reaching out to the past

August 3, 2010 |  Category:   life nyc remembering Seattle & the NW

New York City, June 1998

Most of you don’t know that my real name, the one on my passport and driver license, is Jennifer. If I heard this name shouted across the room, I wouldn’t react. If you called out “Jenny”, however, I would probably turn my head. It’s the name I went by for the first 21 years. My family still calls me that, but very few others do.

I changed my name when I left New York on January 2nd 1992. It seemed rather compulsive, yet necessary somehow, if I wanted to make a clean break from my life and start all over, which is what I did when I moved to Olympia, Washington. I’d never set foot in Washington prior to my move. The closest I got was the summer I spent in Portland and the Oregon Coast the year before. I didn’t know anyone there. That was the point. Those last few years in New York were pretty intense – the Dinkins years weren’t the best years in the history of the city. I was getting more and more disillusioned with art school and the relationships among my tight-knit group of friends were getting convoluted and confusing. We just needed to quit each other. So I left the city, traveled for 7 months including a 3 month stay in Ohio of all places, and went back to New York in December of ’91 to pack up my things and fly out the day after New Years.

I think it was there on the plane that I decided to change my name. Little did I know back then that it would actually be so instrumental in making myself anonymous from anyone I knew prior to 1992. I haven’t had any friend requests on Facebook from my high school/Cooper Union/East Village days and you wouldn’t be able to find me if you googled my old name (see what I did there?). So aside from 1 high school friend who actually is now lost again after we reconnected for a few years (Tina, where are you?), I am not in touch with anyone from my old life anymore. When I moved back to NY 5 years later, I was anonymous in the city again.

But you all know how stupidly nostalgic I am, right?

There are only 2 people, really, from pre-1992 that I care about re-connecting with. One who actually followed me out to Olympia 2 years after I moved there – a dear old friend who has always been like a little brother to me. We lost touch when I moved down to Portland but I was ecstatically pleased to see an email from him last December when he was in town. We were just in touch again last week. This prompted me to look up the other friend who I really missed from art school (and an old roommate) who also ran in the same circles with the first friend back in the day.

You know that nervous apprehension you get when you send an email that you are just a little bit scared to send? But…a response! And a few messages back and forth and I am so happy to have him back in my life again.
So happy.

Whatever I was running away from in 1992 is forgotten. I got my clean slate for both cross country moves. In this city, it is never really possible to avoid ghosts. Even driving down the LIE towards my parent’s house is like a moving window past my childhood. I can see our old apartment building over there, my elementary school a few streets down, the library, the post office and my high school a dozen exits later. Sometimes in my walks, I will spot a familiar face or ones that I feel I have seen before, somewhere. I haven’t felt so compelled to reconnect with any of these faces though, choosing instead to remember internally. Some memories are better left undisturbed. But I’m glad I reached out to my friend. It had been about 18 years. It felt good. Small steps. And I am giddy to have both these friends (hello J & B!) back in my life.

(And if I didn’t fool you with the name change and you knew me when I was Jenny, please say hi. If you want.)

Seattle, February 1992

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  • kate August 3, 2010 at 12:44 pm

    Funny. When I got to college I went from Kathleen to Kate, and confused every person I grew up with. My boyfriend is trying to get people to call him Will instead of Billy, and it’s unsuccessful with people we already know. Nearly impossible. We might move far away and I told him that it’s the perfect opportunity for a clean break, a new name.
    Starting fresh is something I’m rather addicted to, I must admit…

  • Annie- Ana- Anita August 3, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    I guess we all go through name changes to “escape” some type of past.
    To my family I’m Anita. (don’t ever call me that), to my friends from back home, I’m Annie, and since arriving to NYC almost 15years ago… I became Ana, which I find very utilitarian but do not like it very much.
    If you ask me for my name I will say Annie, probably because I miss that period of my life so much, my school and the comforts I had back home that i do not have here.
    On my birth certificate my name is Ana Cristina, only my parents call me that…. and when they are very mad.

  • Anna @ D16 August 3, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    It’s funny, isn’t it, this nostalgia-escapism hybrid thing. I’m like that, too. I think for me it’s a little bit about wanting to relive the past in a new way by being a new/different person — as if I can maybe do it better this time.

    p.s. Ohio?! How did that happen?

