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How I Got that Name

*thanks to Marilyn Chin’s inspiring poem for the title of this blog

Whenever anything goes wrong in my life, my solution is to “become a writer.”  So, it’s no surprise that after leaving my first husband, I applied to write for an “urban entertainment” magazine.  What’s surprising is that they hired me.

Let’s backtrack: I’m white.  And I don’t mean that in an urban, “I like hip-hop, too” kind of way.

I grew up in a suburban neighborhood where the streets were named after pro-golfers.  My high school class was roughly .055% diverse.  Oh, I also wasn’t allowed to listen to any song that didn’t mention God in a religious manner.

Speaking of the “religious” component of my upbringing… We called it the three D’s: no demin, no dancing, no drinking.  For most of my young life, I couldn’t wear pants or jeans. And, while we did go to concerts, they invariably ended in a call to the altar, not a call to arms.  I don’t even think I knew that alcohol existed until a trip to Dallas, where I tried my first Zima when I was 20 years old.

Yes, I’ve come a long way–mostly in the drinking area–but I haven’t come so far that the editor of the would-be magazine who hired me would be fooled.  Either he was dazzled by pink, really liked my writing sample, or wanted to sleep with me.  For those of you who haven’t taken a multiple choice test lately, the answer is always C.  For those of you who haven’t worked at an urban magazine lately, no one says they want to sleep with you.  Somehow, you just know.

I may have brought it on myself.  You see, I was really at my most hip during this time period.  Newly polygamous, I felt the most welcome at da club, rolling 20 deep, and all that.  Some good things came out of this, like getting to hang out with Dez Montero and his Division 1 crew, and writing my one and only urban article, about a dirty south crunk artist named David Banner.  The fact that I’d never heard of his music in no way lessened the vibrancy of that review.

Somehow, the many bad things that came out of this time period lingered much longer.  For example, continuing to get 3 AM {booty} calls long after I’d removed the Eminem ringer from my phone.  And while I quickly became disillusioned with my “assignment” when I was asked to review Summer Jam but not given a ticket to actually attend Summer Jam, I remained enmeshed with my “editor” for quite some time.  Garry, aka G-money, aka G, felt that he’d created me; thus, he couldn’t let go of me.

To be fair, he did name me.  In all likelihood, he just couldn’t pronounce my real name (and that’s not a slant towards his intelligence; my own brother couldn’t pronounce my name for a very long time), but when G-money called me lee lee for the first time, I felt no less important than the several times I’d felt “called by God” as a Southern Baptist teen.  I had been reborn.

Similar to any other revival, several different criteria contributed to a successful and comprehensive change in name.  First, the aforementioned divorce–what better time to “reinvent” oneself than after one awakens to find that one no longer loves the one she’s with?  Secondly, the identity entrapment by G-money, which I can only defend my role in as stupidity in the name of authenticity.  Next, the amount of {boy}friends who only knew me as lee lee, which–given that amount–made it seem everyone was calling me lee lee.  Furthermore, I got two other writing gigs under that name (Shout out to SomeOtherMagazine! and a Big FU to VelleMag), which resulted in real friends only knowing me as lee lee.  Finally, I got a job as an after-school educator at a YMCA, where, from the first day, I was known as Miz lee lee. 02148. Represent.

What compels a person to change their name?  In some instances, it’s completely acceptable.  Marriage, for example, or its beloved partner, Divorce.  There are also those rare but justifiable times when not changing your name could result in imprisonment.  In showbiz, changing your name is the name of the game.  And of course, we all know the story of Mary Ann Evans, better known as George Eliot.

Though I didn’t provide them a good reason or even really give them so much as a heads up, my family adapted pretty quickly to the new me.  During the time of my awakening, I disappointed them in countless ways, but apparently becoming lee lee wasn’t one of them.  Even my grandparents have transitioned from the awkward “Char” or creepy “Charro” to the rolls-off-your-tongue “lee lee.”  And, though strangers sometimes wonder if I’m Asian — Craigslist contacts, in fact, often drop the second lee, as though my first name and second name are really both Lee — I’ve never felt more at home than I do as lee lee.

In so many ways, G-money read me completely wrong, particularly when he attempted to transition from being my no-good editor to my even less good p-i-m-p (50 cent, he was not).  But, in my desperation to be someone else–anyone else, really–I must have sent out a signal even he could pick up on.  So I can’t regret that he was the one to rename me.  “From now on, you’re lee lee,” he’d instructed.  “When you become famous with that name, you gonna owe me.”

Neither of us knew the validity of that claim.  What started out as just a fun, spontaneous, “party girl” persona, eventually became the witty, dependable, affable woman I am today.  He’d more than just renamed me, he’d freed me.

As lee lee, I felt free to be honest, often to a fault.  As lee lee, I’ve expected nothing less from those around me.  As lee lee, I became a teacher, an editor, a writer.  As lee lee, I learned how to be a good friend.  As lee lee, I became Henri’s mom and Mark’s wife, then part of an extended family.  As lee lee, I’ve learned that a couple of beers is often just as good as 10 or 12.  And, yes, as some have predicted, and others have bemoaned, as lee lee, I will one day become famous.

However, I won’t be tracking a certain someone down to pay any alimony.  Sorry, G. You might have come up with the kick-ass name, but since then, it’s been all me.

13 responses to “How I Got that Name”

  1. Kail Kail says:

    Great post, lee…I kinda wanna call you L-Dogg or something now. Or "L double E to the L-E-E."
    I am kind of a hip-hop fanatic–or at least was, ten, maybe fifteen years ago–so this post was both illuminating and hilarious. Good for you for recognizing the need–and the means–to change!
    And now I want a beer, too.

    • llxt llxt says:

      Thanks, Kail. There are many variations of my name, including the one you mention above. Double L is a favorite among my students. And some call me "lee" just to piss me off…
      I just bought a ton of beer for the 30POV party saturday night. Why'nt ya stop on by…!

    • Avatar disperse says:

      What about "lee^2"?

  2. Avatar disperse says:

    And then there's Steven Demetre changing his name to Cat Stevens changing his name to Yusuf Islam and Prince changing his name to an unpronounceable symbol. Artists.

  3. Avatar justa says:

    Name changes in some ways are more common then people realize. I imagine there are quite a few of us who have more people that know of them by their online persona as opposed to their actual name. For many it is a way to be someone else for a little while. It is good to hear that discovering your new name brought about discovering who you really wanted to be.

    • llxt llxt says:

      that's true. i myself have several different monikers online, and i like it that way. though, with all of the Facebook linkage happening currently, it seems all of my different personas are eventually just going to become one.

  4. Loved this post. Even gave me a pre-caffeine giggle (a rare animal). I also found liberation in a name change. Well, in a pronunciation change. Before the MFA everyone called me Corinne (co-reen). But at Lesley I became the new and improved me: Corinne (co-rinn). Subtle, but still….

  5. Avatar Pual says:

    Elinel – Hell of a post. Hilarious and heartfelt. And I love your kicker. Are you from Tejas? I've got people down there. How'd you get out?
    My last name is an alias. No shit. Great, great gran-pappy changed it after fleeing from Texas to Mexico. The story was that he stole somebody's pig, which we all find hilariously suspect. My grandfather thought he killed someone. But my kid uncle (another story) and I did some digging, and we're pretty sure he knocked up an underage girl – almost certainly the truth given the family history. But I digress.

    • llxt llxt says:

      Ha Ha…that is hilarious! Truly LOL-ing right now. Most people change their name to run from their sordid past, whereas I change my name to run towards debauchery. 🙂

  6. Avatar The Tailor says:

    Great post. Yo.

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