“This is… Kim,” I’d said when I introduced her to my housemates a couple hours earlier as we passed through the living room on the way to my room. I knew that was her name, but in my head she was “the girl from Tinder.” Lilly had given a small wave and a “hi,” and Jordan was on her way out the door, but she gave a once over look. I barely paused as I continued down the stairs, her following on my heel.
“I feel like I would be a different person if I had a different name,” She says now, lying beside me in my bed, our hand tangled together, and her head beneath my chin.
“What do you mean?” I ask her.
“Like, our names influence who we become. I don’t know, I think about it a lot.”
“You think it’s that significant of an impact?”
She pulls away from me, propping herself up on an elbow and meeting my eye in the darkness. Her face is just barely illuminated by the red light from the powerstrip on my desk. Behind her, the streetlamp outside oozes brightness under the shade.
“I mean, obviously there are many factors as to why we are the way the way we are,” She says. “I do think we have to grow into our names. Maybe in some unconscious ways we feel the need to fit some social code.”
I don’t say anything right away, and silence envelopes us. I stare absentmindedly at the lamppost, just barely visible under the small space between the window sill and shade. Maybe I can see the point she’s trying to make. We feel the need to live up to the ideas people hold for us. But do people’s expectations for us have anything to do with what name we have?
“I just feel like if I didn’t have the name ‘Kim’ I wouldn’t have the same life as I do now.” She flops back onto the bed, twisting so she’s on her back, staring up at the ceiling. She rubs her thumb absentmindedly over the back of my hand. “I can’t stop thinking about it.”
“Do you think ‘Kim’ fits you?” I ask her. There’s a pause as she thinks about it, and I follow up, “Why do you think you would be different with a different name?”
“I don’t know.” She says, thoughtful. “I guess I grew into the name, for sure. I just imagine myself looking slightly different with a different name. Like I would have different facial expressions.”
I simply don’t think that’s true. But, honestly, there’s just know way to know for sure. “Are we assuming that everything else in you life is exactly the same except for your name?”
“Yeah. Like if I was born into the same situation, but named something else, other stuff would be different too.”
“So it would cause like a chain reaction?” I tuck my free arm under my pillow, bracing my neck.
“Right, like having a different name would cause the other stuff to be different as well. So like, my name was supposed to be ‘Sydney,’ but my dad changed his mind last minute, whatever. And I think if I were a ‘Sydney’ I would have gone to school for business or some shit.” She laughs lightly.
“That’s fair,” I say.
She’d told me earlier that she actually went to school for marine biology, but she dropped out her senior year after a bad car accident. I wonder if she’s thinking about that. Maybe if she’d had a different name she would have had different interests, and gone to a different school, and made different friends, and she wouldn’t have been high in that car in the moment that she was. And it wouldn’t have rolled five times. And she wouldn’t have had a concussion that went untreated. And maybe she would have graduated. Or maybe she’s thinking about the good stuff. The stuff she’s happy she has in her life. The stuff she’s afraid to lose. Like her dog, or her mom. Her memories of the things that make her who she is. I glance over at her. Her thick hair is in a bun on top of her head, and her eyes are closed. Her breathing hasn’t changed, so I don’t think she’s asleep. I roll over on my side, facing her.
I was pretty unsure about meeting up with a stranger from a dating app. It’s not something I’ve done before, and probably not something I’ll do again. Texting anonymously with a stranger some distance away is different than actually meeting that stranger in real life. But there was something there. Something in the conversation that I wanted more of.
“It’s good life experience,” She had said to me over text when I expressed my uncertainty. When I asked her what she meant, she said it was a good way to network, and it made it easy to travel, make friends, and have experiences with people outside your normal group. Even if I never speak to this person after tonight this conversation is always going to be something that happened, and an experience we have. And maybe if we’d had different names, we wouldn’t be in this exact situation right now.
“Do you believe in an afterlife?” I ask her. She opens her eyes.