I am she and she is me

When my brother posted a picture of his six-week-old daughter with her hair fashioned into a Mohawk, thus began a conversation. Mom wrote, “Jennie had enough hair to curl on the top of her head when she came home from the hospital.”

Of my different nicknames and name spellings, “Jennie” has never been one. My older sister quickly jumped into ask, “Jennie?” My brother also added, “Jenni won’t like Jennie; I see multiple personality problems on the horizon.”

My response? “Jenni fights with Jennie because Jennie is a real bitch. Jennifer though is all business and she doesn’t put up with anything from Jenni or Jennie. And we won’t even discuss Jen Jen. And Jenny is something else altogether.”

With a first name of Jennifer, permutations and nicknames abound. My older sister has been known to call me “Fer Fer.” A friend’s sons call me “Jeffner.” A former co-worker tried to make me cooler by calling me “JSick.” While some friends with this same name (and there are quite a few of us 70s-born children with this name), detest some nicknames and like others, I will answer to them all.

At work, I’ve usually been known as Jennifer. Although in my current position, I go by Jenni. With a Jennifer already working in the same division, I was asked if I had a nickname they could use. When I was younger, my parents spelled my name Jenny. But when I was in junior high or high school, I couldn’t understand why the nickname used a “y” since my full name has an “i” that gives an “e” sound. Plus, I wanted a change, to be someone different, to rebel in a minor way. So I changed my name spelling to Jenni. Now perhaps my mom wants to change my name again to add an “e”. It’s not the name she wanted to give me, but I’m forever glad that my dad prevailed in that decision. I don’t think Loretta Lynn quite suits me.

It has been thought in times past that to know a person’s true name and to call them by that name would be to gain control of them. In some Asian countries, nicknames were given to confuse spirits who may come to try to take the child or possess her. Don DeLillo (and if you haven’t read him, why not. Head to the library as soon as you finish the next paragraph) wrote in The Names, “We approach nameforms warily. Such secret power. When the name is itself secret, the power and influence are magnified. A secret name is a way of escaping the world. It is an opening into the self.” Perhaps with all of my nicknames and changeable spellings, I can confuse those who would try to control me.

But regardless of the name, I am still that child who went by Jen Jen, who grew into Jenny who rebelled into Jenni but who can act professionally as Jennifer. I am she and she is me.