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What’s in a name?

The name on my birth certificate is Kathleen, and growing up, my mother and family called me Kathy.

I was born at a time when many mothers in the US named their little girls Catherine or Kathleen, so I was just one of many Kathys and Cathys in all my classrooms. I hated that! I was a unique little being and I wanted a name that was all my own!

In second grade I began to give myself nicknames to use at school:. Kat, Kitty, even Cadillac. In 7th grade, by then firmly a stoner, my brother gave me the name Kona — a name that stuck throughout my junior high and high school years.

When I was 15, already well beyond being a mere stoner, I was put into a facility for wayward kids with drug and behavioral problems. There I was told no more nicknames: I had to go by the name I was given at birth, So I became Kathleen. When I was released a year later, no longer using drugs but also quite broken down, I knew I could no longer be Kona, but was at odds with who I should be. After wavering between being Kathy and Kathleen, I eventually settled on the mandated default, Kathleen. And that’s the name I have used ever since.

All through my adulthood, my name has nagged at me. It’s a nice name, but am I using it only because I was ordered to? It’s pretty, but is it mine? Is it really me?

Very late in my 40s I toyed with the idea of asking people to call me Kate, but it felt too artificial and odd, so I gave it up and fell back into being Kathleen. Now I have a handful of friends who call me Kate and a smaller few who call me Katie — I absolutely treasure hearing and seeing myself called by those names.

So I am Kathleen. While I own the name, I still feel a little unease that this is a name that was imposed on me in a bad place and time. I am Kathleen, but when I sign an email or informal note, I just sign it K.

So I can be anyone.


(But not Kathy. I hate being called Kathy!)