CAMPBELL: Names: labels and identities

CAMPBELL: Names: labels and identities

“What’s in a name?” Juliet mused in Shakespeare’s famous tragedy.

Well … a lot.

With our world becoming so dependent on technology, our names have become even more important. When someone includes my name in a text message or email, it becomes so much more important and meaningful. “Thanks, Carlie,” on my phone screen means a lot more than simply “thanks.” And when I receive a text from my dad that reads, “Carlie, please call me now,” I am much more inclined to dial his number (I can almost guarantee that I’ll get a “Carlie please call me” text from a parent as soon as one of them reads this column).

I also have the two-name problem. If you haven’t already noticed, “Carlie” is not the name displayed under my picture at the top of this column. My birth certificate, driver’s license, passport and student ID all contain my given name. When I was younger, there was nothing more ominous to hear than “Caroline Frances!” from my mom or dad.

I’ve been called by a nickname since I was born, but I haven’t always been okay with it. When I was in fourth grade, I decided nothing was more important than to be called my given name. I met my homeroom teacher before school started and had my mom specifically request that she call me Caroline and not Carlie in that year’s class.

On the first day of school, the pencil and school bus themed name tag on my desk read “Caroline Campbell.” All my friends looked at it questioningly.

“Why don’t you tell her that isn’t your name, Carlie?” they all asked me.

“It IS my name,” I would answer smugly.

I only made it a few months as Caroline. After a while, it became harder and harder to answer to one name at school and a different one at home (my family couldn’t really make a name switch after 10 years). But I was embarrassed. I like to stick to things once I say I’m going to do them (I suppose some people might call that stubborn).

So instead of approaching my teacher and asking her to call me Carlie like all my friends did, I became the most passive-aggressive fourth-grader ever. I scribbled over my name tag. On all my worksheets, I wrote CarlIE, with the last two letters three times as big as the first, just to drive the point home that my name preference had changed.

She eventually got the point, and I ended the school year as Carlie once again.

Names are important. Whether you are a ten-year-old in an identity crisis or a young person in love, or just having a conversation with a friend, names can mean a lot. If you really want people to respect what you are telling them, use their names. If you want people to know you truly care about them, use their names.

After all, if Romeo’s surname had not been Montague, his and Juliet’s story could have turned out very differently. And a rose by any other name doesn’t, in fact, smell as sweet.