Tuesday, July 31, 2007

On Being a Jennifer

I was named after a celebrity, the actress Jennifer Jones.

If you are in your 20's or 30's, you may not have heard of Jones, but when I was born in 1950, she was wildly popular and considered to be one of the most beautiful women in the world. The above photo says it all, I believe.

In the 1950's and 1960's, the name "Jennifer," for a kid, was considered to be an oddity, one that set its bearers apart from the other kids. In 1950 only 750 per 1,000,000 babies were given the name Jennifer.

As a kid, I hated my name; I might as well been named Brunhilda or some other unlikely name, and set out to be known as someone else. My names of choice: "Jenni" and "Mary" (my confirmation name).

Various relatives got around the Jennifer conundrum by calling me Jeff, Jeffer, Lee, Lee-Lee, Jennilee, Bugs, Bugsy, and Bugzita.

If you call me "Jeff" or "Jeffer," I'll answer you. But then I'll know that you're a long, lost relative, even if I don't recognize you, because no one else calls me that, including my husband Jerry (who has his own identity problem; he shares the same name as one of the Superman creators).

I have re-assumed "Bugzita" as an online user ID, which I used at
Foetry and currently use at Post Foetry, a blog I created after Foetry closed, and other sites. I even own the Bugzita dot-com domain.

I spent my childhood and my teen years loathing and dodging the moniker "Jennifer." My Aunt Hazel must have felt the same because she lobbied (nearly successfully) to have my name legally changed to Candace.

At the time, my last name was Carson, so one can only imagine the profoundly negative effects of being known as "Candy Carson." Fortunately, my mother had the foresight to refuse my aunt, a formidable presence in our family.

I have been told that I did answer to "Candy." Blissfully, I do not remember this.

Still hiding behind nicknames and diminutives, I graduated from high school. I moved out to Hollywood, California, to hang out with my mother and aunt and, perhaps, get a job. Instead, I discovered the pharmaceutical delights of the time and started hanging out on the Strip and started introducing myself as "Jeff."

Then I met my first husband Jeff. "Jeff Loves Jeff" wasn't quite working out, and I felt I had outgrown "Jenni," so, reluctantly, I called an uneasy truce with Jennifer. Besides, Jeff, tired of a female upstart hijacking his name, started calling me Jennifer.

I was introduced to my new Pennsylvania in-laws and friends as Jennifer.

Over time, I not only accepted my name, but I also started loving it, both for its beauty--both aural and visual--and its rarity. Being a Jennifer was a special privilege, bestowed upon a very few young women.

And then the 70's hit; the peers who once teased me about my name started naming their baby girls "Jennifer."

According to The Name Machine, 1970, the same year my son Eric was born, was the most popular year for naming girl babies Jennifer: 35,350 per 1,000,000 births.

I didn't notice this trend until about three or four years later when I started overhearing young mothers shouting "Jennifer" to their misbehaving progeny. At first, I thought they were yelling at me because who else would be named Jennifer?

Only I wasn't misbehaving, just trying to keep my own child in line.

Suddenly, Jennifers seemed to be springing up all over the place; at first, I was flattered because, finally, others were beginning to see what I had always known, at least on some level: that being a Jennifer was not only okay, but awesome!

But then it became annoying: how dare they hijack my name? Why did every other girl have to be named Jennifer? Did the baby girl name machine run out of other lovely names? Enough, already!

In my sixth decade of life, I have called a truce with the Jennifer craze and have come to view us as belonging to a special club: You Jennifer!

I invite all Jennifers, even Jennifers with variant spellings (Jenifer, Jennyfer, Jenniffer, etc.), and those who love their Jennifers, to check out the
You Jennifer forum, where you can post your thoughts and stories about being a Jennifer or loving a Jennifer.


Jennifer (who else?)