Before I was born, my name was pulled out of a hat.
My parents couldn’t decide, so they put their favorite names on slips of paper in my dad’s worn-out UGA hat and let my older sister- who was 2 years old at the time- pick out my first and middle name. Chance and my sister gave me Mallory Kate.
I hated my name for a long time. It was hard to say when I was little, “Molwy” was the usual replacement, and then I learned what Mallory actually meant. The first thing that pops up in Google when you ask its meaning is “a nickname for an unfortunate person.” You’ll also find that it means unlucky, unhappy, illness, and doom. Doom. That’s right. It’s also fun to add in the meaning of my middle name, which comes from Katherine, meaning pure. Pure unhappiness. Pure doom.
But my feelings towards my name changed when I got to high school.
I was in the band in 8th grade, and to convince students to continue into high school, the director let us shadow the band during a football game so we would know what it was like. During the game, the band yelled out several cheers along with playing some stands tunes, but I was shocked when one of the cheers was “MALLORYYYYY, MALLORY!” I looked up to see a senior sousaphone player dancing while everyone was cheering for her.
Come to find out, this Mallory was so known for her positivity and enthusiasm, that the band had created a chant to celebrate her. She graduated, and my freshman year, I decided to emulate everything she stood for. And so every Friday night, the whole band would chant my name and I would dance like nobody was watching. This led to my receiving the role of Spirit Captain, chosen by my peers, and it was my job to lead the cheers and keep everyone’s attitude positive even on the days when we had 13 hour-long rehearsals.
I learned then that names help shape our identity, but they don’t confine us. A name is an identifier, not a definer. My name is a misnomer, and even when I don’t feel happy or I try to create it for myself and others.
But on the other hand- words hold a lot of power. Sometimes things don’t seem real until they’re said out loud.
Summer 2020 was extremely difficult for many people, myself included, so I went to counseling. During one of my sessions, I was describing how I thought my feelings and problems had never been significant enough to share. My counselor looked me straight in the eye and said, “Mallory, your feelings matter. You can take up space.”
No one had ever said that to me. But in that moment, I believed what she said and I knew it was true. It’s not that what she said suddenly became true that very moment it came out of her mouth, it had always been true. But because no one had ever said it to me, I had gone my whole life not knowing that I was allowed to talk about my feelings.
Naming truths holds a lot of power, that’s undeniable. And, names help us identify things that are true, but there are a lot of misnomers. Names can’t be the only definition.
Now, let’s complicate things a little more.
I’m currently 21 years old and about to graduate college in a few months. I have many friends who are in relationships, are engaged, married, and expecting children.
I am single. I’ve never been in a relationship, never kissed someone, never been on a date, never (to my knowledge) been the object of anyone’s affection. I was never asked to the prom, given a Valentine, or passed any notes in school. To this day, no one who would potentially be interested in me romantically has ever told me that I’m beautiful. I’ve gone 21 years without the validation that young girls spend their teenage years chasing.
Does this mean that I’m not beautiful?
But when you’re surrounded by beautiful friends who are constantly hit on, it’s hard to convince yourself of that sometimes.
I often take walks when I’m feeling down. Being outside is extremely soothing for me. On one of my walks, I was looking at a cardinal flitting around a branch. He was gorgeous, with a bright red coat and a crisp, melodic song. He didn’t need anyone to tell him that he was beautiful, he just knew it. I think nature is the most beautiful thing in the world, but I don’t really go out and tell trees how much I love them. But it doesn’t phase them, they’re still beautiful whether or not I tell them.
You don’t always need to name things. Some things are far too complex, nuanced, intricate, and deeply rooted, that there’s no name that could do it justice. Nameless things hold an air of mystery and wonder, and in a sense- power. As a writer, I like for things to have words that describe them, otherwise, I would never be able to convey how I feel about things.
But I’ve also come to hold a lot of respect for things that are unnamed. Unnamed things aren’t unimportant or lies at all. They are big, rooted, truthful things that we just haven’t got the brain-width to comprehend.
So I’ve landed in a lot of gray areas. My name is really important to me, but its meaning doesn’t define who I am. There are things about me that haven’t been said by anyone and yet are true, and truths that have yet to even have a name.
And all of those things are wrapped up every time someone calls me Mallory. I know the same is true for you.