You read that right, Jack.
Before the days of the social web and today's version of online bullying, we had the typical setup for a pre-teen: face to face communication with other pre-teens. Back then, we all had our versions of labels. In many circumstances, we never had the choice to pick the label - it just appeared some place between your locker and the bathroom.
For me, it was gym class. The day I became Barb.
My family moved to a new neighborhood when I was 13. I was to start a new year at a new school, 8th grade. In my eyes, we were far far away from the little street I loved in Warren, MI. We went from 10 mile to 21 mile - a whole 11 miles! To me, that was another planet. A planet set in the middle of farm country. Fast forward to today and my dad calls it suburban mecca. Strip malls and outdoor shopping galore, car dealerships, more restaurant chains to shake a stick at and even a new community center with an indoor pool! Oh and let's not forget about the insane amount of choices as it relates to getting fruit, veggies and any other ethnic food. Having lived in Chicago for 16 years, I challenge any Chicagoan and Little Italy-ish area goer to visit Vince & Joe's, Randazzo or Nino Salvaggio.
So there I was, new school, the first day. I vividly remember sitting on the gym floor and the dreaded routine of roll call was looming. I hated roll call.
I waited for the typical song to begin:
"Jane, Amy, Katie, Michelle, Lisa, Laura, Bah, Buh, what IS that name"?
"Say that again?"
Snickers began and the teacher's face curled up. Memories of what life was like back in my old school flashed in a blur. I spent my 7th grade year in utter hell. Leaving the safety net of my K-6 elementary school friends was horrible. Blending with the surrounding schools made for a year of constant fear, getting bullied on the bus and not wanting to leave my house.
As I got caught up in my 7th grade brain, someone in the gym suggested:
"Let's call her Barb."
Then someone else piped up:
"That's easier. I like Barb."
I froze and didn't want to say no. I didn't want to start my new school year and build a rep for being that girl with the difficult name to say. So I agreed. I was Barb.
For the next few years, most people called me Barb. I made new friends and settled into our new neighborhood. I began this crazy obsession with dancing to music videos at home, then mimicking those moves at school dances. I wanted to dub myself Barb the Dancer. Anything to keep attention away from my real name.
By the time sophomore year came around, I had grown close with alot of people. The same people I'm going to see at my 20 year high school reunion in a few weeks. I don't know the exact day I decided to go back to my actual name, but I do remember a few friends asking me why I didn't just use my real name. No one asked me that before, well aside from my relatives. This feeling of complete acceptance washed over me.
Looking back to that day at the gym, I know now that whomever suggested the name Barb wasn't doing it to be spiteful. They just didn't have too much exposure to someone who had a unique name. Today, we have names like Schwarzenegger, Obama, Oprah, Lupita and Apple. Do you know how excited I was to watch Oprah as a kid? I kept telling myself that if her name can get a TV show, then who KNOWS what my name can bring.
I don't know what life would have been like if Facebook and cyber bullying existed. I had some dark moments hating life and not wanting to leave the house. Why do you think I read so many books and memorized the Presidents, dad? :) I was lucky to have parents who paid attention to how I was feeling and shared their stories of immigrant life in the U.S. to keep my head held high. Eventually, I had a solid group of friends who didn't care what my first name was.
Now and then, I think about Barb and wonder how she's doing. Though I wasn't too keen on her name, I was thankful for the motivation she gave to push me to try new things and find a lifelong passion for music and dancing.
I guess you can say this story is a core reason for why Michael and I decided to name Lily, Liljana and Niko, Nikola. We tell Lily that this is her short name. Liljana is her long/real name. She knows who she is and has that second name to give someone on the first day of school.
Because we all deserve the chance to create our own labels and our own names.