I always hated my name, and I often wondered what it would be like to have a name other than my own. I always wanted a short, simple name without any explanations. I would often have to answer "Where are you from?" or "What kind of name is that?" When I was growing up, my friend Diana had an older sister, Denise. I wanted to be Denise. She was cool, pretty, had long hair, great clothes and I loved her name. I would write the name "Denise" on my note pad and pretend it was my name. In my 8th grade French class, we were told to pick a French name. This was my opportunity, for a short time, to feel what it was like to have another name. While some of my class mates took on more traditional French names (Jacques, Pierre, Margeaux, and Celine), I was Denise -- with a French accent, of course. When the assignment was finished so was Denise and I was back to my old self again.
My freshman year of college, I lived in a dorm and one of the girls on my floor decided to hand out nicknames. For most of the year she called me Remy. I liked it, but it never caught on and the following year I moved into a new dorm and Remy was left behind.
My sophomore year, I was at one of the campus dorms for lunch. While waiting in line, this red-haired girl that I had met, but whose name I didn't remember, approached me. "Hi Caroline," she said. I didn't say anything. I didn't correct her. This is when one would say, "no, my name is Ramona, not Caroline." Nope, not me. I just said "hi" and we chatted about our classes and other college stuff. Caroline is a nice name, I thought, and it's too late to acknowledge her mistake. She thinks my name is Caroline and so for the rest of my time at college she called me Caroline and I never corrected her and I never asked her for her name.
People do change their names for a variety of reasons. My mother told me when she emigrated with her family to America she knew of families that shortened their names or changed their names to sound more American. Movie stars do it all the time. Do you think Cary Grant would have been the handsome, dashing actor that he was if he went by his birth name -- Archibald Leech? I don't think so. How about bad boy Charlie Sheen? Would he have been pasted all over the tabloids if he used his real name -- Carlos Irwin Estevez? I'm not sure leading man and Scientologist Tom Cruise would have had the same impact as Thomas Mapother IV. Do you think Bogie and Bacall would have had the same ring if Ms. Bacall kept her real name -- Betty Jean Perske?
I decided to change my name, but not permanently or legally. One day while at Starbucks, I placed my usual order.
"I'll have a grande, non-fat, no-foam chai latte."
"Can I have your name?" asked the barista.
"My name? Oh, my name is Lee," I told him.
So I stood at the end of the counter waiting to hear my name. "I have a grande, non-fat, no-foam, chai latte for Lee," shouted the barista.
"Oh, that's me, thanks," I said.
I liked the sound of it. I tested many names: Genevieve, Jessica, Monica, Lucy, Victoria, the various versions of Alexandra including, Alex, Alexis, and Lexi, and of course Denise. I once was at a downtown Manhattan Starbucks and again I placed my chai order. Same routine.
"Can I get your name?" asked the barista.
"My name is Sophie D-e-N-i-r-o, I replied. I said the last name slowly, just waiting for a reaction. I noticed as he was writing my name he looked at me and as I walked away, he whispered something to one of his co-workers. They were probably wondering if I was related to Robert DeNiro the actor. Perhaps, I was his wife, ex-wife, daughter, niece. It didn't matter, they might think I was famous.
"I have a grande, non-fat, no-foam chai latte for Sophie," he shouted out. As I reached for my cup I said thank you and while we made eye contact, I put on my sun glasses and slipped out the side door.
This game went on for awhile and then it wasn't as amusing anymore. I decided to take on my own name again. I placed my chai order and was again asked for my name. It was crowded that day in Starbucks and very noisy so maybe he didn't hear me correctly.
"Can I get your name?" he asked.
"Sure, it's Ramona," I said in my ho-hum manner. I moved down to the end of the bar and waited to hear my name.
"I have a grande, non-fat, no-foam, chai latte for MOM," someone shouted.
Really? I thought to myself. He had written "Mom" on the grande cup instead of Ramona.
"Mom, did you say Mom?" I asked.
"Sorry, what's your name?" asked the barista.
"Ramona," I told her.
"Mona," she replied.
"No, not Mona! R-a-m-o-n-a," I told her. The barista just shrugged her shoulders and continued with her assembly line of cups.
I left with Mona's cup in hand thinking Mary, Sue, Kim, Deb, Jill.....