Why I’m going by my middle name now

in sbLike many parents, my mom and dad had a couple of names in mind before deciding what to call me. Their first choice was Lauren, but they figured out pretty quickly that it wouldn’t flow well with my last name — “Lauren Donovan” makes my ears bleed. My grandmother lobbied for Elinor, her own name, but my mom was concerned it wasn’t modern enough. How many 25-year-olds named Elinor do you know? Few, I’m sure.

They had issues with many names but loved Elizabeth, which was going to be my first name — until my mom remembered the horrifying cautionary tale of Lizzie Borden, the Massachusetts woman who murdered her father and stepmother with an axe in the late 1800s. Though a pretty name, my mom didn’t like the association with Lizzie Borden, so she and my dad settled with Laura, a variation of Lauren and soft two-syllable name. Elizabeth is my middle name, but I’ve always felt that it should have been my first, even though the tie to a crazed killer isn’t ideal.

Ever since I was little, I’ve always disliked being called Laura. Maybe it’s just the way people said it when scolding me — It’s just easy to pronounce it in a really nasty and obnoxious way (LOR-uh).  Elizabeth is also prettier, and when I was eight years old, I told my dad I didn’t want to be known as Laura anymore. He had to call me Elizabeth or I wouldn’t respond.

“You can do what you want, kid, but no one is going to like this,” he said. “You’re just going to start confusing everyone who knows you as Laura. Then they’re going to get mad.”

He ended up being correct as usual — my teachers refused to acknowledge my request, my friends couldn’t remember to call me Elizabeth, and I got sent to the principal’s office for signing my name as “Elizabeth” on assignments. The mission was a disaster and discouraged me from going with a new name from there on out. No one took me seriously in third grade, and it would only get worse as I aged and developed a body of work.

I could’ve have easily made the change when I moved from LA to nor Cal in 1997, but at that point, I was more focused on making a new set of friends than anything else. Lots of time flew by and suddenly I just couldn’t call myself anything else. There are lots of great nicknames for Elizabeth and only a few for Laura, but I was stuck with what I’d been given.

When I went off to college, I didn’t even think to begin calling myself anything other than Laura, not even Lori (ew, what a hideous name) or Elle, an homage to the feisty main character in Legally Blonde. Before I knew it, I had a byline and dozens of clips that made me proud, all before I’d established a career for myself in online media and journalism. It made even less sense to part ways with my post-grad byline, but as I’ve learned this year, I’m a lot more than just an article writer, and now that I’m entering a new field entirely and returning to the west coast, there’s no better time than to strip myself of my former type A identity.

Of course, I’ll still use Laura Donovan as my byline, but maybe at some point in the future, I’ll put Laura Elizabeth Donovan in print. Either way, you all know it’s me. Elizabeth, or Liz, suits me better, and I realized that when a former potential employer accidentally called me Liz.

Two weeks ago, I interviewed to be a nanny in NYC —  before my mom and friends told me to cut the bullshit and just leave the east coast already. The woman for whom I would have worked called me Liz for no reason at all, and it was then that I saw just how much I needed to get out of New York and go back to California — not as Laura the former online editor who refuses to wear tennis shoes, but Elizabeth the aspiring screenwriter with an affinity for sandals, sundresses, sunshine, and burritos.

So, ladies and gentlemen, I want to be referred to as Liz from now on. Some of you won’t do that, and I totally get it. There’s no way my family members or longtime friends are going to honor the change, and they shouldn’t have to. As far as new folks are concerned, however, I’m going by Liz. That’s how I’ll refer to myself in class, at bars, on campus, etc. Of course, when people want to add me on Facebook and such, I’ll explain Laura is my first name so they have an easier time digging me up — but let’s be real: I add most of my Facebook friends anyway 🙂


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