A Name Will Grow Onto You

Let me introduce myself. My name is Jane, and I’m not happy about it. OK, I said it.

As a kid, my name was the butt of juvenile jokes. “Run, Jane, run,” said some Dick-and-Jane children’s book readers. In the ’60s, the books relied on “sight-word reading methods” — and what better name to use for its characters than something simple and easily recognizable?

I wasn’t permanently scarred by this, but I do complain about it a lot. Why couldn’t my mom have given me a melodic name like my older sister Carol, who is a great singer; or my other older sister Jean, a free spirit named after a character in a popular romantic Japanese love story titled Hawaii no Yoru (Evening in Hawaii), filmed on Oahu in the ’50s?

“The name Jean sounded good, so I gave you the name Jane and it was easy to write,” my native Japanese mom tried unsuccessfully to console me. “Really?” I questioned her, hoping to extract a more meaningful explanation to my existence.

To appease me, she mentions a Japanese idiom, Namae in makeru, which means “(You will) lose to your name” — implying a simple name is good because you won’t have to compete with it or live up to it.

Interpreting that as defeatist, I continue to seek. Merriam-Webster’s unabridged dictionary defines Jane as a small Genoese coin in England in the 1300s. So now I am just an Italian Jane Goodall. One even elected to spell her name Jane instead of Jayne, like American actress/activist Jane Fonda.

Not to be ignored is the beloved classic rock song Sweet Jane (aka love). In a nutshell, I see Lou Reed’s lyrics wisely alluding to basic truths: that everyone plays a role and everyone has a heart, so don’t hate it and don’t break it.

Finally, the character of female protagonist Jane Eyre, created by Charlotte Bronte. Jane is passionate and strongly principled, valuing freedom and independence.

While reading the book’s synopsis, I have an epiphany: Names don’t make us. If that were the case, I’d be a celebrity, the Queen of England or a primate expert. Or I would be plain Jane, boring, plain and simple. Instead, I am passionate, principled and free!

Mom was right. My name is not for me to become. Instead, it should become me. Only then would I be happy with my name.

And now I am.