What’s in a name, you might ask?
For me? My name game reflects and calls up various stages of my life.
I was born Debra Anne McGrath. My parents loved the name and chose to give me the simplest version—not Deborah, not Debrah, but Debra.
Ironically throughout my life, not one single solitary person has spelled it the simple way that my parents thoughtfully intended. Somehow that amuses me. Did these people maybe perceive me as more complex than I am? I will say yes. After all, I am writing this.
My name when I started school in Grade One was Debra. My teachers introduced me as Debra to the class and by the time the bell rang for our first recess I was Debbie to all who knew me. And I didn’t fight it. Even at that young age, I understood it. Debbie suited me. I was Debbie. Debbie Anne—perky, outgoing, full of beans! Debbie was my style and it attached itself to me right through Grade Thirteen.
I will admit with a slightly red face that there was one misguided period around Grade Four when I announced to the schoolyard at large that I would only answer to “Gidget”. (reddening) It didn’t take. Unless you include my sad attempts at referring to my “Gidget self” in the third person. (Burning red)
I should also say at this point that people throughout my life constantly tell me that I look like Debbie Reynolds. I even won a Debbie Reynolds lookalike contest at a Toronto City Hall Canada Day event. In fairness it wasn’t a Debbie Reynolds’s lookalike contest, it was a general lookalike contest. But I was picked out by one of the judges as a Debbie Reynolds’s lookalike. There were lots of other lookalikes—Burt Reynolds, John Travolta, Jimmy Walker, and Linda Evans. But I won and my prize was a television. I was thrilled. And that win confirmed my Debbieness.
|Me at my Debbie Reynoldest|
When I got to college and desperately needed to be taken seriously, I decided to adopt my given name, Debra. After all, the other girls in my acting class seemed exotic and mysterious. The most colourful and exciting of these girls had hairy armpits and legs. I was so envious of them. How bold of them how “I am woman hear me roar” of them. I was determined to shed my suburban Debbie and grow the hair under my arms and legs, but the patchy results and my Mother’s voice ringing in my ears put a stop to my attempt at earthy goodness.
So Debra was re-born. I was now Debra McGrath. Dropped the Anne. After all, this was way before the Tiffani Amber Thiessen’s or the Jonathan Taylor Thomas’s. Debra was a serious actress. Someone to be reckoned with. My imagined reviews included, “Debra’s portrayal of Titania was so nuanced, so ethereal, this critic was transported.” Except it wasn’t. I wasn’t ... Titania, I mean. I was “fairy”. Unnamed fairy. With one speech. The main fairy, mind you, but that still didn’t stop me from sucking. “Over hill, over dale, over done.”
At that moment I would have given anything to retreat to the Debbie. Or even to the D. Small d. Clearly, I wasn’t worthy of the Debra. I felt that at any moment Deborah Kerr herself was going to strip me of my gossamer wings.
But Debra I remained all those years. Through sitcoms, stage plays, waitressing, and The Second City, I remained Debra, ever hopeful that the sheer class of “The Debra” would take me far. With the name Debra I could cling to some modicum of credibility, despite my less than stellar credits.
Then I met my husband and from day-one he called me Deb. Not Debbie, not Debra. And after a while (read: post menopause), I began to like this handle. Deb. Unadorned. Simple. No bullshit. Just Deb. And my favourite part is that my parents now call me Deb too. And it must be tough for them because they christened me Debra and they loved that name for me. But they got it too. Deb. Approachable. Deb.
So, once again, I have changed my professional name to Deb. Deb McGrath.
See what I mean? It’s good, isn’t it? You know where you stand with Deb.
“Hi, I’m Deb. I’m friendly. I’m accessible. I don’t take myself too too seriously. I’m over myself. I’m Deb.”
But I will always love Debra because that’s how I started. That’s the name my parents proudly gave me.
And I will always love Debbie because when I hear it called out, I know it’s a childhood friend whom I am always thrilled to see.
But now I’m Deb. Deb McGrath.
However I would be remiss if I did not thank its predecessors who made “Deb” the person she is today.
So ... My heartfelt thanks go out to Debra Anne McGrath. Debbie Anne McGrath. Gidget McGrath, Debra McGrath Mochrie, Debra Mochrie, and Debbie Anne.
I could not be Deb without you.
Barbara: Well, I envy you your name/names/handle/alias/tag/moniker/etc celebration. Mostly because even at my ripe old age, I wish my name was some other one. I will answer to Barb—and do, because almost every single person calls me Barb. Even those who’ve just been introduced to me. Even those who haven’t yet heard someone else call me Barb. Even people who are supposed to be super-polite to me. No, it’s always with the “Barb”. Funny. Anyway, I don’t hate it, it’s fine, it’s just not my … name, ya know? And Barbara? Never really embraced or loved that either. Like my poor daughter, Michele, always wish I had a name that felt more “me”. But I’m getting there. I think, to your point, Deb, “I could not be Barbara without you”. Gotta love that!
Deb: Barb, this is killing me. I had no idea you did not relate to your name. I think this is something you could open up. Why? Who do you see yourself as? What name would you give you? No pressure, but I think it is fascinating. Me? I think you are Barbara—Barbara, gorgeous Barbara. Barbara Feldon, Barbara Eden. Lovely Barbara. Three syllable Barbara. Lovely name. Of course, you have to feel that way too. That is KEY! Do our kids like their names? What else would they have called themselves? What about our readers?
Do we all hate our name at one time or another?
Barbara: Yeah, Michele does NOT like her name. We've niggled on that one for so long, trying to come up with some kind of nickname or something she’d feel is more “her”. But, nope, nothing yet (and please don’t mention her childhood nickname!!). Myself, I always wanted something more modern. My sisters have such sexy names: Catrina, Nicole. I wanted that. Weird. I feel like Barbara is old-fashioned. And yet, even as I say all this, I’m getting more and more into my name. Isn't that bizarre??? It’s a push and pull…