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This post is part of my 2022 Word Project. You can read what that’s about here.

Sunday, June 11, 2023

My name has been the bane of my existence since the first time I had to explain that it’s Carol Lynn, two words.

This two-name phenomenon has been a major complication for people who clearly have never known a Mary Ann or an Anne Marie or a Joan of Arc. I’ve spent a disproportionate amount of my life trying to come up with ways to convey both my name and its spelling to other people without overtaxing their brains. There is often the faint smell of something burning, which means I have gone too far.

Maybe I should adopt the moniker Carol of the Lynn. Has a certain ring to it, don’t you think?

Because my name has been so mangled, mauled, and adulterated, I am very sensitive to getting people’s names right. I need to know how someone’s name is spelled, because John and Jon are two totally different things. As someone who thinks in words, it is important to me that I have the correct one floating around in the flotsam inside my skull.

And I will never call someone by a nickname unless they call themselves that. If someone introduces herself as Jennifer, she will be Jennifer forever, I don’t care how many people call her Jen.

Sometimes this backfires. For instance, I was introduced to one of Ralph’s Destiny clan members by his gamer tag, Attardi. For a long time I called him Attardi until one day last year when he invited us to spend a few days at his house. As we made plans, Ralph brought some other guy into the equation, some guy named Rob. I asked, Who?

Rob. Rob Attardi.

I tried, I really did, but at some point I just told the guy he’d have to live with me calling him Attardi for the rest of his life. Fortunately, he didn’t mind.

It should be noted that calling Jennifer Jen is totally different than calling my friend Kelli Kel. The latter is merely laziness… I mean a term of endearment… and falls under the category of nicknames and Things You Are Allowed To Do. If someone calls me Ca, I am totally fine with it. In fact, many people call me CL and I don’t see it as a thing gone awry. Rather, it’s a sign that we probably like each other a bit more than usual.

Somewhere in my brain where I make these things up, there is a difference between calling someone a name that is not theirs and calling someone a nickname. For example, my brother’s name is Stephen and I pretty much exclusively call him that. If I am talking about him with my other brothers, I sometimes truncate it to Steve out of laziness, but I will never say Steve in front of my mother, I mean, that is almost as bad as saying the f-word. When I talk to him I often call him by the nickname StevieB, because… 80s.

To make matters worse, my name is legally Carol middle name Lynn even though my whole life I have gone by both. So when I fill out credit card applications or lease agreements or apply for health insurance or a driver’s license, I have to put Carol as my name and depending on whether they want a middle name or middle initial, I get to be Lynn or L.

I have, in fact, considered changing my name legally but that would probably require me to pay someone to do it and they can go hang a hat, because I’m not paying anyone to cross out one name and insert another. Someone should really pay me for the pain and suffering.

The fact that Lynn is my middle name was a mistake to begin with. My mother wanted both to be my first name but whoever wrote my birth certificate did it wrong.

Once, when Ralph and I had a podcast, a fan of ours emailed me and said she liked my name. Then she asked if she could call me Lynn.

….. no???

So random.

The other thing people can’t seem to deal with is the “-in” sound. I have been called Caroline by more people than I’ve actually known, and I can’t for the life of me understand how you look at LYNN and get LINE.

But… People.

For a long time I’ve been telling people my name is Carol because it’s easier that way and I don’t have to spell it.

Well, I do have to spell it, otherwise I get Carl, or Carly, or Carrie. It’s really beyond.

But it’s easier than trying to explain it’s two words and has a capital L.

People I have known for years still sometimes call me Caroline.

People I have known for years will randomly send me emails with pick a name, it’s anyone’s guess what it will be. Carol Lynn, Caroline, Carolyn. Clearly these are people who have drunk too much gin.

Mostly I will answer to anything that starts with a hard C sound. If I call to order a pizza and give my name as Carol and the person on the other end of the phone says Canal? I will just say yes.

A name is an interesting thing. It doesn’t inherently mean anything, but we assign so many associations to it and build up our identities around it until it becomes Who We Are. It’s the Uber Word, if you think about it. It can mean anything you want it to mean and yet it comes preconfigured with cultural significance, religious significance, ethnic significance, and a laundry list of connotations good and bad.

There is a raging and likely never-ending debate over whether a name influences your choices in life. No doubt it can influence other people’s choices in relation to you.

Fair or unfair, you are more likely to think that Melissa will do a better job managing your taxes than Dazzaline. And if you’re thinking porn star, Scarlette is probably higher on your list than Emily.

The question is: does that affect how people see themselves? Do we feel a certain compulsion to live up to our names, whatever we’ve imagined them to be?

I am most definitely not going to speculate on the answer to that, but it’s an interesting thought experiment.

I can tell you, for instance, that I am much more creative as Carol Lynn than merely Carol. I’ve built up a lifetime of expectations for myself around explaining the spelling of my name in ever more pointed and interesting ways until that very task has become part of my identity.

If spelling my name was easy, would I still be as sweet?

Don’t answer that.

My family has had all sorts of interesting nicknames for me over the years and I would be remiss in talking about names if I did not mention them.

My father, in addition to calling me Stinkin’ Daughter, has for as long as I can remember called me Linksy. Somewhere along the line someone had it imprinted on a teddy bear to prove it. And yes, I still have that bear today.

You can probably figure out where that particular nickname came from.

An uncle, not to be outdone, called me Minty. If you think there is a story to go with that, you’d be wrong. It was just an uncle doing what uncles do. It was usually accompanied by a pinching of the cheeks.

Another uncle called me Carol Lint. I honestly have no recollection of him calling me anything else. It should be noted that this is the uncle who taught us poems about Minnie the Moocher and once drank champagne from my shoe. I’ll let you decide what to do with that information.

And my grandfather, that king of all things nickname, had one for all of us. He called my brothers Maxy, Sammy, Tiger, Boopsie, and Runt, respectively. Me?

He called me Dopey. I happily returned the favor and called him Grumpy.

Photo: my Uncle Arthur, who called me Carol Lint, and my grandfather, looking rather handsome back in the day. Sadly my Photoshop skills do not extend to retouching dark and grainy photos from the 70s.