On Having a Weird Name; Or, Why I Couldn't Have Nice ThingsCézanne Colvin

I know it was just a personalized pencil, but that stupid specimen of well-dressed graphite ended up being foreshadowing for the rest of my life.

It was red and sharp and perfect with the name Jennifer etched neatly into the side and I couldn’t have one because my name sounded like a sneeze. There were customized pencils for the Ashleys and the Brittanys and the Bobbys and the Lisas but there was no such thing for me, the Cézanne.

My mother assured me that it was because I was “special”, and I was. So special, in fact, that I wasn’t worth the production costs to manufacture pencils with my name on them. It doesn’t get much more special than that.

My paternal grandmother had the audacity not only to appoint herself head of the baby-naming committee of my parents’ first child but to then name me after a creepy-looking French Post-Impressionist painter. Art history is about as dead as Latin, however, as no one’s eyes ever light up with nostalgia for slide shows, dates and still life when they hear my name. Instead, I’m always met with confusion.

On the first day of school, without fail, I always knew when the teacher had reached my name when taking attendance because he or she would pause and inhale theatrically, as if I and my weird name should know that it was my cue to step in and interrupt the impending butchering. Sometimes, they’d skip it entirely and just go for my last name, like I was at basketball practice. Other times, they’d slowly try to sound it out with the hope that I would finish for them and we could all move past the excruciating exercise. However, more often than not, they’d ask me if I had a nickname.

“No,” I would reply. “It’s just Cézanne.”

They’d stare at me, disappointed, and ask me to repeat it. “Say-zaughn,” I’d say again, careful to enunciate two of the most apparently complex syllables in the world slowly while they scribbled the phonetic spelling on their attendance sheets.

“Oookay, Says-anne,” they’d say triumphantly. Wrong. Then they’d move on and ask cheerfully, “Is Rachel here?” The two Rachels of the class, already besties by popular baby naming fate, would then look at each other, giggle and ask, “Which one?”

I would have given anything to be a third Rachel. The time had come for a nickname.

It was then that I reinvented myself as Cezie (rhymes with pezzy, or lezzy, as my classmates soon discovered). A few years later, I started going by Cici, an inappropriately peppy twist on my first and last name initials, and it was with this name that I finally fit in. No one raised any eyebrows when they met me. No one stumbled over the pronunciation when they needed to address me by name. I was just another dopey face in the crowd.

For a long time, I loved it. I loved feeling “normal”.

Although I’d conditioned myself to respond to basically anything at this point and I liked that my name was no longer a source of anxiety, something weird happened: I started to miss being Cézanne, pretentious accent mark and all. I missed being me.

So I went back to using my real name. And you know what? It’s okay that there aren’t pre-made pencils awaiting my purchase and that I don’t respond to the first call in doctor’s waiting rooms because I don’t know who Susan is. It’s okay that I have to repeat myself a few times when I meet someone and subsequently cringe the first few times they try to say it. It’s okay that some people smirk and say, “That’s different” or “That’s weird” or even laugh uncomfortably in response to my name. It’s okay that I’ve accidentally overheard people say, “But that isn’t even a real name!” about me when they think I’m out of earshot. It’s okay because it’s my name and I like it. You don’t have to.

Plus, it just isn’t a a trip to Jamba Juice without seeing a Peach Pleasure pushed onto the pick-up counter and hearing a hesitant voice call out, “… Season?”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=61101261 Becca Robson

    I think your name is awesome, I would love an unusual name especially with an accent!

    • Filleosophy

      Thank you! It’s often more trouble than it’s worth, but I like it nowadays too. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/shaziyaniamh Shaziya Niamh

    Hell yes! I too used to want to be a Rachel or a Claire and when I was younger I’d get people to call me Shaz but they would always assume my full name was Sharon when my name is actually Shaziya it wasn’t until I was waitressing and my bosses couldn’t get my name right full stop that I started asking people to call me by full name Shaziya which brings up many questions and spelling errors. I use my first and middle name for everything; Shaziya Niamh it’s completely unpronouncable to most but fully explains my mixed heritage (Pakistani/ Irish) which is what I’ve grown to love about it.

    • Filleosophy

      How do you pronounce this? I love the spelling.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ashvinamarie Ashvina Naidu

      That”d be Shuh-zee-yah.
      Yes?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1361243266 Emma Jean

    My name is Emma. There were 4 Emma’s in my sixth year. Just too common. I always wanted a weirder name, like Ce’Nedra or Ce’Vanne, or Allianne. But I was always boring old Emma.
    I do love the name Niamh though!!!!!!

