Change is inevitable, necessary and even desired. We choose change all the time. We change our oil, address, hair color, diet, job, friends, toilet paper roll, underwear and even our operating system. We contemplate change regularly. Should I trade in my old car? Get a new pair of shoes? Change cell phone providers? Would the kitchen look better with yellow walls? Should I buy 2 percent milk instead of whole?
We are in charge of many of the changes we make in our lives. Yet there is one aspect most of us never consider changing, even though we had absolutely nothing to do with choosing it in the first place: our first name.
The concept hit me earlier this week. Don’t ask why. I can’t even begin to explain the inner workings of my brain. But here’s the thought: no one initially chooses their own first name. In our culture, we are named soon after birth. It’s impossible for a newborn to roll over, much less choose a name. So parents do the job.
To be fair, most parents give a baby’s name a due amount of consideration. My husband and I did. Well, until that last one, when we couldn’t come to a consensus and decided instead to compromise. If our baby came into the world blonde, he’d be named after a character in a novel our daughter was reading. If he had dark hair, we’d name him after a contestant on a survival reality show. True story.
He came out blonde. And thinking back, I guess our decision did require quite a bit of consideration, not to mention reading and watching TV.
Bottom line: he didn’t choose his name; we did. The same can be said for the rest of our kids and the rest of us. I’ve never given my name much thought. I was Jill and that was that.
Not everyone uses his or her true first name. Some people go by a middle name, and the world is full of nicknames, but most of the time these are chosen for us as well. Babies don’t get to pick their middle names any more than they pick their first names. And not too many of us decide on a nickname. It’s a moniker someone else bestows upon us.
Of course there are criminals who go by aliases, but that’s a different situation. Changing your name to commit a crime is not the same as changing it because you dislike being Jill and would rather be Julie. Do not change your name to become a criminal.
People change their last names all the time. They make this choice after much thought. When I got married, I weighed the various options of keeping my name, hyphenating or changing it completely. As I was choosing my last name, I never considered opting for a new first.
It’s curious. We live in a culture consumed with mirrors and “me-ism,” yet the very word that comes closest to labeling (if not even partially defining) our individual selves is one we didn’t choose, nor did we opt to choose it or change it, even though we could.
Our first name is something that’s sort of tossed at us and we just let it stick. After a time – years or decades – it sort of becomes who we are. Bob becomes Bob. Another Bob becomes a different version of Bob. I’m Jill. Someone else is equally Jill, but uniquely her own. It can make your head spin.
Or maybe I’ve been coming at this from the wrong perspective.
Our name is one of the first gifts our parents give us. It is a lasting possession – a legacy. One given with great thought and hope for the future. For our future, courtesy of the folks who made us. With that in mind, it’s a gift we wouldn’t – or more aptly shouldn’t – trade for anything else. I know I won’t. Which, of course, makes me Jill – still.
Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, published playwright, author and member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Don’t miss a slice; follow the Slices of Life page on Facebook.