“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.” — Juliet, William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet
Juliet may have thought names make little difference in life, but she’d obviously never spoken to 9-year-old Heather; the girl with a name she didn’t feel “named” her at all.
When you’re born, a name is the first thing decided for you.
Until you can form your own opinions and personality, your name is really all you have to identify yourself.
It’s the first thing people know about you. Heather was a fine name for someone else, but Heather wasn’t “me” and I wasn’t “her.”
It was the summer before fourth grade, and I was ready to take action.
A new school year means a chance to start over. For me, that meant changing my name.
As an adult, I love and appreciate the power of girls and femininity. In elementary school, I didn’t like what people thought I should enjoy because I was a girl. I didn’t like anything associated with femininity. I liked basketball. And science. Every year for Halloween, I was a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.
Did I consciously decide that I hated all things girly? Not really. But I knew enough to decide that Heather was a name meant for somebody feminine, that when people met a “Heather,” they expected one kind of person — and that person wasn’t me.
So Heather I would be no more.
As a kid, it seemed so simple. I change my name, and I change people’s perceptions of who I am. Just like that, I was Jackie.
Jackie likes hockey, and that’s just fine. She likes turtles, and it fits because Jackie sounds like someone who likes turtles. Heather likes dresses and Barbies. Jackie likes to get muddy and go fishing. Heather is a flower they sing about in musicals.
Yes, there’s an entire song called “Heather on the Hill” from Brigadoon:
“Can’t we two go walkin’ together out beyond the valley of trees?
Out where there’s a hillside of heather curtsyin’ gently in the breeze?” — Brigadoon
(I was not flowery and I did not curtsy.)
Of course, I didn’t realize why I was so desperate to change my name in elementary school, but now I understand.
I had already internalized gender roles and stereotypes.
Being myself makes me a “Heather,” but I thought changing my name would help me change who I was. If I was different, then maybe I could fit more easily into who I thought everyone else wanted me to be.
Ultimately, I decided not to change my name that year. (Probably because I knew I’d be questioned about it and I hated drawing attention to myself.)
I’ve been a Heather for just under 30 years now, and I still don’t think it fits me. (I’ve seen Heathers, and, goodness, I hope I have nothing in common with them.)
But if I’d changed my name all of those years ago, it wouldn’t have mattered. I’d still be the same TMNT-loving girl I am today, and honestly, that’s exactly who I want to be.