a name?

    So, Becky, as you embark on this adventure I am drawn once again to literature for a name of a character setting out from the known to the unknown and adopting a new name.

    “Call me Ishmael. Some years ago- never mind how long precisely- having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. ”

    Herman Melville, Moby Dick

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  3. I’ve known quite a few women who did this at our stage of life. My friend Sally suddenly wanted to be Sarah — pissing off her daughter, Sarah, who already felt her mom trod too heavily on her life and was now appropriating her name. I never called her Sarah; I honestly thought the whole thing was stupid even after she explained it to me. I think I said, “OK, Sal, but you’re always Sally to me.”

    “You can always call me Sally, Martha,” she answered.

    But my name is Martha which has always been a somewhat odd name in a world of (forgive me) Beckys and Debbies (the big names of my generation). Then, I discovered another artist who’
    s in this area named Martha Kennedy, and I had to insert my middle name into my signatures etc. OK that is like flipping the bird at my mom which I’m happy to do. She never wanted me to be called “Martha” and also never wanted me to be an artist, so. Ha ha ha.

    A while back I picked a name for myself that I like very much. A lot of Native American tribes believe people have a “real” name that only they know and that is never spoken aloud. It’s a very weird think that our names are not necessarily our beings. So, Becky. 🙂 ❤

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    1. So weird! We’re given a name at birth, or upon adoption, having no say or choice in the matter. So it’s liberating to think we can change or tweak that name as we become adults. I had a boyfriend, long ago, who hated his middle name; he asked me to help him legally change his name to eliminate it, but I couldn’t reveal to his parents that he’d done so. Names and their meaning/baggage can be so fraught! Thankfully, for me, the only decision is whether to go formal or with the more casual nickname. I’m thinking casual fits me at this stage of my life. 🙂

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  4. Becky, Becky, Becky…It’s not rolling of the tongue yet! I’ve NEVER known you as Becky. Now I will make the switch. I get it. My birth name is Michelle. It just doesn’t fit me and never has and never will. Carry on Becky!

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    1. Too funny! And a good example of how we do or don’t use our nicknames throughout our lives. If you’ll make the effort to call me Becky, I’ll do my best to not call you Michelle 🙂

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  5. I think if you’re comfortable with Becky it’s a good way to make the mental switch as you move. There isn’t really much you can do with my name – in theory I could shorten it to Andi, but that never really seemed right!

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    1. I’m sure what our parents/siblings/relatives called us as children set in our minds how we think of ourselves. It took me a long time to adjust to Rebecca; I think the transition back to Becky will be much easier!

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      1. I may have mentioned we used to live in Utah which has its own rather unique demographics. We used to take the RV to Idaho and camp all over so we got to know the “outdoor set” and met a number of interesting folk. We also like potatoes.

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  6. After reading your book, I wasn’t sure which name you preferred. The name “Becky” is often mentioned within the text. It’s less formal sounding to me. I have a good sense of humor about my name, “Siobhan.” It’s frequently misspelled and mispronounced but I’ll answer to anything remotely close, even “Mr. Sullivan.” 😀

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