    • Filleosophy

      My boyfriend’s name is John and his head always turns slightly whenever he overhears the name “John” but people are rarely talking to/about him… just one of the other hundred Johns in the room. I guess names are just kind of a drag for everyone in general.

  • http://whydoihaveablog.net Caragh Poh

    I’m either naming my future daughter something weird and Gaelic like my name (I’m partial to Saoirse) or Ann/Jane/Merry.

    • http://www.facebook.com/KerynBoBeryn Keryn Josephine

      Good taste. I love love love the name Saoirse! I’m a preschool teacher and had a little girl by that name in my class one year. It’s so pretty and totally unique!

    • Filleosophy

      I really like your name.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002303752801 Himillsy Dodd

    This story is eerily familiar!
    I’ve seriously contemplated using a fake name when reserving a place at resteraunts or ordering something in a coffee shop. Something that doesn’t require repitition or assisted spelling.
    Though I must say that one of the greatest bits of having a bizzare name is when someone pronounces it perfectly.

    • http://www.facebook.com/bronwenhilary Bronwen Greenfield

      This is too familiar, too! I’m Bronwen and my bestie is Emily, so whenever she’s not with me getting coffee, I usually use her name just to simplify things! And when people say it right without me correcting them, it’s the BEST feeling. This blog really resonated with my whole experience as a weird-named person!

  • http://www.facebook.com/montse.cebrian Montse Cebrian

    You tell me! My name is Montserrat. It’s a very usual name here in Barcelona (Spain), but when I go to a Starbucks in the US I always say a different name: Mery, Sarah, Lilly, Julie… :)

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=18705247 Samira Garcia

      OMG, I heard this on a Mexican soap opera when I was about 8 years old, I’m twenty for now and just anxiously waiting for the day I have a littel girl so I can name her Paloma Monserrat. I love your name.

      My name is Samira alright, it’s just the right amount of weird enough for the US but it’s very common in a lot of other countries. I’m partial to my middle name, Yanel, sometimes I use it.

    • http://www.facebook.com/gea.marin Gea Marín

      Aye, Barcelona està pleníssim de Montserrats!! Però és un nom molt maco :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/dishy.k Sadishika Kahaduwarachchi

    When i’m buying coffee i’m always ‘kate’.

    • http://www.facebook.com/jocelynplease Jocelyn Dugan

      Your name is beautiful! I’m saying it out loud (I’m probably butchering it, let’s be real.) but it’s lovely. But I can see why you’d settle for Kate.

    • Filleosophy

      Dude. Your name is awesome.

  • http://www.facebook.com/eilisedmonds Eilis Edmonds

    I feel your pain!
    I hate going into a shop when I was younger to see necklaces or fridge magnets with other people’s names on… But an Eilis? Oh no. Not even in Ireland (where my name originates from) did they exist. My sister even bumped into my old year 2 teacher the other day and she told her how when I was in her class when she first came to our school and she miss-pronounced my name I just raised my hand and corrected her. Even aged 6 I was used to it..

    But now, I really enjoy having an unusual name. Sure, I still have to constantly correct people, but it also gives people a reason to remember you.

    • Filleosophy

      Oh, people definitely remember us. And then they use that as our describer — like “the blonde one,” “the tennis player,” and “the one with the weird name.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/carlynn.lane Carly Lane

    My full name is Carlynn but I’ve gotten used to using my nickname – first at school, then later in a professional setting. You wouldn’t believe how many times I get “Carolyn”, since my full name is on my work e-mail, etc., but correcting people is like a reflex for me now.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000049711137 Carleen Guffey Abercrombie

      my name is very similar to yours. Believe it or not, I couldn’t get the name Carolena in Spanish class!

  • http://www.facebook.com/KerynBoBeryn Keryn Josephine

    I am floored by how many different ways people have found to butcher my name. While I understand that the “y” might throw people off, I just don’t understand how people come up with the pronunciations I hear. Most people just call me Karen, which I’m used to, but I also get “Kee-rin” “Kurr-in” “Corinne” and even “Kerry-an”. And that’s AFTER I tell people that it rhymes with “Erin”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ccoccoli Christine Coccoli

    Well, my first name isn’t usually too big of a deal (tho it can be astounding how many people just roll with Christina…I’m always like, noooo that has an “A” at the end, my name is ChristinE) but my last name has been torture since birth. Coco-lala, Cocholi, Cu-soli, Coca-Coli, Corolla, Broccoli (and a much more offensive version that rhymes with broccoli but starts with a “C” and that I could never type here; that one was always a fave). It’s spelled Coccoli and pronounced Cuh-cole-ee but no one ever guesses that. I spent many years wishing so hard to be a Smith – and I always said I’d only marry a guy with a simple last name! But then you know what, I got married and finally actually got to change my name to something much easier (and easy to pronounce)… and I regret it every day. I miss my Italian un-pronounceable name so much. It feels like I lost a part of myself and an important part of my identity…

