What’s In A Name

If you’ve known me for longer than three years, you know that I didn’t always go by Kate. Long story short, my parents gave me a beautiful name and I ruined it.

I’m writing this post as an apology to my friends but mostly my family to account for the years of confusion over my name.

***

When I was born, I was called by my middle name, as is the custom for some in my family. Everyone called me “Misha” until the first grade. I love my middle name and the great woman that I am named after, and I love being unique–as an adult. However, one thing that kids hate is being different from their peers. There weren’t any other Misha’s at my school, and I had recently found out that my legal first name was Kathryn (nobody called me that, so how was I to know?). So, I told my teacher that I wanted to be called Kathryn instead of Misha.

IMG_1147

Misha with the good hair

Other people recall this story differently. They say that it was a moment of me asserting my independence, of taking control of my young life. Maybe it was like that and I just don’t remember because I was so young, but I don’t see why I would have made that decision unless I wanted to fit in more. Or maybe I was just bored and wanted a change–which, come to think of it, is actually a big reason why I do a lot of the things I do.

But the story doesn’t end there. For a lot of traditional English names such as mine, there are plenty of nicknames and abbreviations. And if a person doesn’t choose a nickname on their own, one will often be given to them. Apparently “Kathryn” is just way too long of a name and people feel compelled to shorten it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told people my first name, and they follow up with: “Well yeah, but what do you go by?”

I was twelve when a boy in my class started calling me “Kat.” It was as a joke–he was messing with me, but it stuck. Instead of trying to resist it and giving him what he wanted, which was to get a rise out of me, I embraced it instead. By eighth grade,Β everyone was calling me Kat.Β I HATE BEING CALLED KAT. I hate it so much! I think I hated it then, too, but it was too late to change it. I went all the way through high school known as Kat, and every time I pictured a hypothetical woman named “Kat Snow,” she was everything I didn’t want to be. I didn’t feel feminine, I didn’t feel taken seriously, and I didn’t feel like myself when I was called Kat. (No offense to any Kats out there–I know some genuinely lovely people with that name. It’s just not for me.)

As soon as I got to college, I tried to make it easy and revert back to Kathryn. The only problem is that EVERYBODY MY AGE is named Kathryn or some variation of it. I actually did some research and confirmed that Katherine was the #26 most popular baby name of 1989 (when I was born), and combined with the Kathryn’s and Catherine’s, we have to be at least 3rd to the Amandas and Jessicas. Sure enough, when I moved into my freshman dorm there were FOUR other(K)(C)ath(ryn)(erine)s on my floor alone. So, at least three of us had to make compromises, or else it would be too confusing. My neighbor already went by Katie, so again I was stuck with “Kat” once more for my first year of college. The other three years, I cracked down and only introduced myself as Kathryn.

Then, I got accepted to the Peace Corps. I arrived at our Staging event in Philadelphia with a bunch of strangers that would later become my close friends. And that was part of the appeal of that experience: none of these people knew me. They didn’t remember me as little permed-haired Misha or awkward, surly high school Kat or confrontational college student Kathryn. I was immediately faced with a familiar situation: there was more than one (K)(C)ath(ryn)(erine) in our group. I soon found out that one of them went by Kat.

I was free! For the first time in my life, I could decide what I wanted to be called. When people came up to me and asked my name, I told them: “Kate. My name’s Kate.” I had always liked that name. And it stuck, not just with everyone else, but with me too; I finally felt like myself. And I embraced this name way more than I had the others. Nobody asked me what I “go by,” and I felt feminine and taken seriously at the same time. So when I came back from Peace Corps 18 months later, I had a new name to match the new person I was.

***

People who know me as Misha, Kathryn, or Kat are very considerate and ask me things like, “What should I call you now?” I always tell them the same thing: Call me whatever you know me as. I love being called Misha by my family and oldest friends. I know who my college friends are because I’m Kathryn to them. And I always have the high school memories of when I was Kat to keep me humble.

So, in summary, sorry that I keep changing my name. I PROMISE I won’t do it again. But I do like being Kate, mostly because she is a product of Misha and Kat and Kathryn.

And now, just for fun, a list of ALL the nicknames I’ve ever had:

  • Butch (after I got my hair cut short when I was 4–thanks a lot, Dad)
  • Katty
  • Kitty Kat
  • Kat Dog
  • Katty Kat Kat Kat (shout out to Hillary at Girls Camp 2004)
  • Katinka (shout out to Coach Sefcheck)
  • Kiki (shout out to Ron)
  • K-Swiss (shout out to Courtney, a.k.a. C-Unit)
  • Kath (shout out to my Saudi friends junior year who couldn’t pronounce my full name)
  • Kathy (shout out to Ari, Cara, and Kim)
  • You Know Nothing, Kate Snow (shout out to Xhemzi and Jon Snow himself)
  • Katerina (my Albanian name)
  • Katja
  • Kejti
  • Boo (shout out to my Boo)

And there will probably be more.

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