July 21, 2021 / Leni Steinhardt
Yes, my name is Leni. No, you are not pronouncing it right.
Hello, my name is Leni. Growing up, I dreaded the first day of school. The whole day was full of introducing me and then reintroducing me whenever someone said my name wrong. Almost like Hermione in Harry Potter correcting Ron that ``It's leviOsa, not levioSA,” my immediate reaction to someone saying my name wrong was always, “it’s pronounced like Lainey, not Lenny.” Throughout my childhood, I would say this phrase so often that Lenny became my go-to nickname. Before I knew it, my name was no longer mine. It was a name for others to interpret.
I am aware that other people are not doing this purposefully, but every time someone pronounces my name wrong, I once again have to summon the courage to correct them. Correcting someone is always an awkward and challenging tango between finding the right words and explaining why they are indeed wrong. No one likes to be wrong, but it's my name. Why can't I be right?
Hello, my name is not Lenny. Some of my friends found the name to be funny. The first image that comes to my mind when I hear the name Lenny is either a middle-aged man or a small boy scout with a bowl cut. It always frazzled me growing up that when someone saw my name they pictured me instead. Though I was a girl scout, I would never be able to pull off a bowl cut.
It could have been so much worse. When my mom was pregnant, my parents came up with a list of baby names that would best suit their first daughter. If Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin could make headlines after naming their daughter Apple, my parents were too sure to have made the front cover with their strange names. It was very much an odd and wacky list of names.
Hello, my name could have been Cricket. Yes, like the bug, the distant cousin of a grasshopper. My father thought that the nickname Kit would be an adorable name for a child, but thought that a name like Cricket would be much more unique.
Hello, my name was almost Liesl from the charming and upbeat musical The Sound of Music. Liesl Von Trapp was the oldest of the Von Trapp children and was the one who sang the tune “16 going on 17”. Though I am very fond of this magical movie and someday I wish to be dancing through the hills of Switzerland like Julie Andrews, in some way this name could have been way more challenging for others to figure out. My parents did not choose this name because they thought the name was too similar to my mother’s name, “Lisa”.
Ultimately, my name is Leni and it is spelled this way because my parents did not like the name Elaine and did not want people to go around thinking that my name “Laine” was a nickname for Elaine. However, they must not have thought this through as now no one ever thinks my name is Laine and instead thinks of a bowl-cut boy scout, Lenny.
I knew that I had the opportunity to change my name. Whenever I came home frustrated that my friends and teachers were getting my name wrong, my mother would remind me that the option to change my given name to a different way of spelling could be an option. I always thought that when I turned 18 I would have come to a decision. Even if I did choose to change my name, I would have to file a petition with the county court to change it.
Sometimes I wish I could just walk around with a “Hello, my name is” sticker, except with the words “Hello, my name is pronounced like” written in black instead. You are most likely pronouncing my name wrong, and that’s okay. I was given a unique name at birth and it’s a given name that will forever shape who I am as a person.
I often find myself asking “What makes a name a name?” In my nineteen years, I have learned that a name encompasses memories, achievements, funny stories, and the people who enjoy calling it. At nineteen, I feel that I can't part with my name. Selfishly, I love having a name that no one else has which makes me stand out. At the end of the day, I really do not care what someone calls me, as long as they say it happy and proud. Sometimes it’s not the name that makes a person, but the person that makes the name. ■
By: Leni Steinhardt
Graphics by: Joseane Tejada
Graphics by: Joseane Tejada