I changed my name from Liz to Emma when I was a teenager.
There were already four Liz's in my class, and it seemed too basic of a name.
Then Emma became a popular name after the eighth season of "Friends."
The summer after 8th grade, shortly before I dyed my hair Batman blue with Manic Panic, I changed my name from Liz to Emma. The name Emma seemed both new and old at the same time — and I wanted to be done with the ho-hum of Liz.
There were four in my class alone: Liz G., Liz Z., Liz D., and then there was me, Liz N. Liz was basic and too easy to find, similar to Pepsi or a football fan dressed up on game day.
Emmashimmered like tasteful sequins on a vintage dress. Emma was as magical as the color of ice. Just enough, but not too much. The truth is that I didn't want to be myself anymore because I didn't like myself very much. I was 14 years old. Does anyone really like themselves at that age? What I longed for most was to arrive home from summer camp as someone new.
My parents made me file the paperwork myself
"As long as it's not permanent damage," my mother said a few weeks later when I announced the change to my family. My father nodded along. I had already yanked my dusty backpack off the camp bus and settled into my familiar spot at the kitchen table. This was the overall life policy of my parents — except, somehow, it didn't apply to the cobalt hair, which they were strongly against.
"If you want to have it legally changed, you'll have to file the paperwork yourself though," my father added with the practicality of a lawyer. It was a fair response, though I did not appreciate it at the time. He knew I wouldn't want to deal with that paperwork and wasn't about to do it for me.
Regardless, they allowed me to evolve. My folks knew I would become so many versions of myself, which was part of growing up. We are all still developing this very day, hour, and minute. Emma was a much less common name back then — only older women or Europeans seemed to share my moniker.
Then 'Friends' made the name Emma popular
Less than a decade later, in season eight, Rachel — who the iconic Jennifer Aniston played — from "Friends" gave her and Ross's baby the very same name. Soon, little Emmas, inspired by the hit TV show, popped up like buttered kernels at a multiplex.
There was life before baby Geller-Green, and then there was life after. I am trying to say this: "Friends" changed my life, but not in the way you might think. Now, nearly every time I set foot in a grocery store, I hear, "Emma, don't touch that!" or "Not today, Emma," or just "Emmah!" shouted freely, and a sticky-faced elementary-school kid runs by, sometimes stomping on my foot.
As it turned out, the name Emma is the kind of Wonder Bread you can find on a middle shelf at Target or screamed by overzealous parents at any recreational soccer game. I can spot it on nearly every class list at my children's school, and I hear it echoed in the halls of the shopping mall near my house. It's featured in Hollywood and at the train-themed playground in Minnetonka, Minnesota. I thought I was launching an era of rareness, and I was wrong.
I'm less concerned about standing out now
There are 276,660 people in the US with the first name Emma. Unsurprisingly, I am not as unique as I once wanted to be. I changed, and the world changed, too. Sometimes, these things collide in unexpected ways.
All of this would have bothered me when I was coming of age, but not anymore. Gratefully, I am less concerned about standing out, and generally less compelled to claim my identity.
I am over 40, and in this era, a good night's sleep overly satisfies me. The way the sunlight pours through my window just so at 2 p.m. lulls me. I have meaningful work as a psychotherapist, dear friendships, and a family that's never boring. I have people who make life compelling, funny, and sometimes even lovely — and hopefully, I am no longer the complete center of my own universe.
After several decades of really caring about my name, you can now call me whatever you want. Honestly, I'm just happy if you call me.
Emma Nadler lives in Minnesota and is a psychotherapist and the author of "The Unlikely Village of Eden: A Memoir."
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