  • http://www.facebook.com/kellycornacchia Kelly McGuinness Cornacchia

    My daughter’s name is Sumner. I can’t tell you how many times she’s excitedly picked up a personalized pencil/cup/license plate only to be disappointed to find it actually says Summer. I’ve tried to to tell her…never in your lifetime, sweetie.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jvrescak Jordan Vrescak

    um, yes. try VRESCAK. way too many consonants for americans to handle. a v, then an r?! HOLD UP! and my mom, she finally quit trying at restaurants — she either uses her first name (kelly) or an ancestral family name that doesn’t make people do a double-take (stockton, brewer, herman, connor). i always knew when it was my turn at roll call because it was “jordannnnnnn……….” and then a look around the class that said “please, save me!”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/toni.dupell Toni Dupell

    I love this post. My problem was never the fact that my name was hard to say, it was that it is a “boys name”. I think I’ve heard every boys name joke known to man. And people still find a way to shorten my name to T, Tone, or my middle name Lee. It’s come to the point where it’s unusual for people to actually say “Toni”. But now that I’m older I definitely love having a name that not many girls have.

    • http://www.facebook.com/xwxtylerxwx Tyler Michelle Brady

      As a girl named Tyler, I definitely know how that feels. I can only think of one kid in elementary school who tried to make fun of me for it. Now I’m a junior in college and every time I introduce myself people always say how cool it is that I’m not a Kelly or a Brittany, etc. I get called Taylor a lot though, which is frustrating. And with the last name Brady, people either don’t believe it or feel the need to mention the Brady Bunch, as if I’ve never heard that before.

    • http://www.facebook.com/nealmc21 Neal McIntosh

      Yes! The boy’s name thing – I get that crap all the time. ‘Neal? What did your parents want a boy?’ My dad has pointed out that it’s a pretty good way to tell right off if someone is an a-hole – kind of true. I love that my name is unique, but I do wish it was more feminine sounding sometimes. But yeah, it’s not even a super common boys’ name and it’s usually spelled ‘Neil’ so if there were pencils and things with my name on it they were usually misspelled and in ‘boy’ colors.

    • http://www.facebook.com/vgmgc Samantha Overstreet

      My middle name is Ryan and people think that’s weird even though there are lots of girls out there named Ryan. I always thought Toni was fairly common, too.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=627708760 Ryane Gouveia

      I’m a girl Ryan but there’s an E at the end that sends everyone into a downward spiral of confusion when they address me. I almost always get “Rain” or “Ryan-ee.”Then once I have that cleared up, I have to handle the “that’s an usual name for a girl” conversation. Then there’s my last name to tackle, which is Gouveia. It’s just a disaster from beginning to end but I’ve grown to love it.

    • http://www.facebook.com/claire.n.sexton Claire Sexton

      My mother in law’s name is Toni, I can only imagine how hard it must have been to grow up with a boy’s name in the 50’s in BFE west Texas.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Sav87 Savannah Alexander

    My name is Savannah, which isn’t even that weird, at least here in the south. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been called Suzanna or Samantha. Suzanna I could possibly understand if I’m talking too fast (People around here just look at you funny if you talk fast) but Samantha doesn’t even sound similar. I guess they figure it starts with the same letter so why not?

    • Filleosophy

      This is hilarious to me because I’ve actually been called “Savannah” on a couple occasions where I’ve given my name (AND SPELLED IT).

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=18705247 Samira Garcia

      I get Samantha all the time which is just ridiculous. I also get Samurai, which kills me. When I was in telemarketing I just went by Sam. So much easier.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=3415805 Susannah K

      This is amazing because I get called Savannah all the time! I cannot believe it that more than one person commenting on here actually gets called “Susannah” because no one ever calls me that when they hear my name. I get Savannah, Samantha, Sabrina, Suzanne, and Susan all the time. My friends are so used to correcting people for me: “Suzanne” “UHH!! It’s Susann-ah!” It’s like, do you think my parents added all those extra letters just for kicks? It was the worst when teachers would continue to mispronounce my name after I corrected them. You’re a teacher! Seriously, you should be able to read. It is pronounced exactly the way it is spelled. And don’t even get me started on spelling. I constantly ended up with Valentines addressed to the most bizarre spelling attempts despite the teacher sending home a list with everyone. I stopped caring if people spelled my name wrong by the time I started working in Hollywood. Forget that it’s in my email, which you typed out to send me this message in the first place. I don’t have the time to spell my name fifty times day. Let’s just see what you come up with. I also hear, “Do you have a nickname?” a lot. You can call me Suzie if you want. I’m over it. Nothing has my name on it, but everyone feels the need to sing that stupid “Oh Susannah” song — probably because they have never actually met a Susannah so to them it’s really novel. All that said, I love my name. I love not ever having to say my last name and always being the only one with my name. It’s so nice to be in the company of other people who understand the name game.

