When I taught in Korea, parents sometimes asked me to give their children English names. A foreign name might not have meant that much to them, but I really didn’t like that kind of responsibility. Only parents should decide that aspect of their children’s identity and I only want to torture my own kids with obscure and pretentious monikers.
Growing up, Stephanie was a common name. Although I often shared it with another girl in class, it never occurred to me to go by a different name. One of us would just adopt a number or agree on an appropriate preceding adjective like tall or farsighted. It was only recently that I had begun toying with the idea of dusting off my middle name Marlaine. I only used it on hospital records or credit card applications and even then it usually appeared as a cursory M.
Despite neglecting my middle name, I actually quite liked it. It was unique. My mom had created it by combining a part of her sister’s name with a part of her mother-in-law’s name (probably not the easiest olive branch to extend- but it rounded out the pronunciation quite nicely).
Since entertaining the idea of ‘rebranding’ myself, I hadn’t had the opportunity to try it until I moved to Wellington. I don’t know how my kindergarteners changed their name so easily from one week to the next because to me it felt deceitful. Like I was wearing a wig to a hair salon. Yeah huh, yes it’s real!
Despite my misgivings, on my first day at work I shook my boss’ hand and said:
“Hi, I’m Marlaine.”
“Oh, uh, I thought it was Stephanie.”
Shit! Was my cover already spoiled? “Yes, well that’s my first name.” I replied as nonchalantly as I could. “I prefer to go by my middle name- Marlaine.”
It didn’t get any easier from there. Although I was only at the Ministry of Education for eight days, I signed my emails ‘Regards, Stephanie’ and introduced myself as “Sttt- Marlaine.” When I contacted my coworkers outside of work I discovered that:
1.) When work and home collided, it was often followed by confusion and a lengthy explanation.
2.) My entire online presence was dominated by my first name. Email, Facebook, WordPress, Couchsurfing- it felt schizophrenic.
There are just three people in the world that call me Marlaine and I realized that it might just be easier if it stays that way.