“Hello, My Name is Cheney.”
On living with a difficult name.
My first name is pronounced Chain-ee.
Looking back, I’m surprised that I didn’t start getting made fun of because of my name back in elementary or middle school, but I guess kids that age aren’t creative enough in their meanness to do anything with the word “chain.”
Even in high school, I had one of the strangest (unique, some like to say) names of any students, but as much as I had always hated my weird name, at least I was never bothered because of it.
In high school, I went through a bit of a goth phase. I dyed my hair black and got Betty Page bangs, eliminated most colors from my wardrobe, and started accessorizing with leather bracelets and chokers, some that had spikes on them.
My friend Beth was probably the first one to make a play on my name, but I didn’t really mind it, because she was my best friend and loved me, and I actually kind of liked the nicknames, they made me laugh:
Chains and Leatha.
Whips and Chains.
It was okay. It was an inside joke between my friends, and it didn’t bother me.
It never bothered me that much, until the year 2000 when George W. Bush got elected President, and with him, Vice President Dick Cheney.
The Dick who ruined my name.
It didn’t take long at all before telling someone my name was Cheney turned me into the butt of a a joke.
A BAD joke.
“Oh, like Dick Cheney?”
Yeah, sure. I don’t appreciate the correlation, but yes, like Dick Cheney.
“Oh, are you Dick Cheney’s granddaughter?”
It’s my first name. Are you a fucking moron?
“You like the Dick, Cheney?”
You’re a dick.
“Uh oh, are you going to shoot me in the face, Cheney?”
I can only dream of it.
In the last eighteen years, I have heard variations of these questions hundreds of times, and it doesn’t get any less annoying, if you were wondering.
On top of that, when people read my name, like, say, at a doctor’s office, a salon, a class, or wherever they haven’t seen or heard the name “Cheney” before, it can be butchered in bewildering ways.
You’d think that the Dick Cheney would have proliferated enough in America that people could look at my name and pronounce it correctly, but no.
Somehow, when I have to correct them, I’m the one who always ends up feeling like an idiot, because the response to the correction is almost always:
“Oh, like Dick Cheney!”
Yeah, like that.
Over the years, I’ve learned some lessons that make it easier to live with my name.
When I go to Starbucks, I never, ever use my first name when they ask what to put on the cup. I tell them my middle name, Meaghan, which inevitably comes back to me as Megan, which is fine.
At the last job I was required to wear a name tag, I insisted on using “Jamie” because it was close enough to sound like my own name and I would respond to it, and if people wanted to compliment or complain about me, the managers would know who they’re talking about — and I could get through work without embarrassing comments and conversations every day.
Some people can’t believe I do this — some people have even voiced their strong opinions on why I shouldn’t do this.
I should own my name.
I should be proud and embrace my name’s uniqueness.
I should make people learn my name and give me the respect I deserve.
Well, that’s their opinion.
Frankly, I’d just like to be able to tell someone my name without having to have a conversation about it.
“Why don’t you just change your name if you hate it so much?”
That’s a question I get asked sometimes, and the answer for me is pretty easy — because I think that would require more conversations and cause me more ridicule that just sticking with it.
I know what it’s like to live with my name, I can’t imagine how hard it would be to tell and explain to people that I’ve changed it, and please call me this now.
It’s been hard enough already.
What if I make a mistake?
Our names are a huge part of our identities. They shape us in ways we can see clearly or don’t quite understand. They can lead to prejudice and stereotypes, they can lead to jokes and ridicule.
Sometimes I imagine a world where children get to pick their own names, where each of us get a say in the basis of our identity, the sound and symbols that represent us to the world.
I think it would be better, but until then, remember: choosing a name for your child is a huge responsibility that they’ll have to live with for the rest of their lives.