Two Ways to Say Hello

I have two ways of introducing myself. There is the introduction for students in the Pioneer Valley and then there is the introduction for everyone else.  For five college students it’s easy; I just say that I was named after the next town over. For everyone living outside of Western Mass it inevitably takes a few tries.

My name is Hadley. Yes, like the town. No, not Haley. Not Hattly. It’s pronounced the same as Hadley Arkes, but there is no need to read too much into that connection.

There are some benefits and some drawbacks to having a unique name like mine. Student IDs are tricky. When I arrived to my first day of high school, I found that my shiny new ID said “Hadly” rather than “Hadley”. There was another time two years later when I was dismayed to see “Hudley” printed along the bottom of my ID.

In getting to know my name, you actually get to know quite a lot about me. My dad went to Amherst and my mom went to Smith so, when they first started dating, the town of Hadley was the halfway point between them. Adding on to that, the name Hadley actually means “field of heather” and my mom’s name is Heather. All of this definitely serves as a good conversation starter, especially for someone who gets pretty nervous when it comes to meeting new people.  

Even though I know I identify with my name in a way that is not very common, it’s still very hard for me to not read too much into what other people’s names are. Besides outward appearances, names are one of the first pieces of information we get from another person. A good name is like a road sign that says “Hey I’m here! Turn this way. I’m interesting. I do interesting things.”

Unfortunately, the flip side of this is that people have the opportunity to make judgments based on something that is beyond our influence, something we did not necessarily decide for ourselves. Employers are less likely to hire people with unique names, especially names that are perceived to be African-American. Similarly, politicians are less likely to be voted into office if they have a name that is not easily recognizable and pronounceable.

Names that are publicly displayed are supposed to confer status and influence. There was a recent news story about a couple that was prepared to donate $20 million to a struggling college in upstate New York, on the condition that the school be renamed to include the first and last name of the wife. After a judge ruled against this modification, the deal fell through and no money was donated.

I have a lucky edge at Amherst because professors tend to memorize my name fairly quickly. I don’t have to deal with the added effort of re-pronouncing my name several times until the other person gets it right or until it becomes too awkward to correct them for a fourth or fifth time.

Having this advantage is nice, but seeing your name posted everywhere when you drive to the mall is a weird experience. I have a lot of pictures on my phone where I am wearing a goofy face, posed in front of signs that say things like Hadley gardens or the Hadley post office. Driving through the town of Hadley after school breaks is also odd, but has become a big part of the experience of returning to Amherst.

We have our names and we construct our identity around our names and they quickly become inseparable from our sense of self. We should respect each other and our titles and not care so much if our name is out there for the whole world to see. After all, the beauty in names is that they are ours. In most cases we only get one and we can choose to do with it what we will.