- I changed my name from Liz to Emma when I was a teenager.
- I already had four Lizes in my class and this name seems so simple.
- Then Emma became a household name after one season of Friends.
The summer after 8th grade, just before I dyed my hair Batman blue with Manic Panic, I changed my name from Liz to Emma. The name Emma seemed both new and old at the same time – and I wanted to end Liz’s ho-hum.
There were only four people in my class: Liz G., Liz Z., Liz D., and then me, Liz N. Liz was plain and easy to spot as a soccer fan dressed for Pepsi or game day.
Emma it sparkled like tasteful sequins on her vintage dress. Emma was as magical as the color of ice. Just enough, but not too much. The truth is, I didn’t want to be myself anymore because I didn’t like myself very much. I was 14 years old. Does anyone really like themselves at this age? What I wanted most was to come home from summer camp feeling fresh.
My parents forced me to fill out the documents myself
When I announced the change to my family a few weeks later, my mother said, “It’s not permanent damage.” My father nodded. I had already removed my dusty backpack from the camp bus and settled into my familiar spot at the kitchen table. That was my parents’ general life policy (except for cobalt hair, which they were adamantly against).
“If you want it legally changed, you have to file the papers yourself,” my father added with the practicality of a lawyer. It was a fair response, though I didn’t appreciate it at the time. He knew I wouldn’t want to deal with this paperwork and he wasn’t going to do it for me.
Regardless, I was allowed to evolve. My relatives knew that I would become many versions of myself, which was part of growing up. We are all still evolving in this very day, hour and minute. Emma was less common back then – only older women or Europeans shared my nickname.
Then “Friends” made the name Emma famous
Less than a decade later, Rachel (played by the iconic Jennifer Aniston) from Friends in season eight gave her and Ross’s baby the same name. Soon, little Emma babies, inspired by the hit TV show, appeared like oiled kernels in a multiplex.
There was life before baby Geller-Green, and there was life after. This is what I mean: “Friends” it changed my life, but not in the way you might think. Now almost every time I set foot in the grocery store, I hear, “Emma, don’t touch that!” or “Not today, Emma” or just “Emmah!” he shouted freely. An elementary school student with a sticky face is running, sometimes stepping on my foot.
It turns out that the name Emma is the kind of miracle bread you’d find on the middle shelf at Target, shouted by overzealous parents at any fun soccer game. I can see it on almost every class list at my kids’ school and hear it echoing through the halls of the mall near my house. It is featured in Hollywood and also at a train-themed playground in Minnetonka, Minnesota. I thought I was entering an era of rarity and I was wrong.
I’m less worried about standing out now
There are currently 276,660 people in the United States with the first name Emma. No wonder I’m not as unique as I once wanted to be. I have changed, the world has changed. Sometimes these things collide in unexpected ways.
All of this would have bothered me as an adult, but not anymore. Thankfully, I’m less worried about standing out and generally less compelled to assert my identity either way.
I’m in my late 40s and a good night’s sleep at this age is extremely satisfying. The sunlight streaming through my window calms me, so I have a meaningful job as a psychotherapist at 2am, some dear friendships, and a family of my own that is never, ever boring. There are people who make my life interesting, funny and sometimes even lovable – and I hope I’m not the exact center of my own universe anymore.
After several decades of really caring about my name, you can now call me whatever you want. Honestly, I’d be happy if you called me.
Emma Nadler lives in Minnesota and is a psychotherapist and author:The Village of Eden: A Memoir.”