Nina, my three year-old has developed a strong sense of identity. There have been a number of instances where in my determination to not call her one of her siblings' names, I have called her "Sweetheart," "Honey" or even "Sweetie," to which she has replied, "My name is not Sweetie. My name is Nina." Initially, I chuckled at her cuteness and figured it was a one time occurrence. But she has remained consistent. Whether it is a family member or a cashier at a store who has made the mistake of calling her anything other than Nina, she has been quick to offer clarification.
I was born with the name Shatanese over 4 decades ago. My mom always told me my name came from an Egyptian queen. I never researched this information and have chosen to live with a sense of mystery surrounding the origin of my name.
Throughout my life, I have often been asked, "What does your name mean?" Or, "What is the origin?" These types of questions hinted at a feeling of being different but not always in a positive light. Sharing that my name had something to do with an Egyptian queen seemed to make it more palatable to be uniquely named. I have also received the question, "Do you have something shorter I can call you?," which further fostered my sense of alienation. Imagine my feeling as a child visiting a carnival or souvenir gift shop and earnestly searching for my name among the other names. I would see Ann, Eve, Betsy, Dawn, and Jessica. But not Shatanese...EVER. Did that mean I did not exist? Of course, I now understand marketing campaigns and the pupose of appealing to certain audiences but as a child marketing meant nothing to me.
I think college is an excellent time for many to discover who they are and what is important to them as an individual. Early during my college career, I can remember not wanting to be different or set apart. I instead wanted to blend in. I no longer wanted to sound "unique." I did not feel like correcting the repeated mis-pronunciations any longer. It was at that time, I began referring to myself as my childhood nickname. Over the next few years, I used my nickname to formally introduce myself. The probing questions no longer came and the requests for something shorter stopped altogether but my identity and sense of worth were impacted.
As I approached my junior year in college, something changed. I no longer wanted to fit in. I wanted my uniqueness to return. I wanted me. I began introducing myself as Shatanese again. Unfortunately, the impact of temporarily changing my identity was long-lasting. To this day, after 20 plus years, there are still people who refer to me as my childhood name, a name that was for the large majority of my life reserved only for very close family. I still cringe inside at times when I encounter someone who knew me "way back when" and they refer to me by my nickname. It is a reminder of a form of escape that I experienced long ago. It is not, however, worth the effort, and perhaps awkwardness to tell them now after all these years not to call me by that name.
At times as an adult, when I introduce myself, I still receive requests for something shorter. I have become a master at phonetics and illustrating that my name can be broken down into three syllables. I also show my name in written format as I know some people are visual learners. If all else fails, I encourage them to simply call me "Mrs. Reese."
So, I should not be surprised when my three-year old asserts her own sense of being and reminds me as well as others that her name is Nina. I admire her sense of identity at such a young age. I am awed by her ability to politely, innoncently demand respect. I am working diligently to honor her request (I need some memory vitamins!). Her name is Nina and my name is Shatanese.