What’s In a Name?

On the first day of sixth grade, my math teacher proved himself a heretic by suggesting that we arrange our seating chart in alphabetical order according to first name rather than last. For years we’d been sitting next to the same students in every class, every day. This man was a hero. Taught us what civil disobedience looks like, he did.

He sent us all to the back of the classroom to line up against the wall. When he called the letter “A”, all the students whose name began with “A” stepped forward from the line. Pointing at each student, he determined the next letter of each name and instructed them to be seated accordingly. He repeated the process for “B” and four people stepped forward. 

The first two were seated early. Two remained, a boy and a girl, each looking at one another with slightly concerned expressions. The rest of us giggled expectantly. We all knew one another’s names; it was our teacher who was learning them. His well-worn pencil pointed an indication that it was the boy’s turn to speak.

“R,” said the boy. He pointed the pencil toward the girl.

“R,” said the girl. The teacher nodded, pointing back toward the boy.

“A,” he informed our teacher, who was growing agitated rather quickly.

“A,” the girl spoke up.

“N,” the boy chuckled.

“Ah! This one has to be it. What’s the next letter of your name, dear?”

The girl shifted nervously and replied, “N. My name is –“

“Oh good grief,” the teacher interrupted. “You,” he pointed at the boy, “are going in this corner. And you,” he pointed at the girl, “are going in that one.”

“But we can –“

“I’m not wasting my time figuring it out. We have more important things to do, and there’s still the whole rest of the alphabet to get through. You’re going on opposite sides of the room. Done.”

The light went off in my conservative, Bible-thumping little noggin that day. The only thing that really separated boys and girls, the only thing my eleven year old brain could reckon, was that people were too impatient to pay attention, too frustrated to acknowledge the differences that make us individuals. The distinction between boys and girls was social expectation, nothing more. It was then that I first wished I’d had a different name. I wanted a name that would one day make an ignorant person’s blood boil, not because there was anything wrong with what I call myself, but because they would be too unwilling to see me for what I really am or to put me in the classroom seating arrangement I deserve. I wanted my name to become a tool with which I could instantly determine whether I wanted someone in my life. I wanted to name myself Brandyn.

But I already had a name. The name I had was one that reeked of Greek curses and human suffering. Silly as it may have been, I felt as though the curse of Apollo fell upon my shoulders every day. I was the helper of men, destined to be disbelieved by them. This was not a name I wanted for myself. I’m sure my mother meant well when she picked it; it certainly could have been worse. It simply didn’t fit me.

My best friend was the first person I told about this notion I had to change my name, followed by my then-step-father. He suggested that I give the name to my son when I grew up to have kids. This was the Bible Belt, after all. No girl is permitted the fantasy of a lifestyle incongruent with the obligation to marry a good man and rear his children. You can be whatever you want when you grow up, as long as you’re a good wife and mother.

So I became a Brandyn.