Shakespeare reminded us that roses smell the same, no matter what you call them. According to Wikipedia, “The reference is often used to imply that the names of things do not affect what they really are.” But names do affect how people perceive things, especially the names of people.
I never liked the name I was born with. My mother wanted to name me after her younger brother, who had died two months shy of his fifth birthday. His name was “Raymon.” Being a good Christian woman, and not at all superstitious, she decided to alter the spelling, to make certain that I survived beyond age five. But instead of adding a “d” to the end of the name, bringing the spelling into congruence with how normal people would spell it, she dropped the “y” and I became “Ramon” (pronounced RAY-mun).
For years I had to correct people’s spelling of my name, when I gave it orally: “No ‘y’ and no ‘d’” I would repeat, usually twice or three times. I started being “Ray” in college, but people who knew my name often wrote it as “Ra.” I finally decided to pronounce my name in the Spanish style – rah-MONE – but that added the need to explain that, no, I didn’t have any Latin blood, and it was just the odd way my mother had decided to spell my name. That ultimately took longer than the “no ‘y’ no ‘d’” alternative. So I lived with the confusion and frustration for 31 years.
When I lived in Twin Oaks Community in 1970, it was fashionable for residents to take on new names. This had never occurred to me as a possibility! Margaret gave up being “Peggy” and chose to become “Shannon,” in order to honor her Irish roots. Susan became “Josie” because she liked the sound better, although she later chose to be known as “Sally-Susan.” Alan became “Blue”; Eric chose “Skye.” It seemed like everyone was trying on different names; names they thought were a better fit to their personalities. I needed a new name, too.
After some thought, I decided that I liked the sound of a soft “j” or “g” and started trying out new names. “George” wasn’t quite right, nor was “Jeremy.” We already had a “Gerry” in the Community, and “Jerry” was the guy my first wife left me for. I wasn’t having much luck until one evening, socializing around the fire-pit, one of the women sitting on the other side of the fire looked me in the eye and said, softly, “Jesse.” That’s all she said, and all she needed to say. “Jesse” has been my name ever since.
Almost everyone who knew me “before” was able to make the switch to my new name. My mother, of course, continued to call me “Ramon.” I recall one Thanksgiving holiday at my aunt’s house when my mother and aunt called me “Ramon,” my sister called me “Jesse,” my uncle called me “Ray,” and my cousin called me “Jess.” I responded to all of them. I always thought that I would do an official name change once my mother died, but I haven’t, and probably won’t. My bank knows me by both names, and it is legal to use an alias as long as it is not in the service of breaking the law.
Personality wise, I am happier being “Jesse” than I ever was being “Ramon” or “Ray.” But Shakespeare was right: No matter which name I use, I still smell the same.