When I was a kid, I kind of hated my name. (Sorry Mom.) It was weird, difficult for people to pronounce, and easy to turn into mean nicknames. Stupid Chris Keith used to call me A-dog-a. Dumb old Josh Ames turned Alida Michelotti into Alida Itch-my-body. Changing to Moore was a good decision, although the mean nicknames are a thing of the past.
In 4th grade, I thought I had the chance to turn things around for myself. It was only my second year in Texas and I was still adjusting to the double negatives and thick accents of my peers, as well as the weird lunches — just who exactly thought Sausage-on-a-Stick was a good idea of healthy lunchtime fare?
Still, I had a moment (so I thought) of reprieve, a chance for a fresh start. It happened on the first day of school, 4th grade. My teacher (Mrs. Otte, possibly the worst teacher I’ve ever had) was calling roll. Before she got started, she said the words that changed my LIFE.
“I’m-onna call roll now. If y’all hear your name but you go by somethin’ diff-rnt, just tell me and I’ll write your name down here on this here list.”
Once I allowed my brain the 5 second delay required to translate her thick Texan words into understandable, grammatically correct English, I realized what she was offering. I could CHOOSE a new name! I didn’t have to be Alida (A-Dog-A) anymore! I could be anyone I wanted!
I had just a few seconds to choose my new name, the identity that would turn me into the most popular girl in the whole school. Naturally, I filtered through popular singers of the time. Debbie, Tiffany, Madonna. But those seemed too obvious, too silly. Time was running out and I was panicking. I was also too focused on choosing a new name to notice all the Christophers becoming Chris, the Matthews becoming Matt. Too focused to understand I was about to get it WRONG.
But then, in a moment of clarity, of magical transcendent knowledge, to the strains of Dexy’s Midnight Runners, I had my answer. So when Mrs. Otte said, “Alida Michelotti,” I knew just how to respond.
“Here. But I don’t go by Alida. I go by Eileen.”
She rolled with it well, only making a quick confused face as she jotted a note and my new life began! I was SO excited! For that entire day, every time I raised my hand I was rewarded with the beautiful sound of my new name. Eileen was cool. Eileen was smart. Eileen knew how to do math and was aces at crafts. Eileen was the girl everyone wanted to sit by at lunch. Eileen was kind of awesome.
I went home, raving about my amazing first day of school, keeping the story of my new identity a secret because I had an inkling my mother wouldn’t understand and that my parents would not participate in calling me Eileen. I had to make it stick at school first and then I could make the change at home. Perhaps I would ask for a name change for Christmas! Eileen Michelotti would be so great, people wouldn’t even care about the ridiculous last name.
My plan lasted a whopping 24 hours. By the time the second day of school came around, I kind of forgot about my new name. Quickly, Eileen went from being the awesome crafty popular girl to the weird one who didn’t answer when you said her name. I would raise my hand to answer a question and Mrs. Otte would say, “Eileen. Eileen? EILEEN?” and I would look around with everyone else, trying to figure out why Eileen wasn’t answering. THEN I would remember with a start that *I* was Eileen but by then I’d forgotten both the question *and* my answer and just ended up stuttering and asking to go to the bathroom.
I think Mrs. Otte thought I was slightly crazy with a urinary tract issue.
After 2 weeks, Mrs. Otte took pity on me and phased out Eileen, bringing Alida back slowly but surely. Of course, by then, the damage was SO done. Alida wasn’t cool She wasn’t good at crafts. She never recovered her math skills. And the downward slide was rapid. The nicknames started coming fast and furious and before you knew it, I was the girl everyone made fun of all the time, like every single day. Add the two subsequent eye surgeries and the eye patch and the short boy hair and 4th grade was pretty much the most abysmal year of my existence.
I’m writing to say I’m not sorry. I loved being Eileen. That day was possibly the most perfect day of my entire K-12 education. I was good at being Eileen. And to this day, whenever I hear Dexy’s Midnight Runners croon to Eileen, trying to sweet talk her into a life of promiscuity, I feel warm in my heart and smile for what might have been.
Too Ra Loo Ra Too Ra Loo Ra-aaaaa, obvi.