OP/ED: What’s In A Name?

My name is Shelley. It is hard to believe my name complicated my life since I was a child. It’s even harder to believe, a name like Shelley, is still a challenge now that I am an adult. But there are a few issues that just won’t go away. The first being: people never believe Shelley is my real name.

“So your name is Michelle,” is the most common response I get from people. There was one incident when a co-worker responded to my name like she had solved some secret riddle.

“My name is Rachel too!” she boasted, as if all women name Rachel went by the alias. “Now we have two Shellys.”

That leads me to the second problem.

No matter how many times I spell my name, nine out of ten times, it comes back to me S-H-E-L-L-Y. My name is spelled with an E-Y, at the end. I don’t mind the misspellings on my souvenir key chains and coffee mugs. But by the middle of a school year- after turning in plenty of assignments- I expect my instructors to get it right.

These issues may seem elementary. I admit that I am lucky to be able to count, on one hand, the number of “smelly Shelley” or “Shelley with a bellyful of jelly” songs I heard during my recess era. What I go through is mild compared to what others have suffered because of their name.

I remember working in a call center, where most of us were in our late teens and early twenties. I sat next to a co-worker (and friend) whom everyone called Mach. He hated his real name and refused to give it to customers. But one customer insisted.

“I want your name, buddy?” the angry customer demanded, over the phone.

“I told you,” my friend, responded, “my name is Mach, sir.”

“No,” the man said becoming irate and intimidating him. I want your real name, kid.”

“Oswaldo, sir.” My friend surrender.

“What the hell is an Oswaldo?” the customer taunted, like a high school bully.

When Mach told me what had happened I couldn’t hold back the tears. Another co-worker (and friend) had asked why I was laughing so hard. I told her the story. She didn’t think it was so funny.

Her name is Ogee.

Ogee was named after a character from an old 1963 cartoon, called The Magilla Gorilla Show. I am not sure if that embarrassed her. But if so, I could relate.

For many years, I was embarrassed to admit why my mother chose to name me Shelley. I allowed people to think she randomly came up with a really cute name. It was another work incident when I first shared the history behind my name.

I was a teenager working as a bank teller. A silver haired, white man, wearing a black suit approached my working station. His eyes danced, from my name tag to my face then back to my name tag. I thought he was either a pervert or a dead giveaway secret shopper- who wasn’t any

good at disguising himself as a genuine customer. It turned out he was just drawn to the name.

“Is it short for something?” he asked.

“Straight from my birth certificate,” I told him.

“What if I told you my name was Shelley too? Would you believe me? ” he quizzed.

“Are you serious?”

“Yes, only my name is spelled with an i-e, at the end,” he said, showing me his driver’s license.

“You never thought you’d meet a man name Shellie did you? It’s actually a unisex name but most people think it’s just a girl’s name.”

“I know,” I said, ruining his moment to entertain me with fun facts. I almost felt sorry for him. I figured he had been teased as a child. But I could tell he grew to love his name, if for no other reason, than because he was proud to have overcome the embarrassment. “My father’s name is Shellie and my grandfather’s too. I am actually the third… but the only female Shelley in my family,” I said, with a smile.

Being named after my father was bitter sweet. I loved that I had his name. I just hated that his name was Shellie. When I was too young to care, I told everyone my name was Shelley Broxton Jr. After the age of 11, my mother explained there was a thin line between a cute innocence and plain ignorance.

“You are not a junior,” my mother said to me, one night. She sat on the edge of her bed and I sat Indian style on the floor facing her.

“Why not?” I asked, suspiciously. I was secretly hoping for a better edge, like I was adopted or something.

“Because only boys, who are named after their fathers, are juniors,” she elaborated.

“Well, maybe that is because I am the first girl to be named after her dad,” I retorted. My mother hated when I questioned her. She hated it even more when I got too smart for my own good.

“O.k. big mouth,” she said, warning me that she would have the last say. “You are the only e-y. Your father and grandfather spell their name with an i-e. And even if your name was also Shellie you still wouldn’t be a junior.”

“Yeah. Yeah. Because I’m a girl right?”

“No, because then you’d be Shellie Broxton III, my mother said, cleverly shutting me up.

Today, I am still tempted to claim the name, on forms and application that offer the option. In my heart, I am Shelley Broxton III. But I don’t expect anyone else to refer to me as such. I would be happy if people would simply accept me as Shelley.

– Shelley Broxton