I've had this post partially written for a few months now, but when someone drew my attention to this post and others I thought it would be timely to finish it--although I'm not really writing about the same thing.
When I was little, I hated my name. It was unusual, and people always pronounced it wrong: Al-VINE-a, or Alvin, or Alvinia, etc. (It's pronounced Al-VEE-na) And since I was already struggling with being an Asian American growing up in mostly white communities, it was just another thing to make me different. I always wished my name was Amy, or Alicia, or Allison (always names starting with "A" of course...). Of course, now I love my name. There are tons of Amys in the world, not that many Alvinas, and now that I'm comfortable with who I am, I'm comfortable fitting in my name as well.
My parents picked my name out of a baby name book. They had narrowed my name down to two choices: Alvina and Melody (which is why Grace changes my character's name in Year of the Dog to "Melody"). They ended up going with "Alvina" because they thought it was a beautiful name, and they also liked the meaning of it. In the book they had, it meant "Beloved by all." Nice, right? But part of me wonders, what's in a name?
When I worked at B&N as a bookseller, one of my coworkers got into a book called The Name Book by Pierre Le Rouzie (I think it's OP now--but I actually ended up buying it and still have my copy). This was one of those personality or astrology-type books, but this one explored "the ancestry of names and reveals how names define our personality." Part of the author's note says this:
a name can change an individual, and can affect one's personality and, to a certain extent, destiny. This helps us understand what at first seems unbelievable--that names can have a direct influence on people.
I don't really trust this book, because I'm skeptical about all personality predictors partially due to a story Grace told me about how in high school her class sent handwriting samples to a company to get a personality analysis back, and when the results came in the teacher passed them out and asked everyone how accurately they thought the results reflected their personalities, and almost everyone thought they were pretty accurate, and then the teacher revealed the everyone had received the exact same results.
But still, this book got me thinking. As we've found in Libby's post on names and faces, I think many people expect a certain type of person to go with their name. For example, I certainly get a picture in my head if someone's name is "Candy" versus "Katherine." And then there's the way people make their name fit--take the name "Jennifer." There are people who never ever ever want to be called "Jenny," whereas for some people it fits. I think people must sense subconsciously the expectations of the people around them, and expectations they have of themselves.
I've known my whole life that my parents named me because of the meaning of my name. Beloved by all. And not to say that I actually AM beloved by all, but I wonder if the fact that I grew up wanting to please everyone, wanting to be liked by everyone, is in part because I wanted to live up to the meaning of my name. Sure, to a certain extent it's just human nature to want to be liked by everyone, but sometimes I felt that the feeling was stronger for me, that my actions were more motivated by this than other's were. When I tell people what my name means, they think it's nice, some people say it's fitting. I know I'm not really beloved by all. I've had a few people I've known throughout my life who have actively disliked me, and I think that hurt me more than it might have hurt other people. I cared too much.
After googling myself last year, I came across a blog with the picture above. Could there be another person with both my first and last name in the world? As it turns out, yes. She's a teenager in Singapore, and she has a blog, too. Her email was listed, so I emailed her a while ago just to say hi. She pronounces her name the same way I do. I wonder if our personalities are similar at all. I wonder how much being named "Alvina" has shaped her.