One year in middle school, I decided to go by the name Katie. It's such a nice, sensible, ordinary name. One that requires no explanation at introduction and no repeating.
Katie was Trés American. As American as the ham and cheese on Wonderbread sandwiches I wished my mother would make for lunch, instead of Polish store ham and Morski cheese on sourdough rye bread. Or a Twinkie, or even a bag of potato chips in your lunch bag.
At the beginning of the school year, when the teachers would read aloud the names of different students, when they would hit that long pause and begin the uncomfortable ritual of butchering my legal first name, I would raise my hand and say with a nervous smile "It's Katie". You could see their shoulders collapse with relief at not having to struggle with a "foreigner" name.
For the first few weeks, when someone would say "Katie", I wouldn't register that they meant me. Because for over a decade before, I was Kasia.
And even after, the oddest sensation was of hearing someone say "Katie" and being confused which Katie they meant. Since there were a billion in my school. Along with Jessica, Jennifer, Amy and Kim.
It felt wonderful, or at least I told myself it did. Blending into the background, not sticking out like a sore thumb. It was fabulous.
But what I realized after that first year was over was something I didn't count on. I didn't count on my name, Kasia, evoking a sense of actually being. And not just being here. Physically breathing. Me. But a sense of being from, a line of existence stretching back generations before me. Like whispers behind me encouraging me through my future. A sense of coming from somewhere, others, events, dreams and prayers prior to, the chain of events that made me.
I realized that my name is not where I am from, it has nothing to do with a place. My name is who I am from.
I was Kasia. It didn't matter that it stuck out. It didn't matter if it didn't. It was my true name. Like a brand on my soul, etched over countless generations slowly with tears, laughter, and change.
The Grand Canyon was carved by flowing water. I was carved out by the flow of time.
I'm not a Katie. I'm Kasia.
What's your name and what does it mean to you? Did you ever try going by a different name, and if so, how did that feel?
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