Call Me Laila…No, Ruth…No, Linda— The Story of How I Got Hooked on Names
Before I was born, my mother had two names picked out for me–I was going to be either Lydia or Laurel. She liked them because they were slightly unusual and, being an artist herself, saw them as having a creative feel–plus she was also following the Jewish tradition of using the first initial of a deceased relative. In this case, it was my father’s mother, Rose, who had recently died, and whose first and middle initials were R and L.
But once I actually made my appearance, Lydia and Laurel were never heard of again. (Might I have become bolder as a Lydia? Quieter as a Laurel?) In any case, whatever transpired that day in the hospital I’ll never know–probably something to do with pressure from my Dad’s two sisters for names closer to their mother’s–but in any case, I arrived home a couple of days later with a birth certificate reading Ruth Leila. To confuse matters further, I was never ever called Ruth. Instead I was known to one and all by my Jewish name, Laila.
So little Laila became who I was– until the fateful day when I started kindergarten and my teacher, looking at my records, naturally called me Ruth. Ruth? What? Who is this Ruth? In one fell swoop, my identity was shattered. (Obviously, I’m not the ideal person to come to for advice on changing a child’s name post-toddlerhood.)
I returned home from school that day completely confused and distraught, no longer sure quite who I was. Sympathetic mommy came up with a solution: ‘OK, dear, if it would make you feel any better, how about starting from scratch and picking a totally new name for yourself?’ Not having a name book handy, she proceeded to make lists of names starting with those two letters (again Lydia and Laurel went missing)–Leah, Leslie, Louise, Rachel, Roxanne, etc. I picked Linda, which at the time sounded appealingly bright and shinier than the other options to me. But choosing a new name at the age of five doesn’t mean you necessarily instantly internalize it and make your own–which is something I never really did.
But I have no doubt that what the experience did do, though, was trigger my lifelong fascination with names and set me on the path that eventually would lead to Beyond Jennifer & Jason and Nameberry –as well as to my becoming a compulsive, lifelong list-maker.
Through the years I’ve accumulated a number of nicknames–perhaps because my friends also sensed that I wasn’t quite a Linda. My family often shortened it to Lin, while others came up with Linnie, Lindy, Linneth, Linden, Linsy, and even–in the internet era–my own self-created email tag of Lindro. Lately, though, with the growing popularity of so many pretty double-L names, like Lola and Lila and Lilo and Lily and Leyla, I’ve started to really miss Laila. As a matter of fact, one new acquaintance, upon hearing my name saga, has started to call me that.
Not that I think I could ever commit to it wholeheartedly, but I have to admit that in a certain way, it does feel like the more authentic me.
Does anyone else have a story about a name change that didn’t take, or of not feeling comfortable with your own name for some other reason?