I first heard the song as I was driving to or from no place important. When Mike Doughty sang, “I went to school with 27 Jennifers, 16 Jens, 10 Jennys,” I felt a connection, like two Lego blocks snapping together, because I too went to school with at least 27 Jennifers, 16 Jens, 10 Jennys. In my birth year of 1980, the most popular girl’s name in America was “Jennifer.” You couldn’t avoid a Jennifer without bumping into a Sara(h) or an Amanda first.
This was a problem because for the better half of the 80’s I went by the nickname “Jenny” (or Jenny Sue if you went far enough south). There was always another Jenny in the class. There are few things that can make you feel less like the special little snowflake you are than to sit in a classroom with three other girls who have the same name as you. To differentiate between us, teachers and classmates would use our last initials, so I became Jenny F.
Jenny EFF. It’s so harsh. Not cute or coy like Jenny B or Jenny Q. Jenny eff (my life). So when I was 6 and we moved to another state I became Jennette, not Jenny, and I have rarely run into any Jennettes since.
Unfortunately, my parents had always intended to use Jenny as my nickname, so they decided to get creative with the spelling. Most Americans spell my name “Jeanette” meaning “little Jean.” However, my parents wanted to call me Jenny, not Jeanie, so an “a” became an “n” and a lifetime of answering the question, “How do you spell that?” began.
In my childhood I was very anal about getting people to spell my name correctly. By college I decided it was a lost cause and let people spell it however they liked. But every time I get a bill or I receive an email, I automatically check to see if the sender has spelled my name correctly. I do it so habitually I don’t even notice that I’m doing it. The people who spell it right always score bonus points in my head. And even though technically I’m the one who spells my name oddly, whenever I see the name “Jeanette” or “Jeannette” I think to myself, “Those poor girls can’t spell their names right.”
I’m not the only one with this problem. The Facebook group for People Who Always Have To Spell Their Names For Other People has almost a half million members. My only release when spelling out my name for others is to pause after the second letter of my last name, “F.U….L.D.A.”
That said, I do like my name. Jennette is unusual enough to feel special, but not so odd as to be weird, like say “Apple” or “Moon Unit.” While I currently have no desire to have kids, I promise that if I ever do I will give them names that are easy to spell.