Monday, May 14, 2012

EarFULL: Say My Name

I dialed my hair salon, crossing my fingers they could fit me in for a quick bangs trim. She assured me this was possible and asked for my name. "Kerry." "Last name?" "I, uh, um, I think it's Alexander? It might be Alexander..". It wasn't Alexander.

I don't know my last name.

"Your name is already taken, you'll need to pick a new one."

She slid the forms to me and I handed her a wad of cash that I had been carrying around with me all day. I had dreamed about the day I would get my card and be in one of the unions for actors. I remember saying I would sleep with it in my bed every night, I just wanted it so bad. My need to be externally validated strong as ever; for someone or something else to tell me I was good enough. I want to shake that person and tell her the card is less important now - it still feels great and I'm proud of it but it's less important, in all of the best ways.

We sat around in rehearsals thinking of new names for me. When I got home, I scrolled through hundreds of surname and baby naming websites. I wrote and re-wrote a list with my mom of family names. Nothing felt right. I tried adding in my middle name, a middle initial and even changed my first name to "Kieran" for a few days (pro-tip: don't change your first name, it is an unusually strange experience to be referred to as a different first name). Nothing felt right.

We were driving in my family's van on the way to yet another practice or activity. I couldn't have been more than 9 or 10. One of my friends rode in the backseat and we played a game called "think up Kerry's stage name" and talked about if I would actually ever change my name. I was certain I would. I hadn't even really started acting yet.

I hung up the phone with my friend, Alex. We had fallen into a pattern of talking on the phone, creating a bond and a friendship where before, there had just been the cringe-worthy story of how we met. Both back home post-graduation, he in the New England area, me in New Jersey. Both heavy thinkers, reliant on writing and music for sanity and slowly beginning the process of figuring out who we were, or even what that meant. I sat with the phone in my hand for a few minutes, tucked into the corner of the couch my mom had just bought, feeling the weight of the world and the excitement of what was next all at once when it hit me: Alexander.

I googled the meaning: defender of mankind. Yes. Alexander.

We weren't visible to the audience, situated behind a large set piece, and in fits of giggles.

"Wait, I've got one! Kerry Robert Brown!" 
"No - Kerry Sondheim" 
"Oh, God, could you imagine? Hello, my name is Kerry Sondheim and I'll be singing from Into The Woods."

We played this game a lot: think of Kerry's new last name. I had been Kerry Alexander for about a year already and still wanted to change it; the strangers that I tentatively spoke to at rehearsals were now my family, helping to name the baby.

His voicemail started boldly, as they all do: "I don't know who this Kerry Alexander person is but I'd like to leave a message for Kerry Anderson." The smile in his voice was audible. The smile on my face widened.

The only person, who is not a medical practitioner, who still calls me my actual name. Occasionally throwing in a Kieran to poke fun or just because he likes the way it feels to say it or because it makes me laugh, who knows.

"Which email do you want? Alexander or Anderson?"
"Anderson. I don't need the Alexander one."

As though he already knew this name wouldn't last.
Sometimes I wonder if the name I picked had to do with him subconsciously. I wonder if years ago, during one of the time's where we weren't speaking, when I would hide from him for months and wanted nothing to do with him, if any of the reason I chose it had to do with him. I'd like to think it didn't. I'd like to think it did. I still don't know.

I've tried out all of their names; the ones that mattered. We all do this, pairing our first names with their last names to see how it sounds, naming imaginary never-gonna-happen babies based off of their surname. Do boys do this? The ones who can say the word 'relationship' without faltering or looking like they may pass out? Do they practice their girlfriend's first name with their last name? What about the scared ones? Do they catch themselves saying the name of the woman that they just can't walk away from, with the addition of their last name? Does that tiny act make them panic and not return her call for weeks?

Don't answer, I don't want to know yet.

I joke that I'll know my last name when I get married and though I slightly hate it, I mean it. It's not an identity, other-half, missing-puzzle-piece thing. I feel whole and alive and joyful on my own and am more proud of that than of having a small card that allows me into a waiting room (see section two, above). Maybe I will get married, maybe I won't, maybe I'll change my name in the union to what I'd prefer to go by, maybe I'll grow into the name I have now. Who knows. I just can't wait for the day when someone on the phone asks for my name and I know the answer and can clearly, lovingly say it.

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