Parents name their children for various reasons. I never did find out why my parents gave me my first name.

I hated my name. I wanted to be an Anne or an Elizabeth, a Susan or a Mary, names that were popular at the time. Why did my parents land me with a name like Valerie? I felt alone in the world.

My name presented many problems for me as a child. It seemed incredibly long as I tried printing all the letters in the right order. When we hit cursive writing, I found writing a capital ‘V’ almost impossible. It was far too curvy and not a letter we practised often in our handwriting lessons. Imagine my horror when I had to embroider my name onto my bag in sewing classes. Hard enough to write with pen and ink, a needle and embroidery cotton made the task almost impossible.

Even the pronunciation was a challenge for many. I’m told that as a child I referred to myself as Arwee, possibly as a result of mother’s incorrect pronunciation. She seemed unable or disinterested in pronouncing Valerie as it was written, but throughout her life called me Valrie. It wasn’t until I got to school that I was called Valerie by the teachers and then, once I’d learned to read I too could see how my name should be pronounced.

At school my name left me feeling incredibly alone. Most of the kids had real names, justified by there being several of them evident in the playground. Neither my friends nor I knew anyone else called Valerie. I felt a bit of a freak, as my surname was an unusual one as well. At the age of seven even knowing someone whose name started with ‘V’ would have helped.

That all changed when I was seven years old. Walking out to the bike sheds after school one day, an older girl ran up beside me. I’d never seen her before.

“What’s your name?” she asked.

“Valerie’.

“Really.” So is mine’” she said. “I just found out today there was another Valerie in the school. How old are you?”

“Seven.”

“I’m ten.”

With that she raced away and I don’t recall ever seeing her again. I looked in the playground and hung around the bike sheds, hoping to see her. Like a guardian angel, she’d burst unannounced into my life, making me feel less alone in the world, then she disappeared again just as quickly.

The next time I came across another namesake was when I was ten years old. My father decided I should start writing letters to penfriends. He’d even found one for me. Her name was Valerie and she was seventeen years old. She must have been a very nice girl, as she didn’t mind exchanging letters with a child seven years younger. Maybe she too hankered for another Valerie in the world.

I never learned to like my name. Soon after I started swimming competitively, my coach shortened my name to Val. It was easier to shout it from the side of the pool he explained. I didn’t argue. The short and snappy Val suited my new competitive nature. I became a different person over night.

I know people who have changed their names, for different reasons. I was happy to shorten mine. I know now, if I’m called my full name it is for something either important or serious.

But I’ll never forget the other Valerie in my school, whose fleeting appearance in my life left me feeling less alone in the world.

My Memoir articles, stories and poems:

I Wore Your Sunhat – a Memory Poem

Christmas Memories

The Girl Who Wanted to Look Like Cinderella

Sibling Rivalry: The Red Dress

Thoughts on Writing Memoir

Memoir Writing: Gathering Information About The Setting

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  • Karen Gross on Jan 22, 2011

    I can empathize with you, but for the opposite reason. There were at least 3 Karens in every class. And you couldn’t shorten it. I was envious of my sister who had a real name, plus the one that she was called. Her name had more letters than mine – Deborah, and we called her Debbie, and then Deb.

    Isn’t it funny how we can have the same childhood angst, but for the opposite injustice

    Great story, well told.!

  • Jimmy Shilaho on Jan 22, 2011

    I love this. Valerie isn’t bad at all despite your difficulty with V. I have come across people with weird names like Winterbottom.

  • Val Mills on Jan 22, 2011

    Ha ha, yes Jimmy, I’ve taught a Cruise who was called that because his parents were cruising along the motorway when she went into labour!

  • Val Mills on Jan 22, 2011

    For anyone wondering, I am in the middle row of the photo, second from the right, in a black gym frock and white blouse. I was nine years old.

  • Mr Arrogant on Jan 22, 2011

    wow
    i like this….
    i could see so much reality in this

  • vijayanths on Jan 22, 2011

    Name is very important and we should have a name that we like, good share.

  • Erin Miller on Jan 22, 2011

    This is a very good article. Um what do you mean by middle row? I think I see you but I am not sure.

