I will soon be changing my last name, so I considered changing my first name, too. I began asking friends and family what they thought of the idea. Nearly everyone was supportive, as I knew they would be, because I am fortunate to have supportive people in my life. But the inevitable question was, “Why?
I’ve always struggled to connect with my name. I don’t know if it is related to the tone my mother used when she said it, or because it prompted so much teasing by peers. Whatever the reason, I always cringe slightly when I hear it.
It seems every generation has their own Ginger. If you were a boy in the 60s or 70s, the immediate question that pops into your brain when being introduced to me is, “Where’s Mary Ann?” Or if you didn’t crush on Mary Ann, you might ask, “Where’s the Skipper?”
I’m going to encourage you to no longer verbalize that question. I know the hundreds of men who have uttered those words to me over the years think they are being clever, but they’re not. The joke is old, and now, so are they.
Back when I waited tables in the late 80s and early 90s, I worked at places that offered senior citizen menus, such as Shoney’s and Ponderosa. Every evening, between the hours of 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., I would introduce myself to customers, and repeatedly be greeted with, “Where’s Fred?”
I needed that 75 cent tip, so I would joke about dancing the night away even though it wasn’t particularly amusing. Most of the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers crowd is gone now, so I don’t hear that reference much anymore.
But thank heavens we will forever have the Gingerbread Man. As a child, I was always highly disturbed by the fact that he came to life in the oven, and all manner of people and critters tried to chase him down and eat him. The fact that he bore my name made it a hundred times worse.
And it spans generations. I get titters from young and old alike as they reference the cookie boy who was outwitted and eaten by a wily fox. It is one of the few stories ever written where the hero not only dies in the end, but he actually cries, and acknowledges his own death while it is happening. Bloody horrific story if you ask me, but thank you to all those who have consistently connected me to it over the past 47 years.
When being introduced to others, I am often met with references to the spice named ginger, the Spice Girl named Ginger, or a cat, a dog, or a cousin with a horse named Ginger. I am also blessed to be frequently compared to the gum disease Gingivitis, because people think they are funny.
I won’t even start on the whole South Park/Ginger kid debacle, which was intended for humor, but prompted unfounded acts of hatred toward redheads. And for some inexplicable reason, it causes people to assume that I am a redhead. I’m not. Never have been unless it came from a bottle.
As I pondered my decision, one friend, while supportive, said something that reframed how I perceive my name.
He pointed out that it tells the story of my family. I often joke that I was born in the 60s to creative teenagers who named me after a pet goat. Except it’s not really a joke. I actually was born to teenagers in the 60s. My dad wanted to call me Junioretta, because that is how he referred to me for months prior to my birth. Mom came up with Gingeretta as a compromise. It appealed because when Dad was a kid, he got up at 4 every morning and milked a hundred goats before school. His favorite was named Ginger. Stories are important to me; particularly family stories.
In the course of this conversation, the word “kitschy” was used. I adore all things kitschy, but it had never occurred to me that my name could be described as such. I found myself sitting a little taller as my friend continued talking.
And then he said I should “own” my name. Instead of trying to live up to other’s perceptions, or live down what has been thrust upon me by silly, but hurtful, remarks, I should work it to my advantage. Turn it into a positive in my life instead of allowing it to be negative. I appreciate a good challenge.
Over the next several days, I contemplated his words. They made sense, and left me feeling empowered. Since that time, I have been working on “owning” Ginger, and I’m really starting to enjoy it. But my last name . . . that’s another story. Stay tuned!
Ginger Lumpkin is an author, motivational speaker, and mother of five. Follow her on Facebook, find her on the web: www.gingeretta.com, or contact ginger.columnist@gmail.com.