First names can be trendy. The name Jennifer, it turns out, has been the subject of research on naming trends and the popularity of the name, and its demise, has been likened to genetic drift.
Growing up in a sea of other Jennifers, I always loved that I was named after my English aunt. Jennifer was an unusual name in England when my aunt was a child, and both my connection to my adored aunt and the singularity of the choice of my name were meaningful to me. My aunt is “Jennifer Margaret,” which sounds elegant to me. I’m “Jennifer Jane.” It’s from an A. A. Milne poem, so that seems charming if not elegant.
I’ve always gone by Jennifer. Only a very few beloved people—my father, my mother, my husband, my sister—called me Jen.
Then, one hot August day in Michigan, my name changed.
I had moved from my hometown to take a new job. My new email address began with jen, not Jennifer.xxx.xxx.com. People apparently thought that I went by Jen. While some people asked what I wished to be called, more people called me Jen. It’s always seemed to me that when we take ourselves too seriously, we can begin to think that everything is serious. So I tried to brush it off. But to be honest, it did irritate me in the same way a gnat in front of my face does.
It felt like people were showing up at an intimate dinner to which they hadn’t been invited.
I occasionally puzzled over it with my husband and even wondered if it would be possible to change my email address (it wasn’t). After a while, I realized that I was creating story in which my wishes were being ignored on purpose and that such a story was not only untrue but also having the unintended consequence of separating people into those who were in my “circle” and those who weren’t.
Bring them on in!
Why not let those who call me Jen join those who were in the small and select circle of people who care for me? Why spend any time or space—life is so short, and the world has so many problems of its own—keeping people out? I need more people in there. Bring them on in!
How many times do the stories we have about who belongs in and who belongs out separate us from others? How often do we get stuck seeing things one way and miss the possibility of seeing them in a different light? How often do we hang onto our stories of how things should be rather than enjoy the way things are or could be?
Elizabeth Ann went home again– Explained, A. A. Milne (excerpt)
And took from the ottoman Jennifer Jane.
“Jenniferjane,” said Elizabeth Ann,
“Tell me at once how God began.”