I’m always quick to spell out or clarify my name when it’s asked for. Call it my preemptive strike against the flicker of uncertainty in the barista’s eyes or the note of hesitation in the agent’s voice. Otherwise “ie” will inevitably be replaced by that semivowel which is sometimes accompanied by an underlying swirl, finishing off my name with a signature flourish—the kiss of death.
Maybe I like the air of superiority that comes with saying “Jennie with an ie.” I’ve cultivated my response into something of a habit, and it makes for a fun social media handle. A quick Google search (or even a survey of my hometown) tells me that Jennie was the most common spelling before the 20th century, which could very well be a bad thing. On the contrary, having a name like that makes me feel sophisticated—before my time, almost.
In my first few weeks on campus, I decided to introduce myself to random students. I explained to one of them that I wanted to meet as many people as I could, but a voice in my head told me that I wanted people to know who I was. My name was a part of my identity, and spelling it out made it likelier that I wouldn’t be forgotten. It was a layer of onion skin that could easily be peeled off and stuck to people’s clothes, so that more layers would eventually be revealed underneath (and yes, I mean more than what residential college I was in and whether I went on OA or CA!).
It’s my safety net more frequently nowadays because it helps me stand out, especially at an institution with such accomplished and brilliant people. At least I can say I’m perhaps the only Jennie at Princeton. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have anything against Jennys, but I can revel in the fact that it’s just that much easier to pinpoint me on Tigerbook…
At the nature center this summer, I met a kindred spirit: another variant of Jenny. Except this time, I was the one to make presumptions. Her name was Jenni…and it wasn’t short for Jennifer either. Presented with a list of baby names soon after birth, she pointed at the “i” in “Jennifer,” and that was a sign to her parents that she should be named Jenni.
“Why didn’t you name her Jenny?” is what my brother asked my parents after I recently received yet another text that read “Thank you Jenny.” It would have made sense, considering that Jenny is the more popular abbreviation of Jennifer nowadays and was probably on their own list of baby names. The simple answer is that the spelling of my sister’s name (Annie) had a strong influence on mine. But when you peel back the initial layer of onion skin, you get the longer answer.
What does the longer answer entail? The fact that my parents immigrated to America and were able to have three children. The fact that the first syllable of my sister’s name translates to safeand that of mine to precious. The fact that my mom sees my sister and I as the twins she never had.
I make light of the situation (I’m thankful that my namesake wasn’t a package of turkey burgers, I really am!), but I will continue to be fiercely protective of my name. Because my parents sacrificed so much for me to be where I am, and who I am. I’m unique, metaphorically old, memorable, one-of-a-kind, but I’m also a doting daughter and a third of my parents’ American Dream.