My first granddaughter, Adelyn Rai G, was born recently. I am delighting in all that she is and means — her little hobgoblin features; her bow-legged, heavy-headed baby shape; her random squeaks and movements; the soft, snuffly, sweetness of her; the protectiveness and resolve she inspires in her people; the explosion of joy that was released into the world with her birth … But I am also delighting in her name. I practice saying it, and I try various shortened versions — Addy, Adel, Lyna — all sound ‘worthy’ of this tiny enchantress.
I have a thing about names. You see, I suffer from Plain Jane Name Syndrome (PJNS). Kay Smith. No use trying to offer reassurances. My name is unarguably plain. Boring and plain. Once, while holidaying abroad, a fellow traveller asked if my name was real, or was I perhaps travelling incognito? I wanted it to be the latter, but responded apologetically — in a way that matched my name — yes, it’s real.
On that same holiday abroad, I found myself dining one evening in a multicultural group of mixed ages and genders. At my end of the table were Stefan, Melina, Krista and Gabriele. Later, a particularly attractive 40-something woman arrived. “This is Alessia Blanchetti,” said Justin. Of course it is, I thought. An interesting name to match its striking bearer. A name that announced her substance, her place in the world. Did I have to tell her mine? How to sparkle, shine and dazzle when you are called Kay Smith! I think my name impacts on how I dress, too: Alessia Blanchetti was casually, colourfully elegant, but a Smith needs serviceable work clothes — no call for style and panache. (Although I do boast something of a flair for teaming greys and browns.) To be fair, in the group there was also a man called something like Poobus or Rottgut, but he seemed to match his name and I have nothing more to say about him.
As a child, I wasn’t alone with my Plain Jane name. There were a couple of Kays in my peer group at school — along with some Gays and Fays, and some Janes come to think of it. We were victims of the fleeting fashion of the day, I guess. The story in my family was that Dad had wanted to spell my name just capital K, allegedly so that I might seem precocious when I was the first toddler on the block to be able to write my name, but Mum (assertive creature that she was) drew the line at that — instead, I would have a whole three letters to struggle with. When it comes to names, there will always be victims of fashion, who eventually mutter their names quietly when asked and I won’t curse the bearers by listing likely contenders among them.
In my friendship group, there is a Fay Green, who has managed to transcend her name, so stylish, influential and well-off is she. (There is also a Jane Duck, who hasn’t.) Yes, transcendence is possible — indeed, it’s one of my regular favourite possibilities in life. I do have a highly successful namesake: Kay Smith, watercolour painter, Texas. (Google her and be captivated by the charming works and confident aura of this award-winning artist.) Inspired by her and this notion of transcendence, I won’t be changing the name my parents chose for me; instead, I will endeavour to raise it up by all that I achieve with it, or in spite of it. That is my life-long challenge. It’s just that (yes, sorry, another whine) a name is part of a first impression and can go a long way towards ensuring people take you seriously. A good, robust name kind of gives you a head start in the race. We expect worthwhile suggestions from Diana Meyer; we are already interested when we hear of a book by Monica Bryson; Lauren Crichton won the Achievement Award? That’s no surprise.
To some extent, names can create destiny: I must perpetually drag mine towards the dizzy heights of (so far quite elusive) success; but Adelyn Rai, you are already assured of easier, name-assisted progress in life. Your name has given you wings. May you soar towards what brings you joy, secure in the unbounded love of your people. As one of them, I promise I will always cheer you on.
Meanwhile, just once, when someone asks my name, I want to say it’s Iris Elba, or Eudaimonia Waterford-Crystal, and savour that rolling off my tongue. Just once. When that someone inevitably says, “Pardon?” I know I will mumble, in my Plain Jane way, “Kay Smith”.