Call me Jessica

Call me Jessica

My name is Jessica. More specifically, my name is Jessica Lynn Gardner.

I was given my first name in memory of my late grandfather, Jesse. We never met because he died on my mom's 13th birthday.

Lynn, my middle name, is the first name of my mom's best friend from college. They were roommates for at least their freshman year, although I think they were in the Alpha Delta Pi sorority and were roommates then too. Lynn also stood up in my parents' wedding.

Why am I telling you all of this?

For some reason, I am frequently called Jennifer. By frequently, I mean at least a few times a week and sometimes daily.

Some people claim they make the mistake because my name is similar to the actress Jennifer Garner. Sure, I understand that. I'm sure people mistake her for me all the time too. But it's been happening for far longer than she's been a household name, so I don't really think it has anything to do with her.

When I was a kid, Jessica was an out-of-the-ordinary name. You know all those name keychains, magnets, etc. that you see in dime stores (well, I just aged myself)? In the 1970s, they never had my name on them. That's how unpopular my name was at the time. We'd search all the time, but never once found them.

According to BehindTheName.com, in 1971, Jessica was the #64 most popular girl name with 0.306% of all girls being named Jessica. Or 3,060 of every 1,000,000 babies was named Jessica in 1971. At the height of its popularity, in the 1987, Jessica was the #1 name for girls and was given to 2.989% of all girls. That works out to 28,980 out of 1,000,000 girls were named Jessica in 1987. (source)

When I was in school, teachers would call me Jennifer. For as long as I can remember, when I met new people they frequently call me Jennifer within minutes of learning my actual name. I've even been introduced to new people as Jennifer.

In a professional setting, this mistake happens regularly. The worst was when I was when a member of senior staff introduced publicly (to about 50 people) and called me by the wrong name.  She had no idea that he'd done it and I felt about 1 inch tall, which would be about 62 inches shorter than my actual height of 5'3. I was new to the organization, already having second thoughts about having accepted the job, and cried all the way home that day.

People I've known my entire life, but whom I don't see very often make the mistake too. Even a guy I was dating called me Jennifer, while we were dating. Want to guess how THAT went over?

Being called Jennifer used to really upset me. I couldn't understand why people couldn't remember my name. It made me feel invisible and like I was completely unmemorable. My body would physically tighten as the anxiety and humiliation of being called the wrong name quickly moved through me. I could feel my face turn bright red and I simply wanted to crawl into a hole. I had enough problems with self-esteem; I didn't need people not being able to remember my name to make me feel worse about myself.

I don't know why I physically felt so awful when people would introduce me to others using the wrong name, but I did. They usually didn't even know they'd called me by the wrong name until I would say something like, "I'm sorry. I don't mean to correct you, but my name is actually Jessica." Yep. I was apologizing for the other person's mistake. And I felt like crap for doing so.

I'd like to tell you that I have always laughed off this mistake, but that would be lying. I haven't always reacted well. Sometimes, in fact, I've reacted poorly with snark and sarcasm. I'm not proud of that. No matter how I reacted though, I always felt like crap inside. And that feeling would last for hours. Here's just a sample of what went through my head on an endless loop:

  • Why did the person make the mistake? There's no good answer to this.
  • Does the other person not care about me? Even if the answer is yes, I would answer no in my head.
  • Didn't I enunciate well when I initially introduced myself? No. I have no problem enunciating and I never mumble. Talking too softly is not something I've ever been accused of.
  • Don't I matter? Again, the answer to this goes downhill quickly.

Finally, I realized that other people not remembering my name is less about me and more about them. Jessica and Jennifer are both common names beginning with "J-e-double consonant-i-consonant-vowel." It's not so far fetched that people mix the two up. I've stopped apologizing for other people's mistakes and laugh it off much more. I still correct people, but I no longer internalize it.

I've come to peace with my name and with people messing it up.

Just don't call me Jennifer.

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    Jessica Gardner

    A native of Chicago's Northwest Suburbs and resident of the North Shore, Little Merry Sunshine comes by her name honestly. The story goes that as a child, she was always so happy that she even slept with a smile on her face. Her mom nicknamed her Little Merry Sunshine. It stuck, along with her insatiable desire to focus on the good in the world and to leave it a little better than she found it. She does this by sharing her passions and dreams, what inspires her, and maybe you too, and furthering the discussion about how we can listen to our better angels. You can reach her at LittleMerrySunshineCN[at]WowWay[dot]com.

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