Jamie Bailey
September 22, 2015 1:55 pm

It was my first day of third grade at a new school. The teacher was assigning our seats. I was placed right in the front thanks to my last name. As an eight-year-old, I despised my last name. It’s not that my name was bizarre or out of the ordinary. It was quite ordinary actually. It just left a bad taste in my mouth and often left me feeling distressed after someone would mistake me for belonging to the wrong family. It posed awkward situations with teachers and friends, who assumed that my parents had the same surname or that I even had relationships with both of my parents.

Spanning my mother’s side and obviously step-father’s side, I was the only one with this obnoxiously different last name. For a time it made me feel disconnected from everyone else. Middle school only made it worse. No one has a great sense of identity in middle school anyway, and this just escalated that crisis. I won the school-wide spelling bee, attended music fairs, and became recognized academically, and the newspaper clippings reporting these achievements made me feel even more out of place when they listed my name with my mom’s. My different name. My wrong last name.

I thought if I could just have the same last name as everyone else in my family, it would solve all my emotional distress. I thought that if I could have the same last name as my mom, maybe it would erase all the issues I had with my dad. I can’t help but consult Shakespeare on this one. What is in a name anyway? Some families are lucky enough to be united by one common denominator- a last name; however, some families, like my own, consist of a plethora of different names, which is also beautiful. A family’s love should not be determined by a singular name, and that is something that took years for me to learn.

Flash forward a few years. In high school I finally started to gain my sense of self. I was a strong musician with an outspoken personality who loved clowning around but also enjoyed being a leader. When I became confident in who I was as a person, my dependency on my name grew less and less significant. It’s similar to what happens to all kids. In the beginning of your life, you depend solely on family to define you because you kind of need that leadership. You’re influenced by your family’s taste in food, music and TV shows. Then as you mature and grow, you become more independent and able to make these choices for yourselves. In this case, my infatuation was with my name. The more independent I became, the less I saw my last name as a hindrance, but rather a gift.

Flash forward even further to college where I made several lasting friendships and acquired so many beloved nicknames from those friends. I finally grew into my last name! I realized that my name was a representation of the confusion I had experienced in my childhood, and despite issues of divorce and lost relationships, I was an accomplished student and musician with friends and a family who loved me. Bailey is my identity. My struggle with my own identity gave me one that is bolder than I could have ever imagined. I am entirely my own.

[Image via iStock]

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