Not By Any Other Name
Wherefore art thou, Candy?
"Are you Karen?" asks Karen, a business client, surprised to learn my legal name after sending an electronic payment. "I thought your name was Candy."
It is. It isn't.
I divulge the short version I've often repeated: "I'm 'Karen' to Uncle Sam, but since birth I've been called Candy — except when my mother was angry at me."
"It's hard to be a Karen these days," the other Karen bemoans, referring to the viral meme of a middle-aged white woman behaving in an entitled or racist manner.
"I'm 'Karen' to Uncle Sam, but since birth I've been called Candy — except when my mother was angry at me."
Various studies have estimated that up to 20% of Americans dislike their names. It doesn't fit their personality. Or they have a negative association because of an offensive person they know. Other names are spot on. Could Napoleon have been anything else? Or Eleanor Roosevelt, Paul Revere, or Cesar Chavez?
Norma Jean Mortenson might not have been iconic had she not transformed into Marilyn Monroe. If Alexander Hamilton's mother had fancied Paul, Lin-Manuel Miranda would have had to hip-hop to a different drummer. Good thing Franklin's mom chose Benjamin, or we wouldn't know how to refer to a hundred-dollar bill.
My Two Names
I've always had two names, as if one is an alias.
I was born Caryn, after Aunt Clara. Many Jewish parents honor a deceased relative by selecting an eponym for their newborn beginning with the first letter of that cherished person's name. This tradition preserves that person's memory, encouraging the newborn to live up to their good qualities.
Since I never knew Clara, I couldn't use her as my role model. And what if she'd been nasty?
"I was afraid no one would be able to spell Caryn," my mother explained. She crossed it out on my birth certificate and hand wrote Karen. So, I was named after no one.
"I was afraid no one would be able to spell Caryn," my mother explained.
Soon after my cord was cut, Mom began calling me Candy, claiming I was sweet. She stopped regarding me as sugar-coated during adolescence, when my hormones were raging and hers were dwindling. My older brother called me many things, but nothing repeatable here.
Children were confused when I revealed my nickname, giggling while responding, "Can I eat you?"
In elementary school my teachers called me Candy. But the first day of sixth grade, stern Mrs. Gerber — who ate stinky tuna sandwiches while we completed reading assignments — barked, "Karen is on my roster. That's who you are."
I felt like an imposter every time she called on Karen, whoever she was. Until then I'd adored being differentiated from all the other Karens, Susans and Lindas. I had two lives: the fictitious Karen on every school assignment, and the sweet Candy among family and friends.
I always resented the bad jokes. "Candy," a novel by Terry Southern, a satire of Voltaire's "Candide," was a racy page-turner popular when I was a kid.
"Are you the one they wrote that book about?" too many people asked when first introduced.
I delivered a snappy comeback: "Yes, but I've reformed."
My Double Identity Became Complicated
More recently, in doctors' offices when nurses called, "Karen," I'd pause, not identifying with that moniker. MDs treated Karen but it was Candy they cured.
Occasionally I wondered if I'd outgrow it. Would "Candy" be taken seriously as a wise professor or serious writer?
My double identity became more complicated. Social Security, passport, and banks listed me as Karen…but I'd randomly picked Karen, Candy, Karen C., or Karen Candy for different credit cards, forgetting which pseudonym was linked to which card. When salespeople inquired, I'd say, "Let me check." They eyed me as if I were a thief with someone's stolen identity.
My paychecks were made out to Candy for decades — until Human Resources at my university suddenly informed me I had to be paid by my legal appellation. My bylines as a writer were always Candy, as if I had a nom de plume. Occasionally I wondered if I'd outgrow it. Would "Candy" be taken seriously as a wise professor or serious writer?
Names are powerful yet complicated. My husband (Steve to me, Steven to his mother) and I spent hours debating names for our daughter during my pregnancy. Stamping a newborn with a title for life was a difficult choice. Since Steve and I had fallen in love with each other during several romantic trips to France, I suggested "Amy." Ami means friend, and the verb aimer means "to like" or "love." It was unanimous. Steve was opposed to my preference, Aimee.
"No one will be able to spell it," he claimed. Just like Caryn. History repeats itself.
Often, I've thought of changing my legal label, but it seemed complicated to erase every past record. I learned to live with two personas.
An Epithet Can't Sum Me Up
On Instagram I emerged with a third persona. Many men — decades younger than me — began requesting follow requests. How r u doing? they messaged me, even Hello beautiful. These predators could be my sons. My millennial daughter pointed out they were fishing to connect with a sexy woman just because of my name. I grant Sexy Candy exclusively to my husband. And possibly Matt Damon.
There isn't an official legal Candy, but I am not a Karen in more ways than one.
"What's in a name?" goes back to the balcony monologue in "Romeo and Juliet." — "That which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet." Juliet can't marry Romeo because their families are feuding. She realizes his name doesn't define their relationship; she'd still be this much in love even if he weren't a Montague.
My husband fell in love with Candy, officially married a Karen, and addresses me as Candy, honey, or hon. Even though my daughter is grown, whenever someone calls out "Mom!" on the street, I instinctively turn around. My mother labeled me sweet, and I strive to live up to that reputation. My students usually call me Candy with respect, although I frown upon emails where they address me "Hey…"
There isn't an official legal Candy, but I am not a Karen in more ways than one. I cannot be summed up by an epithet. I'm a woman of different dimensions and moods, so how could one name describe me? I am me.