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.
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.
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.
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!