Say My Name

Growing up, I didn’t like my full name. Few people spelled either my first or last name correctly without prompting. In classrooms full of Jennifers, Mandys, and Saras, Brittney seemed odd. With time, I’ve given more thought to why we end up with the names we do, and not just the names our parents so kindly give us at birth.

Given the choice, would you change your name? One time, my mother asked me what name I’d pick for myself. Stumped, I couldn’t give her an answer. I’d been my name for so long that I couldn’t think of a name that fit. Over the years, we pick up nicknames. Some stick, some don’t. Since the age of two, I’ve been ‘Mac’ to my family. Yes, there’s a story, but one that makes no sense to anyone besides my parents. We aren’t Scottish (at least my family tree hasn’t revealed that connection…yet). No part of my legal name contains ‘Mac’, and yet to my parents, I’ll be ‘Mac’ forevermore.

More than the nicknames that mysteriously, or not so mysteriously, attach themselves to us throughout our lives, entirely made up names fascinate me even more. For example, screen names for movie stars were all but a given in the early days of motion pictures. (You earn a brownie point if you know who Archibald Alexander Leach became. He’s a particular favorite of mine.)

Even more intriguing are the names that end up defining companies. Microsoft didn’t exist in any dictionary prior to its creation many years ago. Michael Dell followed a long history of entrepreneurs naming their companies after themselves. Apple Corps. engaged in a multi-year battle with Apple Computers over the name of a fruit. Why the battle? Why not go with orange or kiwi? Why apple? How does the word ‘apple’ define music or computers?

I keep coming back to this idea that names become a part of the identity we create in our heads. Even though I’ve shortened my name to Britt, part of me will always be a Brittney, at least in my head. When it comes to the names we use to describe the ideas we create, I think it becomes even more personal.

A child can grow up and change its name. Your ideas are perhaps one of the few things wholly yours, brought to life with the words you pick, the name you choose. How bold to think you can capture all that’s wonderful about your idea with a word or two. Choose wisely because it’s hard to take it back.


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April 2007
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