How I learned to love my weird name

Guest post by Daryl Sztuka
Aw, good try Starbucks barista.
Aw, good try Starbucks barista.

In the mid ’80s, my parents saw the movie Splash starring Daryl Hannah. Several months later, I was born, and she became my namesake. At the time, Daryl wasn’t as common as it is today, but growing up people knew it was traditionally a boy’s name. People always commented on it or asked about it, and when I was young, I didn’t want that extra attention. I didn’t want people to think I was weird or different. When I was a kid, I used to daydream about what it would be like to have a “normal” name, like Susan, or Linda.

My parents chose semi-unusual names for my brother and me, because they grew up with very common names. When my mother worked as a nurse, she once had four other Karens on her floor at the hospital. Whenever someone got called, they would all flood the nurses’ station at once. My parents didn’t want us to be one of three or four kids in a class with our name.

Throughout my life I’ve received a variety of responses when I introduce myself. There are people who just say “What?” or “Huh?” or “Carol?” and I need to repeat my name or explain it. A few years ago I started saying, “Daryl — like a dude.” Then there are the people who tell me that my parents must have wanted a boy.

The worst response happened when I was working at my first job out of college. I picked up the phone and said my normal script, which ended with, “This is Daryl, how can I help you?” Without missing a beat, the woman on the other end of the phone said, “Daryl huh? Your parents must not have liked you very much.” (Yes, really.) I remained professional and polite on the phone, but as soon as I hung up I had to take a long coffee break to cool off. I was so angry — how could someone be so rude? I know some people would give you that “a rose by any other name” blah blah blah, but what is more intrinsically you than your name? When someone attacks it, it feels like they are attacking you. I highly doubt that woman remembers me, but I sure remember her.

On the other end of the spectrum, the funniest response to my name is guys at bars who try to use it as a pickup line: “Why are girls with dude names always so good looking?” Oof. Come on guys, you can do better.

I once showed up for my first day at a part-time job, and my new coworker told me she had expected a stockboy. At another company, all the coworkers in my new department had been expecting a guy to show up. I’ve talked to customers for months via email, only to have them sound very surprised when I speak to them on the phone for the first time. It’s kind of funny that you could talk to someone for so long and that they could have a completely different picture of you in their mind. The hiring process is also interesting; I sometimes wonder if people have seen my resume and called me in for an interview expecting to see a man.

The great thing about seeing different reactions to my name is that it immediately lets me know what kind of person I am dealing with. A brief period of confusion or a question about it is fine, but people who are openly rude or offensive? Those are the ones that I immediately know are not my kind of people.

When I met my husband, he never questioned my name. I thought that was odd — almost everyone I had ever met had at least asked about it. Then, a few weeks after we started dating, he went to visit his extended family and mentioned his Aunt Daryl. To say I was excited is a real understatement. I started asking a million questions and then I realized that was why he never asked about it; to him, it was totally normal. His aunt was the only Daryl in his life, so it never seemed strange to him.

Nowadays, I love my name. I love that there aren’t a million other women with it, and that people ask about it. I love when people say positive things about it and when they say, “That’s so different.” I love embracing the weirdness — the thing that makes me different.

When I was a kid all I wanted was to be like everyone else. But now that I’m older, I WANT to stand out, I want to be memorable. And with celebrities jumping on the girls-with-boy-names bandwagon ( I’m looking at you Blake Lively ) who knows? Maybe my parents were way ahead of the trend.

And the best thing? When you have an unusual name, people remember you. You have something that stands out to people and you’re less likely to fade into the background. You catch their eye in a way no one else can.

And at the very least, I get a laugh every time they call my Starbucks order.

Comments on How I learned to love my weird name

  1. Boy, do I feel this post.

    My first name is hyphenated. The first half is a Scandinavian name that Americans rarely pronounce or spell correctly. The second half is actually now a very common girl’s name (it wasn’t when I was born) and while most people will pronounce it correctly on its own, when combined with the first half, they usually butcher it. So not only do I have the difficulty of a hyphenated first name, but both halves of it have multiple possible pronunciations and the first half is very uncommon.

    I usually go by the first half of my name for a few reasons. One, I work in a hospital so I deal with a LOT of new people on a daily basis, so I need a name that doesn’t require too much explanation (although people still do question it). Two, by having my full first name, people can find who I am online with no problem, even without my last name. That’s scary to me.

    I do like my name but it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me to combine two names with different ethnic origins, and as a result the pronunciation doesn’t make sense. Oh well. It’s my name and I wouldn’t ever change it.

