A few days ago, Terje wrote a slice about her name. And then Elisabeth followed suit. And in her book Being the Change, Sarah K. Ahmed suggests having students write the story of their name as an identity activity. AND I’ve been working with my own students on how our identity affects our interpretation of information. So how could I resist? It’s time for a name story.
My name is Amanda. When I was little, it was an unusual name. In fact, I have a fill-in-the-blank journal from 4th grade where I wrote that my name was “old fashioned.” During the middle school name-sticker phase, I had no name stickers. A nurse named Amanda who worked with my father once bought me stickers because she, too, was excited to see our name in a store. (Amanda tchochkes abound these days; the generation behind me has no idea how we older Amandas suffered.)
I liked Amanda – though everyone called me Mandy and I like that, too. It was just unusual enough to be mine, but it was still easy to say. And it was certainly better than another choice that lurked in my baby book: Jemima. I used to imagine a whole different life for Jemima-me. I assure you that she wasn’t not doing nearly as well in life as I was. In college, Amanda was written on the door of my freshman dorm & Amanda I became. These days, I go by both.
But that’s not the story.
During my junior year abroad, my friends and I traveled over Spring Break. We left France and headed to Salzburg, Vienna, Prague and Budapest. We were four young women: a tall redhead, a willowy brunette, a blue-eyed blonde and a curly-haired brunette. I’ve seen the pictures; we caught the eye. We can (and will) tell story after story from that trip. For example, in Prague,we followed our guidebook’s dubious suggestion and “found” a room offered by someone who met the train at the quai. We ended up staying in an apartment owned by a fast-talking British (?) guy who decided to go ahead and stay the night with us. (I know, I know. It’s a miracle any child of the 70s or 80s survived.)
We settled in, drank some cheap Russian champagne, and then happily agreed to go dancing with our new friend. Once we arrived at the club, he quickly found friends for each of us to chat with, while he stayed with the willowy brunette. I had a boyfriend in France, thus making me harder to match, but he managed: I soon found myself deep in conversation with an incredibly handsome Swedish man named Torin. He was in Prague to collect art. He spoke French, English and heaven only knows what else. Our conversation ranged from books to art to travel. Soon, he asked me to dance, and there I was, at a club in Prague, dancing with a gorgeous Swedish intellectual who leaned over to me and said, “Amanda. Such a name. Do you know what it means?”
I did. I do. But I still let him tell me.
“Amanda, worthy of love.”
I mean, who derives the Latin root of a name as a pick up line? I was very nearly swept off my feet. But not quite. As he leaned in to kiss me – of course he would, after that little gem – I turned my head. “I still have a boyfriend.” He smiled ruefully, “and your constancy makes it harder to let you go.” (I’m not even kidding – he talked like that.) We danced and talked all evening. We did not exchange information and this was long before the internet. One night was one night.
My French boyfriend, wonderful though he was, did not collect art or speak multiple languages. He had no idea what my name meant in Latin. He was, nevertheless, my first love. We stayed together for a while, and then we broke up. I’ve never been back to Prague, and no one else has ever tried to pick me up with such an urbane pick up line. Sometimes, I still think about Torin and Prague and that carefree trip. After all, while I’m now a middle-aged wife (Honey), mother (Mama or Mom), and teacher (Miss), I remain Amanda, worthy of love.