Shakespeare had it right when he asked, “What’s in a name?” Such a simple question with such a complicated answer because so much of your identity is tied to your name. Trying to choose a new name for myself as an adult has been a more daunting task than I had imagined. As a child, I had no trouble picking a new name and pretending to be someone else while playing. In high school, I had to choose a new identity in my foreign language classes. Since those names had to be Spanish and German it narrowed the field and made for a much faster selection process. It was fun to be someone else for 84 minutes every day, but after back to back foreign language classes, I had a daily identity crisis. My next identity crisis came this past winter when friends were trying to coax me to sign up for Facebook. I know I am behind the times not having a Facebook page, but I can barely stand the minutiae of my own life and wouldn’t be able to tolerate reading about someone else’s. Then there is the fact that I don’t want everyone I have ever met to come knocking on my virtual door. For this last reason, my persistent friends suggested using an alias which would only be shared with a select few. Once again, I found myself in the position of trying to find a new name.
Several evenings were spent combing through websites listing girls’ names that could potentially be my online identity. By the time I got to the C’s I knew I was in trouble. How could I pick a new name for myself? The possibilities were limitless and the prospect of reinventing myself should have been freeing; yet, somehow, it wasn’t. Each name I considered carried with it some preconceived notion or image and none of those seemed to fit. It was like being in the world’s biggest shoe store with every shoe at my disposal and not liking a single one. Convinced that my new name was somewhere on that list I continued through the alphabet. The further I got, the more I realized that I really do like my given name and it suits me. While that was a lovely moment of self actualization, it didn’t solve the problem of finding my online persona. In the end, I resolved that I was happy being me and chose to live vicariously through my husband’s Facebook page.
Recently, I decided to start blogging. I want to keep my professional name separate from my blogging which puts me back in the market for a new name. The search began again, but this time I took a different approach using plays on synonyms for pseudonym. Names like Naomi DePlume and Sue Dunnim made the short list, but ultimately just weren’t me. One night, I was sharing this existential conundrum with my husband who responded without a moment’s hesitation, “How about Paprika Furstenburg?”
Stunned at hearing such a ridiculous sounding name, I turned to him and said, “Who’s that? Some stripper you met in college?”
“No, she’s not a stripper. I made it up,” he said plainly.
“You just made it up now or have you been holding on to that name waiting for the right occasion to use it?” I asked.
“I just made it up sitting here. And, that’s Furstenburg with a u,” he said for clarification.
“Of course it is.” I replied. “You’ve even considered the spelling. Seriously, how did you come up with a name like that off the top of your head?” I persisted.
Finally, he confessed that he was thinking of the last name of an actor I like.
I thought about that for a moment and a name popped into my head. “Mark Feuerstein? You got Furstenburg, with a u, from Feuerstein?” I asked incredulously.
Surprised, my husband looked at me and said, “His name is Feuerstein? I thought it was Furstenburg.”
“Let’s leave the origin of the surname for a moment. Where did Paprika come from? Were you trolling in the spice rack earlier today? Is this what happens when I ask for help in the kitchen?” I asked, still intrigued at his creation of such an odd combination.
“I was just trying to think of a name that sounded good with Furstenburg and Paprika worked. Plus, your hair is almost the color of paprika,” he said, trying to be charming.
Clearly, these questions were causing him to do some unanticipated deep analysis of his spur of the moment utterance.
I couldn’t let this go, “Why Paprika? Why not rosemary, oregano or cumin?” I mentally took inventory of my spice rack.
“Rosemary is already a girl’s name so that’s not very original. Oregano sounds like a boy and cumin is just awful as a name,” he said indignantly.
So, I’m ridiculous? He thinks I should be named after a Jewish spice and I’m the one who is ridiculous! Should I choose this quirky name? It’s certainly memorable, but is she really me? A few months have passed since that night and the short list of possible pseudonyms dwindled. After each contender was eventually scratched off the list, my mind returned to Paprika Furstenburg and how she came to be. The silliness of it makes me laugh. As it turns out, what’s in a name is a spice and a mispronunciation of someone else’s last name, but somehow it fits me perfectly.