  2. I hear you on this. For me it is the spelling of my name, my parents were trying to make it as simple as possible but “Elise” looks a lot like “Elsie” and I have been called “Elsie” most of my life. When I was a kid I would get really embarrassed about having to correct people but now I just own it. The last time this happened was when I went to a new doctor and I had to correct the nurse twice because in the time she got me to my exam room she forgot again. Unfortunately when I got married my very simple last name went away and now I have to spell both names for people.

    • You should tell people you were named after the Beethoven song. Für Elise was my ringtone for years!

  3. Phaedra is actually my middle name. My first name isn’t super popular either (although much more common than Phaedra). My dad wanted to name me Phaedra, and my mom vetoed it because there was a pizza place in their home town (not where we lived) called “Faye’s” and she thought if people gave me the nick name “Phae” it would make her think of pizza. Whatever.

    I wanted a less common name for my son, so I used census data and researched online and came up with Rowan. And then right after he was born a bunch of people told me they only knew girls with that name. And in his first swim class (at 6 months) out of 6 kids there were two Rowans and a Roland. I give up… his name suits him well.

  4. I with they had a THISx1000! button.
    Nowadays I love my name, but it took some time getting there. My name is not unusual but the spelling is (Terra) and it drove me nuts as a kid! Never met or heard of another Terra until the one on the little person reality show. (and yes, I am aware of Tera Patrick but I don’t think porn names should count!)
    All I ever wanted was to buy a pencil, bicycle tag, or shot glass with my name on it. Nope.
    Not only that, but my parents graced me with a first and last name no one could spell properly, leading to a lifetime of saying my name then having to spell the whole thing out. Naturally I go and marry a man with a difficult last name!

  5. I can soooo relate. Growing up I hated my name. I love it now that I’m an adult, but as a kid I wanted something people could pronounce. I still get people who mispronounce it.

  6. I love that you wanted a “normal” name like Susan, because I great up hating my name. 🙂 It really peaked in popularity in the 1950s, so I grew up in the 80s meeting lots of teachers and friends’ moms who had my name. Once I hit my 20s I started to see the advantage – I did a lot of work with people via email and I’m sure they assumed I was much older and more experience than I was! The only thing I still really hate about it is how many people assume they should call me “Sue”.

    • The reason was that I had the American Girl doll (Molly) and was obsessed with the books – her two best friends names? Susan and Linda 🙂

  7. I have encountered a somewhat watered down version of this with my name. It’s a spelling of Lisa that was actually fairly common back in the 50s but is incredibly rare to find. Aside from a close friend of my mom’s, I didn’t know anyone else with the spelling until I was almost in my 20s and happened to accept a credit card from someone with the same spelling. We laughed at chatted about how we never see anyone else with that spelling. People get tripped up with the pronunciation, but there are quite a few who see it think it’s a really pretty variation. I’ve even been told as much when I spell my email address over the phone (which gets super awkward when my full last name is involved). So I figure I at least break even on the first name front.

  8. I love unusual names but I hate when people muck about with the spelling too an extreme. As an example when Monique becomes M’on’eek or something like that. Also names like Facebook, Hashtag etc.

    The odd thing about names is that they can suit different ages. Something like Summer is a very youthful name that may sound odd when you’re 80 but things like Ethel or Mary sound strange as a child but suit the elderly better. That’s what happened with my mum, her name is May Carol Anne but she goes by Carol because she always saw May as an older person name and it was also her mother’s name whom she didn’t get on with.

    I’m not that fond of mine, I’m lucky that it’s a fairly unusual name (there was only one other that I knew of in my school and she was a year or 2 older) but I get problems from the fact that my mum chose the less common spelling. It’s normally spelt ‘Stephanie’ and that’s what people know so it’s constantly misspelled on paperwork. And for some reason when I was young people used to accidentally call me Sophie. Although I guess I got lucky considering my mum considered Amy and that is a very common name. She also considered Natalie which is less common but I was still in the same school year as an Amy and Natalie.

    I’m not that fond of my name, I don’t much like being called by the full version, Stefanie is just so formal sounding to my ears, but at the same time I don’t really like the shortened version of Stef yet everyone defaults to it whether I want them to or not. Steffi isn’t too bad but after someone I didn’t much like used it during a not great period of time (unemployed, feeling very low etc) it’s a name I’m wary of. I’d like to change my name but I’m not sure what too. I quite like Alexandra but that’s a reasonably common name, Roxie is nice but it doesn’t fit, same with Autumn. Summer is a little too cliche though it fits better as I was born in the summer. Plus there’s the hassle of trying to find something that fits your surname especially since my whole current name sounds good together.

  9. As an Arrie (pronounced R-E) i get a lot of “Airy?” I guess like Carrie without the c? And the spellings are all over the place. In informal settings I spell it Ari, just for convenience. My last name is just as bad, so i get a lot of “uhhhh”s at doctors offices and such. I’m pretty used to it by now, though, and i LOVE my name and always have.

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