    • http://www.facebook.com/vgmgc Samantha Overstreet

      Haha, that’s funny because I get people who hear Savannah a lot. I think they do sound pretty similar, but I think I’m good at enunciating and other people just aren’t listening.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000049711137 Carleen Guffey Abercrombie

      I live in the South too. Sometimes they think I am saying my name wrong because I say it too fast. I just believe the Southern ears just listen too slow. I’m originally from Detroit–but they think I talk too fast too!

  • http://www.facebook.com/beckjoy Becky Hanna-Lozano

    My name is Rebekah, so it isn’t that uncommon. But there aren’t any “personalized” pencils or license plates or key chains that have Rebekah. They’re all Rebecca. My full name is Rebekah Joy Hanna, and when I was in school I was called Hanna and Joy more often than I was called Rebekah!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=94804372 Meaghan Pitman Wangsgaard

      I hear you! Even though my name is very common in my age group (in my college dorm, 1 in every 8 girls was a Meg), I’ve never found anything personalised that was spelled properly. The closest I’ve come was a Christmas-themed magnet that reads “Meghan”. The unconventional spelling also means that people pronounce it “MEE-gan” when it’s meant to be “Meggin”.
      All this has lead to a love of bizarre names. My poor children will probably end up as Rohana, Elspeth, and Maddox.

    • http://www.facebook.com/bekkabess Rebekka Cantrell Bess

      YES! What’s funny is that people would STILL buy personalized items for me, despite the difference in spelling. And these were relatives, so surely they knew the spelling wasn’t the same. :/

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=606640283 Brynn Barile

    Brynn (rhymes with ‘grin’, not pronounced like Brian, teachers) isn’t a name that’s found anywhere, either. My mom got me an entire pack (50 or more) of custom personalized pencils one time, though. They were awful, made of the sort of wood that gives you splinters as you write, and lead that breaks every three words. I maybe used 2. They’re still around somewhere, because you can’t really give away personalized pencils like you can plain ones. But I’ve turned the whole lack of pre-made personalized objects into a game: “Bet They Don’t Have My Name.” I haven’t lost yet. And if I ever do lose, it will be with much bouncing up and down and squealing in public.

    • Filleosophy

      Your first/last name combo is so great. Please write a book or an album or something.

    • http://www.facebook.com/pinkgrapefruits87 Lauren Nespoli

      Exactly! My middle name is Brynn and I didn’t like being different when I was younger and all the girls had the middle names Ann, Elizabeth, Marie, or Rose, but now I love it and wish it was my first name! Except at my high school graduation they read it as Brian. It’s not that hard; it’s spelled the way it sounds!

    • http://www.facebook.com/brynmerica Bryn Schockett

      Woooo! go team Bryn!

  • http://www.facebook.com/NefariousNewt Nefarious Newt

    1) You have a wonderful and unique name, and I am glad you have embraced it. The world is too full of repetitiousness, unimaginative names. 2) The whole pencil thing is just another reason I am aghast at how society tries to make us value ourselves by externals. Pencils with names on them, magazines with pictures of bean pole women, car ads that show people driving recklessly… Apparently, if you’re not driving the right car, wearing the right clothes, or holding a pencil with your name on it, there’s something wrong with you. 3) My reallast name is not complicated, but people get it wrong all the time, and so I came to terms with the fact that people were not even going to try, more often than not, to pronounce it right. Thanks for sharing. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/penguinys Nyssa Sager

    Heh very familair. Although my name doesn´t look that hard, people never EVER pronounce it right, or know how to write it after I say it (Nyssa does NOT sound like Lisa – thank you very much). But I agree with everyone else: your name is beautiful, and you should be proud :) (who really needs coffee mugs or pens with your name on it)

  • http://www.facebook.com/eimsyg Eimear Gallagher

    My name is so common in Ireland but elsewhere apparently no one has a clue. People have tried loads of ways of saying it, the most common (and most hated) seems to be “I’m ear”. Nice. (For anyone wondering it’s just “e-mur”, or as I like to say, lemur without the l) I could probably make things easier on people by going with the less complicated spelling, Emer, but I kind of like it the way it is. I always have to spell it out though and sometimes people even “hear” it as Emma somehow. Argh!

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