What’s in a name?

Me and dad

Today in Writing 220, Kelli shared her e-portfolio with that class. Immediately the title “Kelli not Kelly” jumped out at me. It was original and fun and said something about her as a person. When I commented on this, Kelli jumped right into talking about how people spell her name with a y, even after she specifically tells them that she spells it with an i. As soon as Kelli mentioned this, lots of other people in the class started to chime in. Apparently Kelli’s saga is one that many members of our class are familiar with. The whole conversation got me thinking about names. While the story behind my frustration with my name isn’t the same as Kelli’s, I can definitely relate to her struggle.

I was born two months premature. Seven months into her pregnancy, my mom got sick, and after a plethora of tests and a long period of deliberation, the doctor’s decided it was time for a c-section. However, babies aren’t meant to be delivered so early. The doctors had given my parents a long list of medical conditions that they should be prepared to face once I was born, and my parents were ready for the worst. But, incredibly, aside from some very underdeveloped lungs, which are expected of any preemie, I was relatively healthy. My parents are eternally grateful to the entire staff that helped deliver their baby.

The doctors and nurses who had been following my mom’s case for weeks had grown very attached to the baby inside her. So when I was born, they asked my parents what they were going to name me, and my mom said Matilda. That’s where the sappy, cute, baby story ends. The nurses told my mother that she couldn’t name a baby girl that. My mom, understanding both that these people had essentially saved her (and my) life, and that in the weeks ahead they would provide me with 24/7 care in the NICU, she asked them what they wanted to name the baby. And they said Emily. So that was the name my parents gave me: Emily Matilda David.

But once I reached four pounds, and had lungs capable of functioning on their own, I was allowed to leave the NICU. My mom took me home, and never called me Emily again.

While that might seem like a long story, it’s the one that I have to tell every time someone asks why I don’t go by Emily. People always want to know why I chose to go by Matilda, but the truth is, I never really had a choice. I’ve been Matilda for as long as I can remember. When people hear that my parents have always called me Matilda, they inevitably want to know why my parents named me Emily to begin with. It must be a family name, they guess. And that’s where the story comes in.

I used to resent my parents for this decision. I actually cannot remember one time when either of my parents have used the name Emily. In fact, they both dislike it when I use it. Maybe they don’t like to think all that time spent in the hospital. But then why name me Emily in the first place? It causes a headache when I go into the doctor’s office and they’re searching for my records, when I send emails from my umich account, or when I show up to the first day of class. I’ve thought about getting my name legally changed plenty of times.

However, over the years, I come to appreciate both of my names. Matilda is name that my parents gave me, and, despite the fact it’s a little old fashioned, I like that I have a name that you don’t hear every day. And even though I only use Emily when I’m filling out official paperwork, visiting the dentist, or ordering a drink at Starbucks (because it’s much easier to spell), the name reminds be to be grateful for the life that I have, and the people who have given so much to me.

What frustrates you most about your name? How did your parents come up with your name? What would you have been named if you were the opposite sex (If I were I boy I’d be named Woody)?

4 thoughts to “What’s in a name?”

  1. I love this post. Of course, I have heard this story once or twice before, but seeing it in writing was an interesting new experience. Reading this reminded me of that (slightly awkward) day in Evolution discussion when you realized that one of our classmates only knew you by Emily, but that I always call you Matilda. Naturally, this led to you having to explain this name story to a whole class of complete strangers. Haha I liked it though.

    When my parents were deciding what to name me, they perused through some baby books and really liked the name Kelly. They were set to name me Kelly, but then they heard the name Melissa and really liked it, so Kelly got bumped to middle name status and I am now a Melissa. It’s weird to think that they hadn’t really thought of my name until they came across it in a book, but whatever works I guess. I like my name because it’s not super common, and I think that Melissa Kelly flows nicely enough. The only annoying thing is that people (for whatever reason) like to spell Melissa with two L’s and one S. I have NEVER seen anyone spell Melissa as “Mellisa,” but I get that all the time! People ask me how to spell it, and I’ve gotten used to saying “one L, two S’s.”

