That's Not My Name

What's in a name? A lot actually.

Names are our first shred of identity. They are the first piece of us people get a hold of, really. It's a set of sounds that means "you." As a writer, I take names very seriously. Maybe it's a little silly of me-- sentimental, superstitious-- but I feel like names are a part of our grand destiny. As a marketing student, I know that a name is an identity and it can even make or break you. I have always felt like names are very important and should be treated as such because they are rife with meaning and context. Granted we ourselves build upon those things, but the beginnings instilled in a name are still there.


My first name by birth is Samantha (PLOT TWIST!). I was named after Alyssa Milano's character on Who's the Boss. I've never felt like a Samantha. It always seemed so common-- even boys had my name (Sam, Sammi). I would later discover that I have the 4th most popular girls' name for the year of my birth in US. And that's not even thinking about the Samuels of America. My only solace in my name is that if I want to name my kids after TV characters my parents won't be able to mount a decent argument against it. I would often lament my name and joke that my parents should have named me Gilligan. At least that would have been interesting, I told them. I'm not even sure how invested my parents were in my name. Had I been a boy, I'd have been named Christian after some basketball star in that year's March Madness because I'm a Spring baby. Ironically, Samantha is a name with Judeo-Christian roots which means "the one who listens to God." Either way, my name wouldn't fit since I'm an atheist.

I wore my name like an ill-fitting hat. It was never quite a part of me. It just sort of got smushed onto my head. I'd have to turn it around all the time for people, too. There were so many Sams, Samanthas, and Sammy's I'd be Sam in one classroom, Samantha in another, and Sammi in the next, all to accommodate the abundance of Sams. It never felt like it belonged to me and I would never own it.

It took literally years but I finally picked a new name for myself. Harper. After the author of To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee-- Yes, I'm Harper Yi.

Harper sounds like me. It sounds sunny, it sounds a little quirky, it sounds like music and birds. I always wanted a name that sounded bright and happy. Samantha was solemn and feminine and elegant in a way I never was. When I went to college I made the transition. Yeah, I'm that girl who picked a new nickname for herself in college-- there's always one. A Liz formerly known as Elizabeth. A Cassandra formerly known as Sandy.

I like it much better. No one ever forgets me. I feel like myself. I've built a brand around my name. On my campus, when people talk about Harper, people recognize it's me. I feel unique. And weird. Like I am. They say you find yourself in college-- I think finding my name was a really important first step.

I want to add Harper to my legal name since it feels like me, but I'm keeping Samantha in memoriam for the years I endured feeling lukewarm about myself. I haven't done it yet, but I want Harper on my diploma. There's something very satisfying about my decision to change my name, despite how awkward it is talking to people who knew me as Harper struggle. My family is fine with other people calling me Harper, but I don't think they could really do it. Facebook friend requests to old friends typically have to be prefaced with an explanation. But I am glad I have this name. It's the one I want to have on my publications. On my tombstone.

Interestingly enough, I am apparently doomed to never have a barista who understands my name.


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