I have been called a variety of names in my life. My birth certificate says my name is Chanelle Davis. That’s not my name. That name wasn’t even chosen for me. When I was seven I learned to write out Chanelle in cursive. I loved it. I would start with the curve of the capital C with great flourish that flowed into the hoops and bends of the h, a, then n. Then, like a finale of an elaborate carnival ride came the quadruple loopty-loops, little, high, high, little. E, double L, E. I’d practice writing it again and again.
Though my name was spelled differently, i knew that Chanel No. 5 was an expensive perfume. My little girl heart LOVED that! It was as if I too were classy, elegant, rare, and of great worth. Like a princess or movie star. Friends and family would just call me “Nellie” Which I also loved. It was a name of comfort, familiarty and delight. A term that meant I was known. Everywhere else, Dr. offices and schools, I was “Chanelle” , but at home I was “Nellie”.
I even loved the sound of my name. “Ch” high and soft, like rainfall which dropped into the short “a” which made a gutteral sound like a drum or a snap of thunder. The “n” is short and sweet, an intro to the “elle” which was pure song. That was my name. My siblings, as siblings tend to do, knew the best way to get a rise out of me. They made fun of my name. “Smelly Nellie” was the usual favorite. They even had a rhyme and song to go with it, ask them they probably still know it by heart. (I know I can’t forget it.) “Channel” was the other one, which now I realize was more an indicator of the poor phonic skills of my brother, more so than an insult to me. It hurt the same though. “Channel” evolved into “Channel changer” which provided a couple uninspiring bits, but quickly gave way the year we aquired a remote control.
When I was twelve I asked my mom why she named me Chanelle. I was expecting some big romantic story, as children often do. She was putting lotion on her face and never looked away from the mirror. She told me how she didn’t pick out my name, she couldn’t think of anything to name me. I thought for a moment, expecting something more.
“Then where did I get my name?” I looked up at her from where I sat on the bathroom rug.
” I told Shameka to think of something. She had a best friend named Michelle, so they put their names together.”
BOOM! CRACK! My little heart broke. My name, my identity, held the same weight as a doll or child’s toy. An eight year old picked out my name because my adoptive parents couldn’t be bothered to give me something that seems like a human right, a name. ( As years passed more and more assaults on my heart would come about as details about my adoption would surface). The name I had once had so much pride in, the only thing I felt that was meant just for me, the only thing that was truly mine, was just another source of shame. I was lucky my name isn’t “Cabbage Patch” or “Puppy”.
I had a chance to be known by another name when I transferred schools Jr. year of high school. I wrote down “Nellie” on the transcripts. I wanted someplace to be familiar, a home where I belonged. Maybe this school would provide just that.
Before my first practice of pre-season for varsity volleyball I ran into a former classmate. We were friends when we were little, but hadn’t really had much interaction since the 8th grade. He asked me if I had really transferred schools and I happily confirmed. I told him I needed a fresh start, that I was even going to go by a new name.
“You’re not exactly a Nellie. I don’t know, I don’t think of Nellie when I think of you.” We continued to walk towards the park, his hands in his pocket.
“Yeah, well what to you think? Wendy? …..Roxanne?” I snickered.
“You’re just….Nelle. You’re Nelle. You know.” And that’s how I got my name. He grinned and continued down the road. (R.I.P my friend)
I’ve been called a lot of names throughout the years. Nerd, geek, slut, wannabe, loser, drama queen, clingy, crazy, n***er, cold, stupid,brat, psycho, fatty, prude, goody goody, disgusting, worthless, bitch………..the list goes on and on
They hurt the worst, the ones carved savagely in the flesh of my soul. The thing is, they never started out bad. Creative eventually turned into Crazy. Good turned into Prude. Strong and ambitious turned into bitch. Thoughtful and caring turned into clingy. It came to the point where I didn’t trust anything anybody said, and assumed people thought the worst in me.
I was nineteen when everything I knew turned to dust, my world was destroyed and irrevocably changed. I didn’t know who I was.
I spent years trying prove something to people who never really cared about me anyways – trying to live and look more like them – losing myself in the process. I would like to tell you that there was this big magical moment and life event where it all changed – but it was much more gradual and subtle than that. It took getting stepped on one too many times, used, abused and pushed around – being taken advantaged of and broken by friends and people I loved. It took losing respect for those I had once admired. You see, who you are has very little to do with whatever you’re called. You are who you are, and that’s what you will be. I had come to accept that. I did find out my ethnicity after not knowing my entire life – and that definitely had an impact. It helped solidify my identity , not because it gave it to me – but it revealed that the details were up to me, that percentages and probabilities only connected me to broader strokes, but the picture I made was ultimately up to me. I’ve noticed a difference, and you know what happened? I started respecting myself – and stopped tolerating those who disrespected me, my resources, my life and my time. I started really loving who I was and stopped giving people who belittled and attacked me opportunity. It pissed off all the right people. The only people I lost were those who benefited from my lack of self respect and self love. The people who I gained and remained are those who believe in me, love and respect me. A win, win.