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first person

Illustration by Mary Kirkpatrick

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If I spend this essay talking about my own name, I’m sure I will come across as shallow or self-absorbed. In order to avoid that, I hope I can convey the utter melancholy I felt.

When people ask me why I would change the name my parents lovingly (if not ignorantly) bestowed upon me, I can only use an analogy in hopes that they will understand. Imagine that junk drawer in your kitchen or home office. Throughout the years, it becomes an accumulation of things that have no other place. You slap a crisp white sticker on the drawer: Miscellaneous. And so it reads for 21 years. But one day, you open that drawer and slap a solid palm to your forehead. Of course! How could you have been so blind? All these things fall under the category of office supplies. What a revelation! You grab the label-maker and print out that shiny new label: Office Supplies.

That’s me. No longer just a junk drawer.

When I explain my name change this way, I see a half-light ignite behind people’s eyes. They begin to understand the why, but perhaps not the weight of that why.

I was born as Ceara. I’ll pause here for you to take a crack at how to pronounce this.

It’s okay.

I can wait.

Throughout elementary school, I got really good at memorizing who came before me on the attendance sheet. When I saw the substitute teacher struggling with the next name on the list, I simply raised my hand and said, “It’s like Kira with a K.” In other words, it’s like a name that isn’t mine.

Once middle school rolled around, my fighting spirit had been mostly crushed. I simply allowed the substitute teachers to take their best shot and proceeded with this new label for the remainder of the day. I’ve heard them all. Kiara? Kara? Sierra? Sarah? I give credit where credit is due; they tried their best. Except for the people who said Sarah. I don’t see that one.

I also have to give props to the well-meaning students around me who gave voice to my given name. Their protests were admirable. “Her real name is Ceara,” they would say.

But is it?

My seventh-grade brain was not developed enough to have such complex quarrels with identity. And yet that feeling persisted. A feeling without a name.

In my graduating class, I was one of six girls whose name was pronounced “Kira,” all with various spellings. Kira, Kyra, Keira and so on. But none were as creative as mine. “Creative” is the nicest way I can phrase it.

I can’t imagine the number of government documents in existence with a printed “K” that has then been furiously scribbled over by the unsuspecting bureaucrat as I lean over the counter and say, “It’s with a C.”

With one sister named after a character from Wayne’s World (Cassandra) and another from the 1984 TV movie Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure (Cindel), I guess I got off pretty easy. Honestly, I wish I had a good reason for my given name. My parents just wanted to be different.

Despite the popularity of my name in high school, “popular” is not a label I would have used to describe myself. I walked the halls with my textbooks clutched to my chest, my body shrouded in a baggy hoodie. With six “Ki-y-ei-ras” roaming the halls, it was a common name to be heard cutting through the din. At first, I would always turn to look. Whose ears don’t turn up when their name is called? But it never seemed to be me. I wasn’t the Kira people wanted to talk to. So throughout high school, I learned to shut it out. I trained my brain to be unresponsive to those two syllables, those familiar phonemes. It wasn’t my name they were calling.

I was in university when I had my face-palm moment, that instant where I opened the drawer and realized I had the wrong label. It was the first day of class with my favourite professor. This was our third course together. He had helped me grow so much as a writer through many panicked office visits and frantic e-mails. He knows me. I watched him scan the attendance sheet. Then, he called out that dreaded sound: “Sierra?” I had been turned inside out like a jean pocket that hadn’t been cleaned in years. I went home that day knowing I wanted – needed – to change my name.

Memory is a fickle thing. But I seem to have this distinct memory of my cousin and me walking through a park across the street from my childhood home. I don’t recall how the conversation came up, but she told me her middle name was Audrey, named after our aunt, who was named after our grandma, and the other Audreys perched in the family tree. What a beautiful name. I remember the burning resentment that nuzzled up against my chest and rested there. I got used to the heat and continued to live with that weight for about 11 years. And yet, here I am. Audrey.

My name change isn’t official yet – you would not believe the amount of paperwork necessary – but my friends and family have been so supportive. My parents didn’t understand at first and I guess I shouldn’t have expected them to. That junk-drawer analogy really came in handy then. And that no-name girl finally got her proper label. Whenever I hear my name, even a year after announcing the change, I light up inside. People are calling my name.

Audrey Jamieson lives in Calgary.