Wednesday, January 28, 2015

the struggles of being someone named Calla.

Forgive me for stating the obvious, but my first name is kind of weird. It’s Calla – not Kayla, Carla, or Callie. Calla.

Odd names like mine are a dime a dozen today. Parents everywhere are giving their children complicated names – usually with an extra letter y or two. So perhaps these kids will face the same anguish that I did when faced with a rack of personalized pens or ornaments or keychains or what have you.

There was never a Calla.

You know what I’m talking about: those big displays with rows and rows of souvenir-y things with names printed on them. If your name was Jessica or Emily or Steve or Todd, you’d have no trouble finding your name. My parents (Tim and Brenda) and my brother (Mitch) could find their names. However, my sister (Darrah) is most certainly in the same boat as me.

It’s hard to say if I even would’ve wanted any of this personalized stuff if my name was more common and could be easily found. However, I desperately wanted a keychain with my name on it – probably because it was not at all easy to come by. I wanted what I couldn’t have, which was something of a theme throughout my childhood.   

But this was different. The personalized knick-knack industry seemed remarkably unfair to me. Those rows and rows of names were an affront to people like me. Why should we be left out? What happens when I want a snowglobe ornament printed with my name? Nothing, that’s what.  

Growing up, my three best friends were Sarah, Allison, and Meagan. Sarah and Allison could usually find their names – Sarah’s only problem was that “Sarah” was often sold out, and “Sara” wasn’t going to cut it. Allison might be left with “Alison,” but more often than not, both “Allison” and “Alison” were available. Meagan had a harder time – “Megan” was always there, but “Meagan” was often not. You could find “Meghan” more easily than “Meagan.” But you were a lot more likely to find “Meagan” than you were to find “Calla.”

Any personalized items that I had were thanks to special orders placed by my parents. Now, you must remember that this was the mid-to-late 90s: you didn’t just jump on the internet and place an order and you’re done. My family didn’t have internet until the year 2000, and even then, who knows how many years it was before any of us was brave enough to online shop.

No, in order to get a special personalized order placed for their kids with weird names, Mom and Dad had to go right to the source. The first few things I ever had with my name on them were hand-made by my great grandma Bunny: she was the craftiest person I’ve ever known, and she made me pillows and cross-stitch and all sorts of things.

The other personalized item from my very early childhood was a wooden cutout of my name painted with red hearts. I’m not sure who made this or when I got it, but for YEARS, I loved hearts and the color red. So I was apparently old enough to be able to impart that information. My parents knew some woodworkers, so I’m betting my wooden name was a special order from one of them.

When kindergarten rolled around, Mom and Dad presented me with a brand new pencil box. It was red (of course), and it had my NAME on it. I was thoroughly amazed, and that pencil box was my pride and joy for many school years thereafter.

If you grow up with a more common name, chances are that you will run into some fictional character somewhere that shares your name. Alas, that privilege was difficult for me to come by – made even more difficult by the fact that we didn’t have cable. Turns out there was a Princess  Calla in that old Disney cartoon The Gummi Bears, a fact I discovered thanks to my cousin sending me a Gummi Bears book. Princess Calla had blonde hair and blue eyes like I did – clearly, the Gummi Bears people modeled her after me. 
The resemblance is uncanny.
How else would they know to give her a name like Calla?

Mom and Dad noticed how much I liked seeing my name in print, so for Christmas, they ordered a special copy of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with me as the star. The story was the same as regular Rudolph, but a special little girl from Arlington named Calla got to help save Christmas. They even put Claws, our crabby old cat, into the story.

Personalized items were such a rare commodity, and every time I got one, I was blown away. I knew how much extra work had to go into acquiring something with my peculiar name on it, and that made those personalized items all the more special. I still have the keychain my Grandma Sheila brought me from Albuquerque, the duffel bag my parents had made for me in Colorado, the embroidered Arlington Cardinals jacket I got for Christmas one year, and the little glass vial with my name written on a piece of rice that my parents brought back from Las Vegas.

With the advent of the online shopping, it’s nowhere near as difficult to get something personalized as it once was. I can hop on Etsy and order something with my name on it in no time at all. But that’s not really the point. The point is that I never got to stumble across my name on a ready-made knick knack in a store. Except for ONCE. I was at the Minnesota State Fair with my friend Lacee (who also had trouble finding her name in such situations), and as we strolled through some of the crafty booths in one of the giant buildings, we stopped at a display full of little ceramic hearts. Now, this display consisted of several tables put together, and it spanned for at least fifteen feet. (If you think I’m exaggerating, you have clearly never been to the Minnesota State Fair.) These little ceramic hearts were each painted with a name, and because of the sheer volume, Lacee and I both started looking for our names. After all, when you’ve got that many little ceramic hearts, it doesn’t hurt to look for the weird names. And wouldn’t you know it? There was a Lacee AND a Calla. This was the first and only time I’ve ever found my name. Did I buy the ceramic heart that said Calla? Nope. I was a poor college student at the fair, and every spare cent had to go towards greasy food and gas to get home. Sigh.

Because of that one experience – that one glimmer of hope at the State Fair – I still look for my name in souvenir shops selling those damn key chains and flashlights and whatnot. Even though chances are good that I’m not going to find it, now that I’ve found it once, I can’t seem to help wanting to find it again. And who knows? Maybe someday I will.

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