In a 1993 episode of Seinfeld, Elaine briefly dates a man who unfortunately shares a first and last name with a serial killer, and part of the plot entails Elaine trying to convince him to change his first name. When my sister was in high school, she attended a dance with a boy who, on paper, could have been mixed up with a teenager-murdering sanitarium-escaping embodiment of evil. I’m sure he was a nice boy, but his name is the only thing that stands out in my memory. Names, like plot lines, get reused. What can you do? Not much. According to Wikipedia, my name is the single most popular name in the US from 1970-1984. Hells bell’s, there I was, born EXACTLY in the middle of that popularity! And if I EVER doubted for a moment that my parents weren’t totally hip, boy was I ever wrong.
If you’re over 25 years old, you’ve probably guessed that my first name is Jennifer. Names are funny things; we don’t have any say in the matter, at least at first. Being the fourth and final kid born to my parents, they opened up my name for discussion with my siblings. I was told that “Molly” was a strong contender, until my sister weighed in and put Molly in its place along with things like duck meat, walnuts and the Yankees*. So Jennifer it was, and it quickly became Jenny, partly as easy nickname; partly to differentiate me from the other Jennifers in my class as I entered school.
I’ve had nicknames over the years; most were fleeting and only made sense to a small group of friends for some short period of time…J-Roc (dubbed to me by my friend Erin, aka Easy E** freshmen year of college), Jen-nay (irritating Forrest Gump reference, really clever, circa 1995), Jennie (with a heart over the “i”; not what you think), and various plays on my last name, which would distract from the tight focus of this post.*** Also in high school, a boy who was marginally funny but hung out with boys who were actually funny, once tried to stick a new joke on me. “Jen,” he declared before class one day, “I tellya. Jen! Aye Tail-ya! JEN! AYE TAIL YA!” For me, he always missed the mark, his timing was off, and his repetitious effort, however valiant, didn’t catch the attention of anyone listening. (Although I can still picture his bobbing head with each repeat. Sorry VJ.)
I’ve also tried, at times while I was a kid, to give myself a nickname. I’ve seen this happen in books, on TV and in real life. It never works. And it usually backfires. Which is why I’m not called Dita today.
My name has come up a lot lately. I’ve heard “You’re the third Jen I’ve met today!” more than a couple of times recently, to which I perfunctorily respond that I’m not a Jen, but the type of person who says that will have moved on by then, so it’s really only for my scorecard. I hate the name Jen. Only thing that makes it worse is Jenn. I have liked and held dear to me people who go by that derivative, and I’m happy that’s working for them, but it just doesn’t work for me. SO I find it interesting when I introduce myself as Jenny, many people immediately change me to Jen. Why? That’s actually a different word, and it’s not what I said you should call me.
But my dad was the first to call me Peeps. Peeps, sometimes Peepers. I’m not sure why he started calling me this, but I always figured it was because I was the youngest, and it just came out one day. When it got to school, my friends probably assumed it was some sort of derivation of my last name and continued its use. Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure I’m the only kid who has a real nickname in my family. (And now this post will undoubtedly release some hidden resentments that go along with my “youngest sibling” advantages, like drinking orange juice at dinner time, or countless other things that would never have been allowed with The First Three.
I’m not clear on when the term peeps (as in my people, friends, gang, family, even parents) began being used in popular culture. Some sources say the mid-90s, and I won’t go in to who used it first, but it definitely became more popular among poseurs in the early 2000s, having crossed some line of common people acceptability. And when I heard it, I cringed like hearing Mr. Rogers recite gangster rap. Not only did it sound wrong, but it was me, my name, being all messed up and misused. But, like I learned from waitressing, it’s just something I have to let go of. Along with dumb comments and entitled fools who think they know what’s what. I shrug at these, and go back to my own business. It’s Father’s Day weekend, and I’ll always be the original Peeps to my dad. Love you Dad!
*Things my sister does not like. I had to explain.
**Neither my doing or by my encouragement.
***That was funny!
Obvious omission corner:
Yes, I haven’t mentioned Marshmallow Peeps. That’s because I don’t like them, and don’t really care about them. We’ve never really crossed paths. They have their following, and I have mine. HA!