Thursday, April 29, 2010

What's In a Name?

I am taking a creative writing class this semester just for fun. Our first assignment was to write an essay about our name. This is what I came up with. : )

My name comes from my father's own much disliked nickname from his middle school years. He, being formally named James Todd Elsmore, was often called "Jamie" by his peers. He hated being called Jamie because to him is was a feminized version of his own name. So, to rid himself of it forever he gave it to his very first daughter, me. I'm not quite sure how I feel about being the owner of a name laden with years of frustration and a lack of tolerance for the feminine. I myself quite enjoy being a woman and think we could all stand to come closer to that side of ourselves. But regardless, it is my name. And at the end of the day, being named after my dad isn't the worst thing. My dad is a God-fearing man, with the heart of an entrepreneur. Two admirable qualities which I like to think I inherited from him, in addition to his name.

My full name was Jami Leigh Elsmore for the first twenty years of my life. When people would ask me my middle name, their eyes would instantly light up, "Oh! Like Jamie Lee Curtis!" "Yep." I would say with a smile, "Just like Jamie Lee Curtis." Well, I would think, not just like Jamie Lee Curtis. My last name isn't Curtis, and she spells both her first and middle name differently than I do. But, sure. They sound the same, so they are the same… right?

Very few individuals ever recognize the distinct spelling of my name. I can't remember a single talk I've given at church where the program didn't say Jamie, with an "e". The fairly unique spelling of my name, J-A-M-I is something I really love actually. I didn't personally meet another Jami with my own spelling until about junior year of high school. My band went on a trip to Disneyland and one of the ride attendants had a tag that said, "Jami" in bold black lettering. "Hey! I'm Jami too!" "Nice," she said. I don't think she was that impressed. But that moment was a significant one for me. It meant that I was not alone in the world, but that my name was indeed somewhat special and limited, seeing as how my first encounter with another Jami had taken me 17 years. I often feel that the constant misspelling of my name takes away from some of its charm. But, that is a hurdle that the world won't be crossing any time soon. So, I just personally recognize the uniqueness of my name in spirit when I read it misspelled in print.

My previous last name caused some difficulty for me in my middle and high school years. What rhymes with Elsmore? "Smells more" of course! The day one boy in my band started calling me Smellsmore, was the day I developed an increased awareness of my own body odor. It became a paranoia actually. Did my scent give him reason to give me that particular nickname?! I fretted over the question for a couple years until I finally realized that it wasn't me, but he who had the problem with body odor. He unfortunately didn't have a name that could be twisted into a joke about his own smelliness, so I was the one stuck with the title.

The day I got married was a happy one for me for so many reasons. One reason being that my "Elsmore Smellsmore" last name was gone forever. Another reason being that my new last name, "Hepworth" was not too far off from my original last name. Whenever I went places where they asked for my last name, I would respond, "Elsmore". "Elsworth?" "No, Elsmore." "Elswhat?" "Elsmore." "Oh, Elsmore! How do you spell that?" It was quite surprising how often people would hear my name as "Elsworth". So to make a long story short, marrying my husband Squire (talk about a unique name) felt like enough of a transition into my new identity as a married woman, but enough of the tradition from which I had come. It was perfect. The only thing that wasn't fun about getting my new last name was making the change at the social security office, and everywhere else. But that my friends is another story for another day.

Some things regarding my name have remained constant throughout my lifetime. I have always been a Jami Leigh. Sometimes people call me, "Jamileigh". I have also been called, “Jame”, "Jamer", "Jamers" (the plural form of "Jamer") and "James". The last one always makes me smile as I think about my dad’s nickname being my name, and my nickname being my dad’s name. Although, I don’t think I mind being called James as much as he did being called Jamie. When family calls me James, it has always been used in an endearing way.

The names, Jami and Leigh are in themselves not unique. Many people have the name Jamie, and with a surprising number if different spellings too. The same goes for the middle name Leigh. But, my name is unique because not only is the spelling less common than most of the other spellings, but it also represents the heritage of my own family. As a woman in a patriarchal system, I chose to give up my last name when I married my husband. But, what I never gave up, was the name of my father. I was able to keep the heritage of my Elsmore family alive in my first name, while moving on toward the future with my new last name, Hepworth.

The first letter of my name marks the end of a tradition in my family as well. My father’s parents are named James and Joni, my dad is also James (Jim), and my mom is named Judith (Judy). My older brother is named Jeremy, and I am Jami. But, where my dad wanted to continue the “J” trend, my mom wanted to end it. A few years after I was born, my little sister McKenzie came along. Where she was beginning of a new tradition, I was the end of one. And this is how I like to see myself: caught somewhere in the middle of tradition and modernity, memories and the future. I am, Jami Leigh Hepworth.


  1. That was a fun narrative, Jami!

  2. I like that a lot. I didn't know any of those things about you, I feel a bit ashamed and wish I knew you better =( To me, the love you have for your family is very apparent in that essay. I feel it when I read it. Very nice.

  3. We are both LEIGH friends. That is my middle name too.



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