In recent years, I have been hearing voices calling my name. It has been happening more and more often, especially when I am with my two boys at places frequented by young children and their parents: the park, the frozen yogurt shop, not to mention the schools.
“Grace! Is that what you’re supposed to be doing?”
I hear the teacher’s voice call my name and immediately sit up straight and drop the papers I’m filing. Then I realize that the teacher’s words are directed at a kid named Grace. Both my sons have had girls named Grace in their classes for the past three years, and it gets to be a bit confusing.
When my younger son celebrated his fifth birthday at preschool, the teacher was taking pictures of the kids. “Grace, why don’t you stand next to the birthday boy?” the teacher asked. I watched off to the side, while Little Grace (we’ll call her Gracie) stood dutifully next to my son and they smiled nicely for the camera. “Okay, now how about a picture with Mom?”
I’m just not used to hearing my name so often. When I was a child, I was usually the only Grace I knew. Never did I have to go by Grace H., because there was never a Grace L., Grace M., or Grace S. Back in the 1970s, the name Grace didn’t rank up with Heather or Kimberly on the top names list. It is the kind of name that Asian immigrant parents gave to their baby girls, oblivious to the standards of what was at the time considered a cool name. The luckier daughters got off with a common — but benign — names like Jennifer or Susan. The rest of us became Esther, Helen, Betty, Alice, Florence, or Vivian — names better suited to our mother’s or even grandmother’s generations.
These parents meant well. My mother says she named me after Grace Kelly, and that she weighted it heavily against Natalie, as in Wood. However, most people didn’t associate a little Asian girl named Grace with a blue-eyed blonde ice princess who later went on to become a real princess. After telling someone my name, I would often hear, “Oh, that’s my grandmother/aunt/insert some other very old relative’s name.” It leant itself readily for numerous smart ass remarks.
If I did something stupid in PE class, someone would inevitably snicker, “Very graceful!” When I had to stand nervously at the front of a room for an oral report, people would whisper, “Grace under pressure,” which of course made me automatically lose any of the qualities one would hope to expect from a person of my name.
Early on in elementary school, I decided that if I could create my own persona, I would be a Melissa. Like Kimberlies and Heathers, Melissas were popular, outgoing girls with feathered hair and wedge sandals. In high school, they would become permed cheerleaders who tanned themselves while greased with Crisco. Graces — who weren’t octogenarians — were usually piano-playing Asian American girls with crooked bangs and corduroy Toughskins from Sears. I fit the profile exactly.
That’s why I’m surprised to find all these little versions of myself — only with blond ringlets and Baby Gap clothing — filling up the classrooms and playgrounds. Each year, news reports announce the most popular baby names, as compiled by the Social Security administration. Grace has been steadily climbing up the charts, while Jennifer and Tiffany are nowhere to be found. In 2006, Grace dethroned Emily to become the Most Popular Girl of the Year. I mean, girl’s name.
By now, I have made peace with my own name. Grace connotes mercy, the ability to take the higher road, to be the better person, to act with ease in any situation, and it will always be associated with the princess and actress. But I still find it surprising that these mothers and fathers (probably some of the same kids who poked fun at me during dodge ball) have chosen to call their daughters the same name as me.
While part of me is happy that my name is finally considered cool, I also feel a little sad. After all, at one point, some well meaning parents-to-be must have the thought Tiffany conjured up images of the good life, complete with platinum and crystal. And remember when Brittany denoted a rugged coastal region of France?
Yes, in a decade or two, one of these baby Graces will probably become the next scandal-laden teenybopper B-list celebrity… and my name will go on to join Jennifer, Ashley, and Lindsay in the “who would ever call a child that?” list.
Say Goodnight, Gracie.