We moved to a small town in North Carolina at the summer I turned ten, and for some inexplicable reason my parents let me fill in the school application.
“What does ‘nickname’ mean?” I asked.
“It’s a name everyone calls you that isn’t really your name,” my mom explained.
“Or a name you want people to call you?”
“Something like that,” she answered absently as she kneaded bread.
‘Anita’ sounded girlie, and I wanted a name to fit my personality. Something outdoorsy and tough. I wrote A.J. down on the nickname line.
From then on, I insisted that family call me A.J. It took a while to adjust, but since I stubbornly refused to answer to ‘Anita,’ they capitulated. School posed no problem. As far as names went.
Fitting in? Not so easy. I had little previous experience with big classrooms—the largest school I had attended only had eight kids in the entire school. My new classroom had 25 fifth graders. I failed my first social studies test, and wondered if I’d ever figure school out.
New Friends to the Rescue
The most popular girl in class came to my rescue. Loucretia Ball. She explained how to study the textbook and took me under her wing. I eventually made friends with other kids in my classroom, too—Leah, Dawn, Kelly, and Becky.
By sixth grade, I’d had a crush on every boy in my class for at least a week. The Clark twins, Clive Possinger, Danny Morton, Paul Jenks. Some of them even sent me notes that said, “Will you be my girlfriend? Check the box, yes or no.”
Two years later, we moved again. This time to the other side of the country. I changed my name back to ‘Anita’ because in 7th grade, A.J. sounds too boyish. New friends welcomed me. I grew and changed and left ‘A.J.’ behind. High school, college, grad school, marriage, career.
Each friend I made along the way held a little piece of me—a snapshot of me at that time. The horseback riding tomboy named A.J.; the racoon-eyed pre-teen wobbling around on her first pair of Candies; the girl reviled by her entire freshman class (ok, maybe just the girls); the confident sophomore; and the new girl at yet another new school her senior year.
When I joined Facebook 10 years ago, I had no idea how reconnecting with all of my friends from all of those places would make my world seem a little smaller. I immediately sat down at my computer and did a search for kids from fifth grade. I found Loucretia, Kelly, Dawn, and Becky. I caught up with classmates from every era of my life.I had no idea how Facebook would shrink my world. #fmfparty Click To Tweet
A Facebook Search
Today, a gymnastic troupe from a university in Nebraska stopped by to perform for our students. As I hurried towards my house after the show, their bus driver nodded and asked me if I had come with the mission group.
“No, I work here,” I said.
“You look familiar, for some reason,” he told me.
I asked his name, and it didn’t ring any bells. We said goodbye, I wished him safe travels, and I headed home. But his name nagged in my memory. I whipped out my phone, opened my Facebook app, typed the name in, and hit ‘search.’
Everything fell into place. I turned around and hurried back to the bus driver. “Paul Jenks? From Fletcher and Captain Gilmore Elementary School? Fifth grade?”
“What’s your name?”
“Anita. Anita Strawn de Ojeda.”
We chatted for a few minutes about mutual friends—the gal he married is Loucretia’s good friend from college. And he still keeps in touch with other people I know.
Twenty minutes after I said goodbye, I finally figured out why he recognized my face, but didn’t connect with my name. I introduced myself as ‘Anita,’ not ‘A.J.’
No matter. It’s fun to be recognized (even if I think nothing of the ten-year-old A.J. remains in me).
More importantly, I know something now that I didn’t know back then. I have a heavenly Father who knows me by name (even if I change it). He knows every hair on my head and he loves me (quirks and all). He has searched my heart and knows my mind (even when I don’t seem to know it) (Jeremiah 17:10).
And when I search for him with all my heart, I will always find him (Deuteronomy 4:29). My search for him as led me to finding me.
Such a fun read, Anita! I’m coming up on my TWENTY-year high school reunion this summer (!!!) and it’s fun to think back and wonder about where some of those school friends might be today. (By the way, when I was in second grade I changed my name to Kathy for the year. Wrote it on all my papers, even though my real name isn’t even Katherine!) 😉
As your earthly father, I know a few of your names from different stages of your life, but the one that sticks the tightest is your nickname from the 5th grade… the one you forced upon us and is still enduring. (Check my Contacts list on my phone for confirmation). Thanks for this little bit of nostalgia.
Donald Strawn recently posted…Paul Praises Women Ministers
I agree with Kate – this was fun!
And you inspired a poem. Hope you like it, or at least your eyes don’t roll too much!
I once went in search of me
and found I wasn’t there.
Nothing even possibly,
and I found I didn’t care.
The me that was by life defined
changed from year to year,
not constant enough to be refined
by faith and hope and fear.
‘Twas only when I let God in
that there became some ‘one’
who was and always had been
loved by Father and Son.
‘Tis that love that’s planted, sown
a name to call my own.
This is a fun story! And it is amazing how Facebook can connect us again with those people who were part of our lives so long ago!
They say a rose by any other name is still a rose. I think it applies to people too, when you look at it a certain way! Thanks for sharing this story, Anita. Blessings to you!
Boma recently posted…Deja Vu
I love, love, love this post. SO good. Thanks for sharing your story, AJ. 😉
What a fun trip down memory lane with you and I love how it all culminated in reminding us that God knows the real us, the person he created us to be! Wonderful post!
I was always Becky, until I was in high school with two others, then I was Rebecca. I use that it sounds more grown up since most people think I am younger, I have one aunt who calls me BJ, not my favorite. When I would go to the dentist and she had another patient with my name, they wrote, lady and girI to tell us apart or at least our teeth. Can’t wait to find out white the little white stone God gives me says, but I will for now, still be Becky.
What a small world! Loved this post. Also made me think of the George Strait song “Check yes or no” when you were sharing about a boy asking you to be his girlfriend.
i love your story anita:) i did a lot of moving when i was young. depending on what people call me, i can tell when i knew them:) great way you mixed that story with “search.”
also, i have enjoyed the 28 day writing challenge. i haven’t been able to keep up b/c of multiple complications, but i still have enjoyed it. i might make it through 28 days, i might not. we’ll see. won’t get myself all upset if i don’t.
blessings. i loved all the comments about you crushing on all the boys in your class. i can so identify with that. unfortunately, most of the boys didn’t reciprocate. but in the end, it all worked out:)
Martha Brady recently posted…SEARCH AND PRAY
Love this! So fun! I went by “Karri” for all of my childhood into adulthood until the Lord told me He named me on purpose and to go by my full given name! It was a challenge for many – but it’s been that way for years now and most people know me by Karrilee now! So glad that the One who named us and formed us in our mothers’ womb knows us well and calls us His own! xoxo
This is such a neat picture of all the Anitas and A.J.s from your life! I love it.
I went through the same thing around fifth grade. Everyone called me Mandy, but I thought it “girly” and wanted to be more grown up. So I made everyone call me Amanda. I wouldn’t answer to Mandy. We moved away in the 7th grade. So I introduced myself as Amanda, but I soon left the name to go back to Mandy.
As an adult, I asked my mother why my friends from teh church in Wisconsin always still call me Amanda and she reminded me that I had refused to be called Mandy! Too funny