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At what point did I become a "Ma'ammal?"

Could Miss Nancy see you?

Could Miss Nancy see you?

Oh, the joys and challenges of having a unique name. On the one hand, when your coffee is ready, you know the name that's called out is definitely yours. On the other hand, the barista doesn't hear your name correctly in the first place. My alter ego, Jennifer, has enjoyed many a decaf cappuccino.

The joy/challenge ratio can be significantly skewed depending on where you live. Not being accepted because you have a weird name is a sad truth in many, many communities. In the Northern California town where I'm from, however, there was enough hippie saturation that unusual names actually blended into the milieu. The only other Juniper I've met, in person, was in my ballet class. Out of six students, 33% were Juniper.

In this context, there were only two stigmas that mattered to me as a child:

  1. No mini license plates. Or mugs. Or pens. Or anything with a name on it. I would still browse the racks hopefully...
  2. Miss Nancy on Romper Room never said my name.

The part with the Magic Mirror is actually the only thing I remember about Romper Room. I was completely convinced that Miss Nancy could really look through her little hoop, out of my TV set, and straight into my eager kindergartener face. I waited every time with bated breath, hoping for that wonderful acknowledgment. "I see Kim, I see Jason, I see Robert, and I see Angela..." Alas, my shout-out was never to be. Losing my faith in the magic of TV land may have been more bitter than any other consequence of my name.

Now that I'm an adult and have weathered many small inconveniences of being the only Juniper around, here's the only things that bug me:

  1. I better not ever get a stalker. If you're reading this, stalker, stop it and go away!
  2. I never remember people's names, but they always remember mine. Awwwkward.
  3. Still no mugs.

All in all, as drawbacks go, it's not so bad. I've always liked my name, and I like that there's just one of me. This kind of bears out the feel-good, unique-snowflake rhetoric that most of us were told as children to boost our self-esteem. For one thing, I had complete confidence I could get my first choice of domain name!

And yet, when it came time to name our own kids, we didn't choose completely uncommon names. Giving my first daughter a family name, something I never imagined would appeal to me, just felt right. Strangely, that name turned out to be in the top 30 for the year. I think the sweet spot, to me, is a name that's recognizable yet slightly infrequent. To be specific, you should never have to use an initial after your name in class, yet you should get to see your name in print sometimes.

My daughter is currently reading a series of books in which every volume has a new fairy to meet. They all have common girls' names, and the sets come out so frequently that they've already burned through a hundred or so top baby names. She was thrilled when I got her the fairy books which match her first and middle names.

I get it, I completely get it. The flip side of getting your esteem from uniqueness is that you sacrifice a certain connection to the community. Seeing your name out in the world, in books or on souvenirs or on TV, is powerful stuff. It means you belong to your culture. I still get a thrill whenever I encounter anything with my name.

One of my earlier memories is getting my wooden name puzzle when I was 3. I went to the artisan's workshop with my parents to pick it up - custom ordered, of course. Those chunky rainbow letters are in my daughters' room now, and they each have their own name puzzle as well. The same mom n' pop company was still in business (online now, of course!) more than 30 years later, and I can see why.

Names matter so much, unique or not, and validating that is part of what makes any child feel special.

Image credit: Romper Room