Monday, February 18, 2008

A Rose By Any Other Name

I've always hated my name. My real name, that is. Ever since I was little boy, I would cook up new names for myself. At one point I wanted to change my name to Trent Archer because I thought that just sounded like the coolest name EVER. It got worse when I got to high school and suddenly I went from Tommy to Tom. I hate being called Tom. Tom is my dad and I am not him. But somewhere around college I realized I couldn't just change my name. I had lived with it for 2 whole decades. Even if I could get everyone to call me something different, it would still feel weird to not be...me.

Then one night I was watching Mallrats in my dorm room and I thought, "I really love the main character's name (T.S.) and I wish I could change my name to that." It took a few seconds before I realized that my first and middle initial were T.S. And then I got REALLY excited. If I could get people to call me T.S. then I could change my name without really changing it. That would be GREAT!

Easier said than done. My closest college friend was STUBBORN! And we were practically attached at the hip. We were TomandShara or SharaandTom. So when she decided she wasn't calling me T.S., the rest of my friends didn't have much motivation. I stopped trying and eventually ended up in New York for grad school. And then one night while I was home for Christmas break, I watched Mallrats again and I realized...I'm in a new city, with new friends, practically a new life. I could be T.S. And thus started the transition. It wasn't easy, since I had already known these new friends for four months already as Tom. But as the second semester started, we made new friends who only knew me as T.S. And teachers called on me in class as T.S. And it just became the only name they heard in reference to me. Thus they were easy slates to clean. It took a little more effort with my older friends. Some of my closest friends have known me for over a decade and it wasn't so easy for them. But with a little tough love and stern repetitions of "that's not my name" they eventually got used to it. Though it was funny to see how visual memory came into play. They would call me T.S. fluently over the phone, but the minute they saw my face they instinctually reverted back to Tom. It took them a LONG time to transition. In fact, Jess still slips up maybe once a year. And Shara...well, she still refuses. But she's always been a stubborn one.
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Anyway, all of that backstory (and I am the king of blathering backstory) is leading up to a point. The point is, I've worked so hard to establish this new name that I never foresaw that it would come with it's own can of worms. They're definitely worth dealing with, but I just think it is amusing that I wanted a more original name, a more memorable name, and it jumbles people up.

The first problem I ran into actually came about via celebrity. A friend from grad school had started an official fan club for Kristen Chenoweth (broadway star, Olive on Pushing Daisies) and I was able to go backstage and present her with a Valentine's Day card to let her know we had raised a ton of money in her name for the BC/EFA charity. She shakes my hand, leans in (and up, since I'm so tall) and says "T.S. how do you spell that?"

My jaw almost HIT THE FLOOR! I didn't know what to say. How did I answer this without making Kristen Chenoweth feel foolish, or without sounding snotty or impertinent. I looked at my friends and got blank stares, so I turned back to her and said, "Um...T period S period?" She laughed! "I thought it was something exotic, like T-i-a-s." She looked to my friends for approval and they just smiled and nodded. It was a good laugh for a while, and we chocked it up to a Cheno blonde moment. But it wasn't just her. A LOT of people have asked me if T.S. is a foreign name, or something exotic. Or they'll say, "wait, say that again" like they don't exactly get it. They're not alone.

I've found a good way of responding to this one after a few years of fumbling. I just say "like T.S. Eliot." If they still don't get it after that, I know I tried my best.

The other thing I get a lot are people calling me by different initials---which I'll say right now, I DO NOT understand. What part of me strikes ANYONE as a T.J.? Especially when T.S. is so distinct and random and (not that I planned it this way, but) literary. The other one I've gotten, which I REALLY don't get, is T.C. How people go to T.C. from T.S. I'll never understand, but it's happened more than once with different people.

And third, I get A LOT of people, especially through work and most especially via email, who seem to think I am being vague and just giving initials to be elusive, or who aren't sure if that is what they should call me (because in all likelihood, I could just be lazy and not want to write out my whole name). Those are the moments I feel most awkward and a little guilty, but I have to remind myself that not only am I signing T.S. to my emails, but my auto-signature says "T.S. Ferguson" in it, and my work email, which is first name.last name uses TS as well.

These are just little bumps in the road, little karmic bird poops for venturing away from my birth name. But they're all totally worth it, because now I love my name. I just think some of these things are amusing, given that I was plain old Tom for most of my life. I could've taken the easier course, but it wouldn't have been as fun.

That actually reminds me of Robert Frost. Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— / I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference. Story of my freaking life.

3 comments:

ktbuffy said...

You know, it's funny, but I was halfway through reading this post, and when you said your given name was Tom (or Thomas, whatever), I thought to myself, "No way, he's not a Tom." You're a T.S. to me!

T.S. said...

I love to hear that. I never felt like a Tom. It's like when some people say "don't call me Mr. xxx. That's my dad." That's how I feel about "Tom Ferguson." It doesn't feel like me AT ALL.

Mermaid Tales said...

omg omg i miss yo0o0o0ou.

I love T.S. It FITS you. Although, you can also be an EDUARDO if you'd like, but you should go with your gut ;)

Read my list about Montana things. It's partly funny.

love,
Z