My parents named me after an epic poem, which is SO my parents that it really couldn’t have surprised anyone when they announced it. My mother says she read the poem when she was a young girl, and the name stuck with her. She says, “I thought it was the most beautiful name I’d ever seen then, and I feel the same way now.” Of course she does. It’s much easier to fall in love with a name that isn’t yours. In order to love your own name, you have to admit that it fits you—you have to believe that this is true. You have to own it and be glad that you carry it with you. Many people can do this. Other people can’t, for various (and often totally valid) reasons.
I’m somewhere in between, I guess. It’s not that I don’t like my name. It’s just that I keep trying to find the best version of it. The one that suits me the most.
The first two words I learned were the first words that mostly everyone learns: “ma-ma” and “da-da.” My parents then expected me to learn my own 10-letter, four-syllable name, which is a bit like teaching someone to swim and then asking them to win a gold medal at the Olympics on the very same day. My mother says she sat with me for hours, repeating “E-van-ge-line” over and over, in the hopes that I’d comprehend it and repeat it back to her. Eventually, I responded with “Leen”—which I think is pretty good for a tiny baby with a limited vocabulary! My parents were so delighted that they referred to me as “Leen” almost exclusively until I was five and headed off to kindergarten.
“Now, if anyone asks you your name, what are you going to say?” My mother was tying my hair back before my first day of school and trying to reinforce the Great Evangeline Push that my parents had picked up once again. They knew I’d need to learn to spell my full name at school and had only referred to me as “Evangeline” for months in order to prepare me for using it on a regular basis.
“I say nothing,” I said. “I don’t talk to strangers.”
“Well, you’ve got me there,” my mother said.
The kids in my kindergarten class struggled a bit with my name: One spent the entire year calling me “Eventually.” Another—Evan Davis—called me Tangerine, which the other kids loved and adopted as well. I was Tangerine Powell for all of kindergarten—much to my delight, because I loved tangerines and thought they accounted for the prettiest shade of orange. Also, they smell delightful, so it really can’t be taken as an insult. Tangerine was fun to say, and people liked to say it, so it made me somewhat popular. I felt like I was fun, as well. It was good to be Tangerine.
I started signing all of my drawings “TANGERINE,” which drove my parents and my teacher, Mrs. Winter, a bit mad. They had a conference to discuss “the Tangerine problem,” and the result was a ban on the name both in and out of the classroom.
“Your name is Evangeline,” my mother told me gently. “It’s a beautiful name. It’s important that you use it.” So I did…until I didn’t.
In fifth grade, I started hanging out with a new group of girls that I’d met through soccer: Allison, Madison, Olivia, and Isabella. Only they didn’t go by those names: They were Ali, Maddie, Liv, and Bella. I, for my part, was Super Jealous. In the hopes of changing that, I wrote my name down and started considering options for my own cool nickname. There was “Angel,” right in the center of my name, but that felt too forced. “Lina” might work, but didn’t feel right, either. Finally, I settled on lopping the last seven letters off of my name: Eva.
At least, I tried to go by Eva. I brought it up at soccer practice one afternoon and the conversation went a little like this:
“I can’t call you Eva,” said Maddie. “You’re not an Eva. You’re an Evangeline.”
“What if we call you Evangelina Ballerina?” suggested Ali.
“We can’t call her that,” said Bella. “That’s longer than her name is already.”
“A nickname doesn’t have to be shorter than a first name,” Ali argued.
“Pretty sure it does,” Bella shot back.
“I think your name is really pretty,” Liv said shyly. “It sounds like a fairy princess, or something.”
“Oh, ew,” said Maddie. “We’re trying to make her like her name, remember?”
This went on for several minutes before everyone got bored and moved on.
When our parents came to pick us up from practice, we did what we always did: obnoxiously yelled goodbye to one another as we got into our parents’ cars. Nobody screamed “Goodbye, Eva!” Instead? “Goodbye, Evangeline!”
The summer before eighth grade, I had a boyfriend for approximately two weeks who thought it was cute to call me Angel and write me notes that said Dear evANGELine. I was right about how wrong this sounded to me at 10. I don’t miss him.
VI. Tangerine Returns
I don’t think I’m particularly memorable, but Evan Davis remembered me. He moved away in third grade, but he was back for the first day of sophomore year, thanks to his mom’s job transfer back to town.
He was sitting in my biology class when I walked in, and when our eyes met, he smiled and yelled, “Tangerine! It’s you!”
I felt sick to my stomach. Here was this kid who remembered a five-year-old version of me, who had missed the last 10 years of my life and knew nothing about me, assuming familiarity because of a nickname I’d used in kindergarten. For all I loved about Tangerine, I didn’t feel like hiding behind her again.
Maddie—whom, it should be noted, started going by Madison in ninth grade—sat down next to me and laughed. “Why is that new kid calling you Tangerine?”
I explained the situation, and she giggled. “Well, that’s it,” she said. “I’m calling you Tangerine forever.”
“I’d rather you didn’t,” I told her.
“But it’s so cute,” she said.
“But it’s not me.” And I felt that in my toes, and at the tips of my fingers, which also felt like me—in a way that was uncontrived, unforced, uncomplicated.
I turned to Evan Davis. “Hey,” I yelled toward him. “Call me Evangeline.” ♦