The mailman came to the door to deliver the John Gnagy (NEGGy) “Learn to Draw” set I’d ordered. (You can Google him if you’re too young to know who he was.) Looking at the mailing label, where Carole Goldsmith was written as clearly as could be, he nonetheless asked, “Does kuh-ROLL-ee Goldsmith live here?” My visiting playmates overheard and forever mocked.
That sealed the deal: I hated my name. Why couldn’t my parents have named me Carol instead of Carole? They said it had something to do with Carole Lombard, whoever she was. Certainly the mailman had never heard of her. Neither had my friends. So there I was, a short skinny kid carrying around a big, heavy mockable name. No fair.
I can’t remember when that feeling changed, but somewhere along the way it certainly did. I now AM Carole. Not Carol (who’s she?) nor Caryl (my best friend in college), nor any of the other iterations I’ve seen. Carole. That’s me. In fact, when people misspell me, as they often do, I’m compelled to correct them. I know it doesn’t really matter if the woman on the phone who’s taking my order for double-size yellow flannel sheets writes my name as Carol instead of Carole. What’s really important is the size and color of the sheets, right? Still, I make sure she gets the name right, too. If it’s Carol, it’s not me, even though it sounds the same. I guess you could say that “e” is part of my identity. An important part.
I married a man whose name is also spelled in an untraditional way, Geoffrey instead of Jeffrey. He hated it when he was a kid, too. Gee-off and Goofrey were his albatrosses. Only our really good friends get both of our names right. And I like that. It says something, if only that they’re paying attention.
You’d think two parents who’d suffered with untraditional names wouldn’t inflict the same burden on their daughter. But we did, sort of. Geoffrey wanted to name her Jordan, while I thought it would be a burden to give her a name that’s usually for boys, Jordan Baker notwithstanding. We compromised on Jordan as her middle name and, predictably, she hated it for a long time. I believe her name-hatred lasted even longer than mine had. The story has the same ending, though: Now she’s grown up and loves it. It’s distinctive. It’s her.
Do names, and their spelling, shape the perception of the thing being named? Would people react to me differently if I were Marion? Would I, in fact, be different if I were Marion? This is a Zen-like question because, in fact, I am Carole. And I’m happy about it. I couldn’t be anyone else.
“Carole” looks so much prettier, rounder, softer, and generally lovelier than “Carol,” with that rude straight line at the end. (My apologies to any Carols out there — I know I’m not being objective.) I can’t imagine being Carol. Thank goodness my parents knew who I really was. And now I do, too.
How about you? How do you feel about your name? Do you think you’d be the same person if your name were different?
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