Writing Prompt: A Rose by Any Other Name

WHEN I WAS A KID—six years old—I had a classmate named “Frederika.” A fine name, my six-year-old self thought, and, promptly, I renamed myself for her (although my parents never quite caught up). Then, at twelve, I first heard the name “Zoë.” That was it! A perfect name for me. But, again, my parents wouldn’t sign on, and the Zoë I could have been died an unremarked death.

When I was sixteen, I named myself “Star,” and faithfully penned a red-Bic star onto my forehead every day for a year. This was a slightly more successful renaming. (In fact, having now returned to the town where I endured teen-hood, occasionally, I run into someone who greets me with a “Hi, Star! It’s been a while!”)

At nineteen, after watching SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER for the thirteenth time, I adopted a new last name: “Mangano,” in honor of John Travolta’s social-climbing love interest, Stephanie Mangano. (And, okay, although I’m a little embarrassed to admit to it, I was known as MJM by my closest friends for a few years after, for “Marvelous Jamie Mangano.” What can I say? I was young and the actual requirements of being truly marvelous in this world were still a mystery to me.)

In an earlier blog post, I talked about POEMCRAZY, in which author Susan Wooldridge discusses the act of renaming as a way to resuscitate some aspect of ourselves that may be starved for oxygen. “New names seem to change people,” she says.

In the POEMCRAZY chapter “Our Real Names,” Ronnie, a young man in juvenile hall renames himself, thusly:

Let’s talk about death.
Yesterday my name was James.
Today, it’s tossing helium dream.
Tomorrow, my name will be
Gerald Flying off the Cliff,
Dave Mustang.
Inside my name is
dying heart,
and a lotta hope.

My parents named me for a racehorse, Jamie K., who gave Native Dancer a run forjamiek his money in the Preakness and the Belmont a few years before I was born. This naming, perhaps, explains my early interest in horses—in a family in which no one else has ever ridden or owned a horse. And while that’s a fun story, and “Jamie” is a perfectly acceptable name, I have always wondered…. If I had lived my life as a Frederika or a Zoë—or even as a Grace or a Claire—would I have experienced the world differently?

I guess I’ll never know. Because, ultimately—unlike actress Sigourney Weaver, who, born “Susan Alexandra Weaver,” renamed herself, at the age of fourteen, after a minor character (Sigourney Howard) in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel THE GREAT GATSBYI let the name I was given harden around me. Until, now, it’s hard to tell where my name ends and I begin.

Writing prompt

How about you? What secret names do you have hidden in the roll-call of your deepest self? Make a list of them! Next, write out a pivotal scene from your life as you remember living it. Finally, take one of your secret names and begin a third-person account of the same situation, starring someone who bears a strong resemblance to you, but who answers to the name you chose. Allow the scene to deviate from the one you remember—and allow your other-named self to experience a different outcome.

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