    I am glad I wasn’t a boy because girls are better than boys and because my name would have been Benjamin. I think that Ben Danko sounds awkward and terrible. Ben almost flows too well into Danko so it sounds like one word: BENDANKO…ughh. Good thing I am a Melissa!

  2. I usually go through the “name story” a couple times a year. You know, in those classes that want to know a little more about you, extra-curricular orgs, and friendly conversations with people. I often find myself having discreet convos with people that I don’t even know, only because they themselves have my name (spelled differently of course), they know someone close who has my name (spelled differently of course), or they just LOVE my name (and the way that it’s spelled differently, of course).

    Kalynn is an English name that means ‘keeper of the keys’ and sunshine. It also means ‘peace’ in Chinese. Now, I’m sure my mom wasn’t thinking of these fabulous meanings when she named me. How do I know? Because she told me of course! She said while pregnant her and my aunts were traveling from Florida (road trip?) back to Michigan. My aunts had been drinking and talking about names for my mother’s first unborn child. Excited that it would be a girl, my mom wanted a name that started with a K because her name starts with a K as well. My aunt thought of the name Kalynn, spelling and all. My other aunt thought of the middle name Bakarri because she thought it was cute (and happened to be drinking on something in particular). I always get laughs when I tell people about my middle name because I think the story is quite embarrassing but they love the guessing game when I tell them it’s similar to an alcoholic drink -_-.

    As for the confusion about my name, I do agree it’s not spelled the way it sounds. Kalynn actually sounds like Kah-lynn, not Kay-lynn. So I get the literal weirdos who say it like it sounds, I get the smart weirdos who say it like it is, and of course I get the nice weirdos who have a story to MY name and why they love it so. Do I love my name? YES! I’ve grown to love it over the years and think that it fits me in a not so perfect type of way. I also like the conversations I have with people about their nieces, sisters, friends, and yes, sometimes even guys that have the same name as me. I enjoy the different spelling of the name Kalynn and have only met one person that spells theirs exactly the same as mine. My name is even so popular that people on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram people will follow and comment on my pictures because…..you guessed it, we have the same name. It’s like some connection we have with each other because our parents were on the same page with the ‘name calling’. I do have nicknames from close family and friends such as Kay, kay-kay, Kaytydid, and KatydidIt. No one has given me the nickname Lynn as of yet (thank God!). To add pleasure, my three younger siblings names all start with a B and end with the ‘n’ sound (Benjamin, Braelyn, Braxton). I also have an uncle named Jalynn and a cousin named Faylen. I know, weird family. I don’t know what my name would’ve been if I were a boy. Perhaps something with a K considering both my parents names start with a K. I’ve always liked the name Kensington and Devin, for ways that I can’t explain. If I had the chance, I’d probably choose one of those names to be MY name.


  3. Matilda,
    This was a really interesting story! I really appreciate that you posted this! I can really sympathize with you, I actually have a name story of my own! In fact, I also posted about it! Growing up, I really struggled with my name because it wasn’t one of the “popular” ones. I was always the only Linda, and a lot of times, people confused my name with my mom’s name (Julie)! I remember I even asked for the name Carly for my birthday one year. It’s funny, names are a huge part of a person’s identity, and yet it’s one thing over which we have no control. You kind of just have to accept it and make it work- and that’s exactly what I’ve done. Today I’ve come to really like my name…it’s nice having a unique name. I live with five Sarah’s, and whenever I try to get someone’s attention, they all turn around and respond. I also think having a unique name makes me more memorable. Beyond that, though, I appreciate that my parents chose the name Linda. I’m named after my grandma, and although I never had the chance to know her, everyone always tells me what an incredible woman she was. It’s an honor to share a name with her and to carry on her legacy.

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