“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title.”
So says Juliet, upon discovering her true love’s despised moniker, and perhaps it rings true. After all, it is our character that truly defines us. Isn’t it? We could be called practically anything, but it is our actions ~ how we choose to conduct ourselves ~ that really matters.
Why then would I find myself hopelessly bereft over the notion that I might be in danger of forever losing my name?
This occurred to me earlier this week, on the heels of yet another call from yet another healthcare provider calling me “Kathryn.” Only doctors, police, the DMV and IRS call me Kathryn. Well, and my dad, who calls me by my full name, sometimes, and that’s okay, because he’s my dad. I have never been Kathryn. Aside from the first day they called role and I corrected them, even teachers didn’t call me Kathryn. I was Kay when I was little, then Katie, and, ultimately, Kate. Everyone back home called me Kate, up until I started college. Except my dad. His nickname for me (when he wasn’t calling me by my full name) was Sam. But then, being an adolescent girl, I got, well, you know, adolescent, I guess, I demanded he stop calling me that, because it WAS NOT MY NAME!
And so, he did.
But then, I felt kind of rotten about it.
So, I told him that, when I grew up to be a famous author, I would use it as my pen name.
Obviously, you can see the odds of me being a famous author are quite high. Did you note the wry wit? The affable charm? The effortless prose? It’s inevitable.
Then, I went on my merry way, being a Katie, and then a Kate.
I did all kinds of things. Strange, awkward things, really, because I was, not surprisingly, as strange and awkward a teenager and young adult as I am a full-grown human. Also not surprisingly, I have not yet become a famous author.
What did happen was I went to school. Well, everyone goes to school, I suppose. Well, not everyone; but most everyone in the U.S. who falls above a certain tax bracket, anyway, after a certain point in history (after which I was most definitely born) has some kind of education, and so, I did go to school. I even almost finished high school. Wow. What I meant was I went to college. Junior college first, and, in fact, I liked it so well, I went for a very long time. It’s either that, or I wasn’t very good at it, and I had to spend a lot of time working out the kinks. Whatever the case may be, during my seven illustrious years in junior college, I pursued acting. I did quite a lot of acting at school, and even outside of school. Since, during that time, I found I wasn’t getting any closer to becoming a famous author, but I was acting quite a lot, I decided to use Sam as my stage name.
The thing is, when you do a lot of theatre, it tends to lead to more theatre, which leads to more theatre, which leads to more theatre…and, well, pretty soon, most of the people you know are people you met doing ~ guess what ~ theatre! So, pretty soon, I had a lot of new friends, all of whom were calling me “Sam.” I was having a grand time, making friends, doing shows, going to parties, trying to remember to do my homework because ~ whoops! ~ that’s what I went to college for! It really was great fun. Some of the best years of my life, to be sure. I made some of the best friends I have ever had during those years, and I have even managed to keep in touch with some of them. I learned so much. I landed an incredibly important (to me and my future) job that ended up shaping my career, completely changing the path I thought I wanted to take in life and helping me find the direction I had lacked. There were so many great things I accomplished as Sam.
But it was always great to go home to where the people who had known me and loved me since I was a little girl still called me Kate, because, somewhere in there ~ strikes breast ~ I will always still be Kate, too. You see, I like Kate, and I never meant to lose her entirely.
When I transferred to Arizona State University to pursue my Bachelor’s Degree in Theatre Education, I got a job at a childcare center to help pay rent and bills. I used the name Kate at work, and Sam with friends. When we moved to California, I initially used Kate when I was teaching and at places like the children’s school and our church, and Sam friends, but I found, as the children got older, it got confusing. It probably wasn’t confusing for the kids yet, but it was confusing for me, and for others around us, and I worried it would be confusing for them. What would happen when someone asked, “What’s your mom’s name?” and they gave a different answer than the name by which that person knew me, or the name they had on record? It was too much to expect a kid to remember. It was too much to expect me to remember. Now, what name did I tell THESE people? And so, gradually, I just became Sam.
Looking back, now, I don’t know why I became Sam, and not Kate. At the time, perhaps, it felt comfortable, because I was used to it. It hadn’t been long since my college days. Maybe I longed for the days of rehearsals and greenroom chatter and late nights at Denny’s. Maybe I just wanted to be different, because I was still young, and kind of ornery.
Now, I think, with the advent of social media, we don’t talk on the telephone as much as we used to. So I don’t hear the voices of my family and friends back home as often as I once did. They don’t hear mine, either, because I don’t call, and I should. I mean, I think I should. They might be reading this and thinking, “Oh, dear God ~ now she’s going to call me!” I like hearing people’s voices. Unfortunately, I think our lives have all evolved in ways that don’t allow for telephone conversations often. I fear…or, no, not fear, exactly, but suspect…I strongly suspect we are all now hardwired in to social media communication, which is a wonderful convenience, and I am thrilled to have it, but I do miss the voices. I miss hearing them say my name. It’s old-fashioned, I know, and, perhaps, a little bit self-centered. I can accept that. I have lived a very other-centered life as a wife, mother and teacher, so, on this point, I can be the tiniest bit self-centered. I think it’s been a little bit too long since my last trip back to Maryland, and I want to hear people say my name the way they have said it since I was a little girl. People like my mom, my siblings, my cousins, my childhood best friends.
Then, of course, there are the ones that will never say it again: Grandma and Grandpa, Aunt Fran, Uncle Frank, Aunt Dody, Uncle Jack, Uncle Jim, Uncle Joe, Aunt Eleanor, Aunt Kay, Uncle Tony, Aunt Dee… I haven’t even named them all. I could never name them all. It’s too hard. I feel bad. I keep thinking of people I need to go back and add. Geez. That’s a lot of people. And it’s probably still not everyone. What do you do about them? I can still hear them, clear as a bell, in my mind, so, sometimes, that’s what I do. I just close my eyes and listen.
What occurred to me recently, I think, is this notion that I am losing my name. That, if I don’t hear it ~ if fewer and fewer people are calling me Kate, and no one out here in California calls me Kate ~ I will just gradually stop being Kate. I felt like Alice, walking through the forest with my arms looped lazily around a fawn, both of us blissfully unaware of who we are, because we’ve lost our names. As if somehow I will simply cease to be Kate altogether, when I know well and good that all the Samming in the world couldn’t un-Kate me. I mean, let’s face it: once a Kate, always a Kate. Am I right?
In the end, I might have to take exception with Juliet’s opinion on names. While I don’t think our names necessarily define us, I have to admit, there is something decidedly “Kate” about me, and there always has been. After much consideration, I am not ready to completely divest myself of my Kateness. I suspect, like Shakespeare’s Kate, I have and will be called “plain Kate, and bonny Kate and sometimes Kate the curst,” and I can live with that.
I’m not asking any of you to change anything. If you call me Sam, continue to call me Sam. If you call me Kate, call me Kate.
And, you know, if either of us ever has a minute, we should probably call each other.