  • Louis Duke August 3, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    I want to change my name and go where no one knows my family.

  • maja August 3, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    i just wanted to let you know how much i like your blog. blogs like yours and your willingness to share so much about your life influenced my decision to go public with the blog about my son’s cancer.

  • Jenny N. August 3, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    Kind of wish I had a different name. Only because while I was in college there were 7 other Jennifer (Jenny) Nguyen’s going to UT at the same time, too, and it could be confusing for some administration despite all of our different majors.

    And I get all the wrong facebook friend requests from people I don’t know at all.

    Maybe the name change was good for you. But glad you’re finding some old friends still! :)

  • ann August 3, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    i completely understand your need to start over. i’m a socal girl and have been here all my life but by the end of this wk i will start the long drive to…get ready for it…indiana! i don’t know a soul there, and that’s the beauty of it. glad things have worked out so well for you. hoping the same for me =)

  • Lichen Frank August 3, 2010 at 9:51 pm

    I changed my name too. Different reasons, but similar outcomes. It is nice to know I am not the only one brave enough to step away from the cultural norm and throw away an ill fitting moniker.

  • bronwyn August 4, 2010 at 12:08 am

    My husband’s name is Marcus but he went by Marc all through school. He always liked Marcus better and as an adult started introducing himself that way. He had already started going by Marcus by the time I met him, but since we were introduced by people who had known him for years, he was introduced as Marc and that’s what I call him. It confuses people. You can tell what period of his life people are from by what they call him. It’s kind of interesting. I actually knew a few people who have changed their names. One started going by a different version of his given name and one just made up a whole new name all together. First and last. It’s pretty amazing that you have carved out a whole new identity for yourself and haven’t been in touch with anyone from your previous life until know.

  • alexandra August 4, 2010 at 2:51 am

    you’ve changed your name, but you still the same person. that’s une choice like any other :). i am glad you found your friends, i am sure it will be good for you. *

  • Chai Ling August 4, 2010 at 5:14 am

    I thought this only happened where i come from. Many of the kids here will stop using their Chinese name and give themselves a English name (Nicole, Christine, Charles) after finished high school. It seems like this happens everywhere. Interesting post, Jenna!

  • Jenna August 4, 2010 at 9:46 am

    Anna, yeah, ohio…My boyfriend’s parents lived in a small town in ohio that was more New England charm than what you think of ohio. It was sort of nice to go there and be taken care of for a few months after all that traveling.

    Maja, you are so brave to start your blog (and I’m super happy your boy is going home). Thank you so much for sharing and I’m honored if I had any small part in that. xo

  • molly August 4, 2010 at 10:56 pm

    “Ohio of all places”! Indeed. Having lived out my life in Washington state, and landed, just like that, in Buckeye country, that sums up my feeling about it, exactly. Glad Washington worked it’s wonder and allowed you a fresh start. It’s good, that way.

  • Sarah August 5, 2010 at 2:17 am

    I totally understand how you wanted to change your name from Jenny to Jenna… I too have that need for new start/new beginning. As a 26 year old, I feel the need to get the hell out of the town that I am in now and move somewhere else.

  • Bennett August 5, 2010 at 2:32 am

    Hey Jenny!

    I know, I’m so happy, too! You know the funny thing is I’ve been thinking about changing my name recently. I may even do it on this upcoming move to a different town…


  • Jenna August 5, 2010 at 9:54 am

    Bennett, I obviously understand the need for a name change and a fresh start, but seriously dude, you have the best first and last name of anyone I have ever known, ever!

  • Lani August 5, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    I am so behind you 100%. I had a vision of you, Mark, Lara and me running a little bakery/espresso shop in Olympia once and it’s never gone away. As for name changes, what does it mean that I don’t want to let go of my maiden name???

  • Jennifer August 10, 2010 at 3:20 pm

    Your posts resonate so much with what I am going through in my life. Thanks so much for sharing. I turned 40 this year and have questioned some of my long term friendships. We are such different people today. I love them, but I struggle to see what we have in common.
    You are one brave girl, Jenna. Just follow your instincts.