Saturday, January 6, 2007

The Name Game.

In elementary school, your primary objective is to blend in. Any variations - even in spelling - are considered mutations. You discover life beyond the ways of your family, and what you once thought normal subsequently takes on the form of a quirk. Some embrace these differences at an early age, confident and/or indifferent to the thoughts of those around them while others reconcile these differences by quickly sweeping any vestige of irregularity under the rug. I wish I could say I was the former.

As a first born raised by immigrant parents, I wasn't hip to the cultural happenings of the day. There was no one to tell me how to layer my multi-colored tube socks and no older sibling to turn me on to the NKOTB songs currently in radio rotation. While all the other 5th graders were collectively chanting, "Oh my God, Becky, look.." during recess, I was left wondering who exactly was this Becky, and why didn't I know her? It wasn't until middle school that I learned of the curiously-monikered knight named Mix-A-Lot, and due to circumstance beyond my control, I simply wasn't in the know.

It was at this early age that I discovered the pressures of uniformity, even in name. Growing up, there weren't many others who shared my name, and certainly no one who spelled it with a 'k'. Erica's were rare, and Erika's, non-existent. I hated that 'k'. 'K' represented all that was wrong with the world - from Kryptonite to the Ku Klux Klan. I abhored its obtrusiveness, constantly jutting out and disrupting the otherwise smooth flow of my pen when learning to write my name in cursive. I resented that whenever I would scan the racks of 100+ personalized key chains populated with the likes of Emily’s, Emma’s, and Erin’s, all I could see was one glaring omission: Erika. It's not that I was all that particular. Being the ever tolerant nine-year old, Erica or even Ericka would have made suitable replacements.

To be honest, I’ve grown used to misspelling. With a first and last name like mine, it has become the norm. I am often surprised when people do manage to get one of the two correct, and even some of my closest friends still draft emails addressed to Erica. I don’t bat an eye at c’s, though ck’s may or may not raise an eyebrow. And I don’t mind. Really, I don’t. What I do notice, however, is when someone actually gets it right. And on that occasion when I’m greeted with that 'k', I respond with a smile. With college came self-acceptance - weird became unique, while odd became whimsy. And as for that lifelong battle with 'k', I've come to realize that it's not so bad after all.

This Christmas, I received the best present ever - a gift of truly Jantastic proportions. As I unwrapped the twice-wrapped box and peeled away the double layer of festive tissue paper, there it was. A skate, signed by Michelle Kwan, personally written out to one Erika with a 'k'.


hannah said...

you and jan give such awesome thoughtful gifts to each other!

i always thought that "erika" and "choung" were the correct way to spell those names... because you were the first one i knew!

David said...

is this how one writes? leave a cliff hanger till the very end or hook and then reel em in. i see how it is, i got a story for you but since i cant write i'll tell you in person the next time i see you.

caroline so. said...

so cute- :)
i was always afraid to use c's with you. i always thought you were an eriKa- but i thought I was wrong. you just kinda look like a "k" girl-- i dunno, esp?

Passionate Eater said...

"K" is visually pleasing intersection of three straight lines, it is a necessary letter in "king," "kind," and most importantly, "NkOTB," a word you used in your post! Even Wikipedia extols the history and meaning behind "K." Personally, I think "Erika" with a "K" has much more character. Or should I say, "karakter."

Passionate Eater said...

Whoops, I should have proofread that comment before submitting it. Sorry for those grammatical errors.