I always hated my first name and thought it was boring, but I didn't want to insult my parents by changing it

A vintage photo of a little girl in a yellow dress with a toy duck
The author, shown as a toddler, was never a fan of her first name, Jane.Courtesy of the author
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  • I resented my first name from an early age, partly due to the connotations of "Plain Jane."

  • It was boring. I longed for a more exotic name like Cressida and Hermione, two of my classmates.

  • I wanted to change it but didn't want to offend my parents. I kept it and have accepted it now.

Names are a big deal when you're growing up. They're an easy excuse for kids to tease you, especially when they see how much it upsets you.

I was never happy about being named Jane. The nasties at school weren't imaginative and inevitably called me "Plain Jane" or "Jane the Pain."

They also found my last name amusing because "Ridley" rhymed with "Tiddly." It hurt because I was much shorter and smaller than my peers.

But the main problem was Jane. It always felt like an old lady's name to me, conjuring up an image of a 90-year-old disciplinarian peering through a monocle and smelling of lavender.

My early childhood was spent in the UK during the 1970s. But my parents weren't hippies. Regrettably — at least for me — cool names like Saffron or Indigo were not on their radar.

I wanted a much more exciting name than Jane

I was particularly jealous of two girls in my peer group, Cressida and Hermione. It didn't matter to me that people mispronounced and misspelled their names all the time. At least they were different.

My mother and father must have really liked the name Jane — so much so that it's my sister's middle name, too. We've always found it strange.

Mom defended their decision. "It was my godmother's favorite name," she told me. "Her son was her only child, so she didn't get to use it." The godmother was delighted when her first granddaughter was named Jane.

A mother with her baby dressed in Christening robes.
The author with her mother on the day she was baptized as JaneCourtesy of the author

Meanwhile, I hated that Jane was one syllable, which made it even less interesting. Mom said it was a good thing that it couldn't be shortened. She can't bear it when people dare to truncate her name — Margaret — to Marg. I've never heard her call my dad Pete, not Peter.

Jane is also so common among women my age. A few years ago, I went on a scuba diving trip, and three of my four fellow divers were called Jane. The more assertive Jane introduced us to the crew as we climbed aboard the boat. "She's Charlotte," she said, pointing to one of the group. "And the rest of us are Jane," she wittily added.

Of course, I met many Janes who liked the name. They'd mention famous people like Jane Seymour (third wife of Henry VIII who died in childbirth in 1537), Jane Goodall, or Jane Austen, and, er, that's about it.

I learned I could legally change my name through the British courts once I turned 18 through a Deed Poll process. The internet wasn't around back then, and it seemed like a major expense and hassle. "Do you think it's worth it?" my sister asked.

I thought about changing my name but worried what my parents would think

I spent a good amount of time considering my sister's question. Not only that, our family's paperwork filing system was a mess. I'd have spent weeks trying to find my birth certificate in a musty box hidden in the attic.

At the time, I was at college and hideously pretentious. I was obsessed with the Shakespearean tragedy "Hamlet" and had lofty ideas about choosing "Ophelia," the name of Hamlet's love interest. I confided in a friend who stuck two fingers down her throat in mock disgust.

The biggest hurdle was telling my parents about my intentions. I'd previously mentioned it — usually during a temper tantrum — and Mom would roll her eyes. My parents aren't religious, but Dad emphasized I'd been formally baptized in a church.

A press card showing a woman reporter
The author got used to the name Jane and is now proud of her byline as a journalist.Courtesy of the author

I began to worry that I'd hurt their feelings if I went ahead with my plan. After all, they'd had their reasons for choosing the name. It's not as if they'd named me Lucrezia, one of the infamous Borgia poisoners.

Still, I decided to broach the matter. I called a family meeting and announced my desire to get rid of Jane for good. Mom was mortified. Dad looked sad. I realized it would be ungrateful — insulting even — to disrespect their choice.

I abandoned my plan. Three years afterward, I started my career as a journalist. I gained confidence and became proud of my byline. He's biased, but my husband said Jane was classy — and far less cringe than Ophelia.

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