I was supposed to be a boy. My parents were going to name me Martin (after the guitar manufacturer). So certain they were having a boy, they didn’t even pick a girl’s name. Mid-labor, in a Volkswagen Beetle racing towards the hospital, they thought it might be a good idea to come up with one just in case.
My father suggested Deborah. Mom thought “too stuffy”. Mom suggested Rebecca. Dad thought “too biblical”. They mulled over Bree, after having recently seen the movie Klute, where Jane Fonda portrays a prostitute with an awesome feathered hairstyle. They reconsidered for obvious reasons.
Then my father thought of his mother’s name, Stephanie. (Sorry Ma, you were too intent on crushing the glove compartment handle and cursing Lamaze, I have to give Dad more credit in this instance.)
Then, as a nod towards a great grandmother Anne, my middle name was chosen. I was in a hurry to get here, so it’s good they could make important joint decisions on the fly. Way to go, parents!!!
A name with 21 letters is an awful lot for a little girl to carry. Who knew that the 1980s would usher in a lifetime of name changes along with a fetish for leg warmers, roller skates, and Molly Ringwald movies? Apparently, my Aunt Mary. She had a feeling. Oh, what a feeling! (She was NOT dancing on the ceiling. She was making pierogi.) I was in the other room entertaining myself. She had to check. It sounded like there were other people in the room. Turns out I was adept at giving a voice to all my make-believe characters. It was then that I was dubbed the Girl of a Thousand Voices.
The pseudonyms began in earnest with the Clash of the Titans. Not the cataclysmic mythological event, but the movie. What inspired a really fabulous Halloween costume, also gave birth to my first nom de plume. My elementary school assignments were returned home completed by 'Diana'. Goddess of the hunt. Now I understand the irony of the meanings of antiquity – she possessed the abilities to speak to and control animals. At the time, I was influenced by the flowing, golden toga and braids.
Stinky? That was not an alias of choice. I still do not know the origins of this. Dad, do tell. Although, my husband might attribute it’s recent resurgence to my fiber-laden diet.
Later I cycled through alternate spellings as if the re-combinations of letters might allow me more creative freedom from the multitudes of similarly named girls in my class. There were notebooks full of practicing signing my name Stephany, Stefani, C’stefan Don’t ask about the last iteration. It was during a francophile phase.
The most delicious renaming was unveiled during my high school graduation. Considering my tenure of detentions, it was sweet revenge to listen to the principal stumbling over my name in apparent disbelief as I strolled up to receive my diploma. I massaged my middle name a little on the graduation form and his office was none the wiser until he read the roster aloud over the loudspeaker, “Stephanie Angelica…”. (Pan right to parental unit in their stadium seats), My family was confused, but elated. Still cracks me up to this day.
Then came Stellar. What began as an ode to honor my paternal grandmother’s nickname, Stella, ended up serendipitously twisted by a New Jersey accent-twinged tongue. An introduction during an interview resulted in several years of exhausting explanations. Certain cheeky fellows would ask if it were my stage name, to which, I would reply with a dreamy “my parents are hippies” in defensive deflection. However, during this period of time I didn’t feel stellar at all. Assuming this name was yet another way I subconsciously tried to hide my very real terror of being alive. Having survived a fatal car accident in which my best friend was killed, hiding from the world and that moment in time was all I sought after.
Eventually I bounced back to my maiden name for professional reasons, but then quickly assumed a new surname with marriage. It was yet another version of my name that allowed me to avoid accepting myself as I was. Post-fallout of that relationship I wanted to be me, wanted to live up to the legacy of the name I was given, wanted to claim any happiness that I could. Again, I searched for external references. The Greek roots of Stephanie mean ‘crowned one”. It was time I faced myself and behaved regally, with aplomb. It was time to reclaim my roots. So I applied for a new last name to fit my former first name.
Since my first name was in honor of my paternal grandmother, Stephanie, I thought it was time to pay homage to my maternal grandmother in kind. So I absorbed her maiden last name – Sommerlad. A couple years passed and I felt more like ‘me’ with each step forward I took. And then I met my husband, Nicholas – my partner, my missing piece. When we sealed the deal officially, I added his surname as my final step towards the whole me. My father remarked that I had to go from the beginning of the alphabet to the end and back again to find myself.
What’s in a name? If you ask me, it's a whole bunch of stories. So you can call me anything you like, but my Aunt Mary called it first.
Originally posted 11.2014