If you ask my parents why they named me Denise, they will say, “We thought it was a pretty name.” And that’s how I got my name. I wasn’t named after a celebrity or anyone they knew. (Well, my mom’s roommate in college was Denise, but I wasn’t named after her, so my mother says.) My parents just liked how my name sounded. When people ask about my name, I have no story to tell.
My nickname is another matter.
As a baby, my parents addressed me by my proper name. Unlike my three girls, each given a nickname soon after birth, I had none. Then, one day while playing hide-and-seek with my parents, my nickname was born.
Like most toddlers, I wasn’t good at the hide-and-seek. I would carefully find a hiding place, usually behind some bushes. Then, my parents would yell out, “Where’s Denise?” Being the talker that I am, I couldn’t resist answering a question. At two-years-old and unable to say my name (I guess Denise was a mouthful at that age), I would respond, “Where Dee?”
My parents loved Dee so much that it stuck with me from that moment on. For all intents and purposes, my name stopped being Denise, well, unless I was in trouble, that is, and became Dee. I was Dee for a long time. Anytime we moved, I introduced myself as Dee. On the first day of school, I told my teachers to call me Dee. All of my family and friends called me Dee. That’s who I was.
Then, I hit the teen years, and, like most teenagers, I wasn’t the most rational person. (Those dang hormones!) I was in a rush to grow up. I wanted to seem older than I was (don’t all teens?). And, because of this, I disliked my nickname. Dee sounded like a little girl’s name, not the woman of the world I wanted to be. So, I decided to drop Dee and go with Denise. I thought it would make me seem older and less like a child. About this same time, we moved to a new area. Instead of telling people my nickname, I remained Denise to them. And, I liked being Denise. I felt older and more mature.
Soon after, I announced to my family that no one should ever address me as Dee again. I was Denise and planned to stay that way. I conveyed this message to my sister, parents, every cousin, aunt, uncle, and grandparent. My proclamation met with resistance. I was told, clearly, that I would always be Dee. And, while most of my extended family continued to call me Dee, my parents and sister respected my wishes, albeit grudgingly.
For years, I stayed Denise. No one knew that most of my family called me Dee. Not long after turning 21, it hit me that I lost something in my rush to grow up. I didn’t realize that a name didn’t change who I was or suddenly make me older and more mature. I missed being Dee. I missed my name.
Going back to a name isn’t easy. I let my family know that I wanted to be called Dee again, but I used Denise professionally. Of course, the only people I met were people at work. So, despite wanting to return to using my nickname, everyone knew me as Denise, not Dee.
Today, when I remember, I ask people to call me Dee (although I often forget to mention it on first introductions). It’s my name. It’s who I am.
What I find amusing is that most people I know, people I’ve asked to refer to me as Dee, often don’t. My in-laws never call me Dee, even though I mentioned they could soon after I met them. I am Aunt Denise to one niece and nephew, and Aunt Dee to another niece and nephew (my sister’s kids). To most of my friends, I am Denise. To my best friend, I’m both Denise and Dee. To my husband, I’m Dee (most of the time, other times I’m “Mommy” since we lost our names after having kids).
And, while I do love my proper name, in my heart, I am Dee. In many ways, I think Dee fits me better than Denise ever has. It’s sad that I didn’t realize it when I was a teenager trying to stretch my wings and grow up. So, if we ever meet, you are more than welcome to call me Dee.