When I was born, my mother gave me a common name. She did this intentionally, as she had grown up with an unusual name and it garnered her more attention than she’d wanted. My mother has always strived to blend into the background, to not call attention to herself when in public, to not stand out. She gifted me with a name that she hoped would provide such a life for me: Jessica. The second most popular name for girls born in 1984 (second only to “Jennifer”, the name people most often mistakenly call me when they forget and just remember the “J”).
Unfortunately, my mother had given birth to a little girl who feared blending in, who desired attention, who wanted to stand out and be noticed. She gave birth to a little girl who loved being a freak, a weirdo. Of all the unique snowflakes out there, I wanted to be the most interesting, the one that everyone stopped and stared at.
Things were fine until I started high school. In elementary school, I’d been the only Jessica in my class. But in high school, there were at least seven other Jessicas in my grade. I shared most of my classes with at least one of them, if not more. And I started to learn to wait. If a teacher asked a question, I would raise my hand. But if they called on “Jessica”, I waited. It might not be me. It might be one of the other Jessicas. I would wait. They might not mean me.
As an adult, I’ve worked in several different places, or joined different groups. I grew accustomed to hearing the following at job interviews, and on my first day at work: “Uh oh, we already have a Jessica. We’ll have to call you something else.” At which point, they would come up with my new “work name” so that they could easily identify me from the Jessica that had already established her dominance just by being there and having the same name. I was a second-rate Jessica. They already had one of me, and now I was extraneous.
It’s funny, I never realized the toll that had taken on my life until the last day of Hoop Path Retreat. In Hoop Path, we start each session with blindfolded movement. This particular day, Baxter had opened the space by reminding us that we are not our jobs, we are not our clothes, we are not our children, we are not our bodies, we are not our emotions, etc. But under that blindfold, I made one more connection.
We are not our names.
I realized that all of that learned behavior…feeling like no one really wanted to talk to me, feeling extraneous, feeling like anyone acknowledging me probably meant to acknowledge someone else…I realized it had worked its way into my subconscious and had manifested as my reality. You must not mean me. I’m in the way. I’m unnecessary. If any one of us were dead weight, could be easily abandoned, it would be me. I let myself land in second place, despite a longing to be in first. I let myself take second place in communities, in relationships, in work environments.
I made those connections and they hit such a powerful nerve that I sobbed heavily under my blindfold for an entire song.
Last year after Hoop Path, I started creating my own Maidan* story. I knew how old my Maidan was, how she felt, what she wanted, but I didn’t know her name. I figured when the right name came to me, I would know it.
Under that blindfold, making those connections, I knew exactly what her name is.
Her name is Jess.
I am not my name, but I still love my name, and I have the right to own it. I have the right to relish hearing it called by others. I have the right to stand out. I have the right to be unique.
Over the years, I’ve taken on nicknames from time to time, usually given to me by others. Nicknames stick to me very well, and I embrace them, usually because I embrace the people who gave them to me. Even my own mother hasn’t actually called me “Jessica” since I was four. In recent years, I’ve joined the burner community, a group of people fond of renaming themselves to better fit the self the identity they’ve developed for themselves. I have more friends that go by nicknames than their real names, to the point that I don’t even know some of their real names.
I do not need a “burner name” because Jess IS my burner name. I am Jess. That is the me that I identify with.
The next time someone dares to tell me, “Oh no, we already have a Jessica,” I will say, “The hell you do. Bitch, you ain’t seen a Jess like me. I guarantee you I’m the only one you have. And that’s what you’ll call me.”
Because I deserve it.
*In Hoop Path “mythos”, the Maidan are an order of holy women who used hoops and hoop dance to connect with and understand the world around them.