Almost everything we've been taught about the human experience has been filtered through a white supremacist, cis-hetero, patriarchal, capitalist lens. With that in mind, as I say to my friends, "I have questions." Like all the questions. Sometimes the most random of questions. Here I can give my friends a break and obsess with all of you.
A couple of months ago, I joined a mastermind and in our first group meeting, our fearless leader (hey, Femily!) asked us to introduce ourselves by telling our name story. It could be related to your given name, a nickname, a chosen name, or all of the above. While I don't remember exactly what I said, the exercise got me thinking -- what role, if any, do our names play in forming our identity?
Ivana is an amalgamation of my mother's name, Vanessa, and her mother's name, Iveory. Hence the long 'I'. I am my mom's youngest and the only girl. She put a lot of effort into this name. To her, it was a gift. Growing up, I definitely didn't share the sentiment.
It just took up so much space in my brain. Waiting for it to be mispronounced. Planning my response to "That's interesting. How did you get this name?" Or my personal favorite, "You don't look how I pictured." Then in 1999, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me hit theaters. The transition to middle school is challenging enough without having Ivana Humpalot as a namesake. A gift my name was not, but rather one more way in which I was othered.
For those of us whose names don't fit the social construction of the dominant culture, I find this isn't an uncommon experience. My name doesn't even rank that high on the list of complex names. And yet still, there were times I wished that my parents had named me something else. How much easier my life would be I thought. But the truth is that it wouldn't have been easier for me. It just would have made everyone else more comfortable.
I don't remember the first person (a stranger) to tell my name was beautiful, but I can't forget the warmth I felt when they said it. The declaration felt genuine. It felt true. It made me feel less self-conscious. I grasped onto that feeling as I continued to introduce myself. Until one day, when someone responded to my introduction with "What a beautiful name!" It didn't just feel true, I knew it to be true.
Ivana isn't just who I am because that's the name I was given, but the journey of finding joy and pride in it (in me) has been an integral part of becoming the most confident version of myself that I am today. Thank Black Jesus I outlasted the Austin Powers debacle because now I can't imagine being named anything else. Just the other day I called in a takeout order and when I gave my name, the guy on the other end replied, "Wow. That's a really cool name." I couldn't help but think…Isn't it though?