  • Val Mills on Jan 22, 2011

    Erin, three from the top, three from the bottom, the middle of the five.

  • fagina on Jan 22, 2011

    I saw the title and I was like why does she hate her name?? My name has embarassed me throughout my life and I always used to pester my parents to change my name. Actually my name was supposed to be fa-jee-na but in my birth certificate the name was printed as fagina. For a long time I used to fear people asking my name even. But then my sister had a baby and we all went through various names day and night and named her.That time I realised the effort my parents would have made to finalise my name( but I still don’t know how they came up with the wierdest of name!! But they were educated in malayalam(my native language) so can’t blame them as well!) Anyways now I have decided ‘come what may,I will live with this name only..People can make fun of me but that’s totally ok…This name was given to me by my parents and I wouldn’t change it just because some stupid people gets a reason for humiliating me.

  • Erin Miller on Jan 22, 2011

    Ah I see. Thanks :)

  • samgoldencoffee on Jan 22, 2011

    well written.
    thanks for sharing.

  • khalida on Jan 22, 2011

    ha ha ha :) that was pretty interesting read. i could relate so much with it. my name also is easily got by people. in fact they always pronounce it wrong! :P

  • Lord Banks on Jan 22, 2011

    Great memories and so honest! well done, not seen you comment on my work of late are you busy? take care LB

  • Raene Kaleinani on Jan 22, 2011

    You bring back memories… I met my first “Raene” two years ago…an we were both ecstatic.

  • Brewed Coffee on Jan 22, 2011

    Valerie is a beautiful name. I like how it sounds. Am sure you have looked up the meaning of it? Of Latin origin, it means “strong and healthy” I think it suits you, being an athlete. You really lived up to your name. :-)

  • Suni51 on Jan 22, 2011

    There is no reason to complain about this name. Don’t you think that being off the beaten track sounds nice and amazing. I like your name a lot. Cheers Valarie. It’s one of its kind.

  • The Soul Explorer on Jan 22, 2011

    Your name is not bad. :)

  • Starpisces on Jan 22, 2011

    I know someone with this name but without the “e” behind, and it is her real name given by parents.
    Very few people call me by my real name, only during school days, it was spelled wrongly in my birth cert and was not amended but get used to it. For your info, I have 5 names. Original name, Original name in Chinese character, English name (became permanent name), Triond name and nickname given by a friend.

  • Adrn0919 on Jan 22, 2011

    Trying living with a name that is spelled masculine and being a full figured woman. LOL I has worked well for getting job interviews. They are quite surprised when they see a female in the interview room. Very nice article thanks for sharing.

  • PR Mace on Jan 23, 2011

    I always thought Pam suited me but as a child as I wanted to be named Dawn,or Starlite or something like that. I was a child in the 70’s. I named my daughter Shanna from a book I read when I was single. While she now loves her name she has always had to tell people how to spell it and say it.

  • Harry Crossley on Jan 24, 2011

    Valerie (or Val as it is usually shortened to) is a nice sounding name. I’ve known lots, relatives some, and they are are all nice people! Nice article. What about Harry ? Always disliked it but one day I rebelled and decided I WOULD like it and be proud. now it doesn’t bother me.

  • albert1jemi on Jan 24, 2011

    great share

  • yes me on Jan 25, 2011

    Liked your memoires Val, and you have hardly changed a bit cheers

  • AWritingSighting on Jan 27, 2011

    A close friend’s sister did not like her name and it caused considerable animosity between her and her mother. She eventually changed from Elaine to Monique I believe. I must say I am surprised that you would be unhappy with a name like Valerie. Pretty name :)

  • Christine Ramsay on Jan 28, 2011

    I don’t know how I missed this one, Val….erie. Sorry, I couldn’t resist that. You know that when I was born my mother wanted to call me Valeria, which is the Italian version of your name. Unfortunately for her my cousin was born the week before me and she got that name or I would also have been a Valerie. It is not so unusual in this country. I do know a few Valeries. It sounds as if the memoirs are coming along well.

    Christine

  • ladym33 on Feb 2, 2011

    I hated my name when I was younger too. Now I am happy to have it.

  • lucia anna on Feb 17, 2011

    I like my name :)

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