There are things from my childhood that just seem to have stuck with me, like an affinity for Top 40 music or how excited I get every time I see a bride.
Likewise, there are things, as a woman of a certain age, that I feel I just need to accept, like being called Ma’am instead of Miss or the way certain body parts begin to embrace gravity.
But as I approach my 51st birthday, I am faced with one of those things that has stuck with me from childhood but is also something that I still just can’t accept.
With apologies to my parents, who most certainly had good intentions, and to the others who share my moniker, I have just never liked my name.
I recently confessed this feeling to my mother. She seemed a bit offended but brushed it off with a quick, “Well, I’m sure a lot of people feel that way.” And then proceded to tell me that she was never fond of her name either. Really? What’s so bad about Sara? I’d take that over Tammy in a heartbeat. (Side note: Her name is Sara but she has always been called by her full name, Saralee, and is often overheard spelling her name for people simply by saying “Saralee like the cake” – yet another reason to like her name).
Growing up, Tammy wasn’t a very popular name, which was probably one of the reasons I hated it. At a time when all you want to do is be like everyone else, having a name that's different isn’t easy. (Note to all the celebrity moms out there - I'm looking at you Gwyenth and Kim K.). I remember the disappointment I felt every time I couldn’t find my name in one of those carousels in Spencer’s Gifts or the card stores that carried the miniature personalized license plates and key chains that so many of my friends had. But I always looked in hopes that this time I'd find one with TAMMY or even TAMI - it wasn't a time to be picky.
The thing about a name, and why so many parents spend nine months picking out just the right one, is that it can make or break you. Study after study shows that names can impact the job you get, how people relate to you and how you feel about yourself.
While my name has not impacted my life in any definitive way, it still leaves me feeling a bit wistful, kind of the way I feel about not having dimples or piercing blue eyes. I always wanted a name that I could identify with, something that said I was fun, flirtatious or even cool like Roxanne or Samantha (I’ve always loved boys names for girls or names that could be shortened easily).
Of course, unlike the license plates and key chains, the name Tammy hasn’t gone completely unnoticed. There have been famous Tammys like country-singing icon Tammy Wynette, best known for her hit, “Stand by Your Man,” though her real name was Virginia. And who could forget Tammy Faye Bakker who was perhaps equally famous for her crocodile tears and false eyelashes as she was for being the co-founder of the 700 Club. (A lot of my friends got a few chuckles calling me Tammy Faye – and some still do).
But my parent’s favorite “famous” Tammy was the character Debbie Reynolds played (and later Sandra Dee) in a series of movies -- “Tammy Tell Me True,” “Tammy and the Doctor,” etc. While I couldn’t relate to everything about this young, naïve girl raised in the Deep South, I did like her. I especially liked how she romanticized life and the certain down-home way she had of putting people in their place.
Reynolds even recorded a song, “Tammy,” which was popular in 1957. Ironically, when I was about 10 years old, my parents took me to see Debbie Reynolds in a Broadway show. While signing autographs afterwards, she asked me my name and when I told her it was Tammy she was thrilled. “Well, what do you know,” she said. “Perhaps if I had never recorded that song, your name might’ve been Jennifer or something else.” If she only knew how happy that would’ve made me.
But even this spunky 1950s character with a chart topping single didn’t help me to embrace my name. So after many years I decided that it was time to just accept it and move on. After all, I'm a mature adult, who even cares anymore.
And then a friend sent me a link to a trailer for a new “Tammy” movie. Putting aside a star-studded cast starring Melissa McCarthy, one of my favorite funny ladies, this seemingly down-on-her luck, hot mess of a woman is definitely not the identity I have been searching for all these years. Based on some of the reviews, I’m not even sure the movie is all that good. But one thing is for sure; I bet I’ll finally be able to find some merchandise with my name on it.
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