C-A-R-O-L-space-A-N-N. My first name. All together, indivisible. Name tags, hotel reservations, official forms. Call me sweetie, call me Carolyn, but never ever call me “Carol.”
Carol is a very nice name; it’s just not mine.
There’s something precious about a person’s name, whether given at birth or acquired later. Although not unique in the world, it’s uniquely ours: no one in the history of our planet has ever had the same combination of hair, skin, talent, aspiration and soul as the person wearing your name.
Yes, yes, we’re constantly reminded that we’re special, one-of-a-kind. And, of course, that’s true. For me, my name is where it begins: call me this, and therefore see me in this way.
I am relentless in protecting my identifier. When I’m queuing up at a restaurant with another person I’ll give their name instead of my own to claim a table. Or I’ll ask the barista to write CA on my cup. Why? Because invariably Carol Ann becomes Carol, and I seethe.
So, my attitude is call me nothing rather than call me wrong.
I get genuinely confused when a new acquaintance says, “Oh, you can call me Bob or Robert. I don’t care.” They, of course, are generous and permission-giving, conveying ease and welcome.
For me, it’s like saying you were born in both Brooklyn and Sacramento. Which is it? Or it shovels the choice to me: a huge responsibility. Or it quadruples what I need to remember: Robert + Bob + he’s ok with either one + what do I usually call him.
And — maybe this is the existential part of it — it creates a doppelgänger: a Bob and a Robert occupying the same space but engaging divergently depending on the name they’re called in the moment. And when I reflect that simultaneously they “are” both Bob and Robert to different people at the very same time, I reel with the crossing lines and blurred identities.
Ok, maybe I get a wee bit hysterical on this topic. Perhaps that’s because I choose to spend so much time helping people call me by my name. You’d be surprised by the number of people who assume that I don’t actually favor the name I present with a handshake hello. Nice to meet you, I’ll say. “My name is Carol Ann Siciliano” (with an emphasis on “Ann” in all its nasal glory).
“Hi, Carol,” they’ll say. “My name is Robert.” I then have a choice: let it go or not.
I think clarifying my name was my earliest act of self-assertion, my earliest protest to the world at large: look at me — who I say I am, not who you devise.
I was timid and self-effacing in a hundred other contexts, but surprisingly not this particular one. At college, I didn’t know who I truly was at any essential level. But I knew that package of scraggly hair, big glasses, polyester tops and wide-eyed wonder was intrinsically me and its label read, unequivocally, “Carol Ann.”
And then I discovered — well into my militancy — that “Ann” is actually my middle name. The people who lop off (as extraneous) that third syllable were just channeling my birth certificate.
Gazing at that document I literally experienced a moment of vertigo: I had constructed a life as “Carol Ann,” a label I invested with significance and around which I built a persona and fashioned dreams. And suddenly I discovered that she was a fraud: that this Carol Ann — no longer gawky, no longer timid — was entirely my own invention and that the real me, this “Carol,” had been lurking in a metal file cabinet. And when people called me “Carol,” perhaps she was being spotted by a perceptive new acquaintance who had yanked the drape off my construct and called me by my true name: no “e” and certainly no “Ann.”
I shoved the birth certificate back in its envelope, slammed the file drawer and covered the whole thing with a piece of cloth. I will lie, I resolved.
I don’t lie, but this was too important. I needed to preserve a larger notion of truth that inhabits the bundle of hair, skin, talent and aspirations that is authentically “Carol Ann.”
So, I’m Carol Ann. Nice to meet you. That birth certificate is my own Picture of Dorian Gray; the alter-ego who torments the hero in Henry James’ story, “The Jolly Corner”; the seed of what might have been had I dropped that “Ann” years ago (as my parents no doubt expected me to do).
That version of me, that Carol, is a nub, a truncated path that led in an entirely different direction. Better or worse I cannot say and don’t want to ponder.
All I know is this: a Carol Siciliano walks about somewhere living a perfectly fine life. I wish her well, and I’m grateful that she’s occupying the space imagined for me by my birth certificate.
And if you hear me establish the “Ann” when I meet someone new, be patient with me. There’s a lot a stake.
I wrote this piece for Five Minute Friday, a faith-based community blogging site at https://fiveminutefriday.com/2019/05/30/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-name/ Scroll all the way down and check out the other short essays on the topic of “Name.”