What’s In a Name

When I turned 18 I was living in a dorm at the University of Iowa. I retrieved my mail from a box with with of those letter number combination locks on it that was lined up with hundreds of other boxes in the lobby. I didn’t get a lot of mail back then, mostly padded envelopes with blank cassette tapes. I made a lot of mix tapes back then and Memorex had a deal where you could collect stickers which were tucked inside the case and when you had enough and you mailed them in, they’d send you free blank tapes. I saved up enough to order 10 free tapes and they sent them to me individually packaged. 10 padded envelopes were shoved in that long rectangular box over the course of a couple of weeks.

Interspersed with those tapes were various offers and freebies from magazines and brands. Playboy sent me a questionnaire asking what I thought the ideal woman looked like. I answered 5’3″, size A cup, athletic build. Gillette sent me a free razor, I don’t remember what level of Mach they were hocking at that point, maybe they hadn’t reached Mach at that point. The shiny card inside the envelope promised me the shave would be the best a man could get. I asked my roommate if she received the same packages and she said no, but the guys I refereed intramural soccer with had all received the razor and the questionnaire. At some point, early in the school year, I got a notice from the United States Government instructing me it was time to register for selective service. My stomach dropped until I realized I could ignore their mistake, and I dropped the notice in the trash.

When I was little my father would introduce me as Logan Michelle in an effort to reinforce the understanding that I was a little girl, not a little boy, conveniently ignoring the fact that in Italy, Michel(l)e could just as easily be a name thought of as male. It didn’t matter to me but for some reason it mattered to him. Once I was old enough to decide my own outfits, I eschewed hand me down dresses in favor of jeans and baseball shirts. No more dress shoes with buckles, only white leather Nikes with a red swoop. I don’t remember consciously trying to dress like a boy, though people called me a tomboy, I just wanted to be comfortable. I wanted to sit however I liked without worrying if my underwear was showing. I wanted to be able to slide tackle an opponent during soccer at recess without a dress or a skirt lifting up. I needed traction, it seemed practical. My mom took me to the boys department at Sears to shop for clothes because I liked polo shirts with collars and button down oxford cloth shirts and the boys department had bold, solid colors and no floral patterns.

I wish I’d kept that notice from the Government, the one telling me I was late registering for something I wasn’t legally required to register for. I appreciated the razor and used it to shave my legs. I was happy to tell Playboy my ideal woman was the spitting image of me, a short woman with ex-soccer player thighs and barely there breasts who preferred pants to skirts and wore a thin layer of Carmex on her lips when she was trying to look fetching. But the notice from the Government irked me. Did they really assume I was male because of my name?

These days I still get junk mail addressing me as a Mr., emails from brands who sell clothing for men highlighting the sale they are currently having on men’s suits or boxer shorts. The retail company where I worked for 7 years and even had a wedding registry with after I’d stopped working there, addressed all of their correspondence to me with a male honorific. I don’t mind being mistaken as male, I mind the laziness and the assumption that I am male based only on my name. The honorific seems to be used in an effort to appear professional, but when they get it wrong, my trust in their abilities wavers.

When I was younger I hated my name. It made me feel like an outsider in my own family, with siblings who had normal names that didn’t confuse people. When people learn my name I get a mix of responses from “That’s pretty!” to “That’s different.” But it’s mine and now I’m grateful for its weirdness, the confusion it causes. I would imagine I have greatly benefited from having a male leaning name when I booked guests as a producer or sent an email to anyone asking for something. My only complaint these days is I have yet to get a satisfying response from anyone at Logan Airport when they look at my ID. They never say anything and I always want to say “I OWN this place.”

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