Last week I shared the beginning of a lifelong saga involving my identity. No, I was not confused about who or what I was. I was me, and I was happy with myself. At least I was as happy as the other kids I knew.
Like most families, ours had ups and downs that sometimes made life uncomfortable. In most cases, things turned out fine. Some were more irritating than others, and some took longer to resolve. Next to the nickname issue, one of the more irritating situations things about our family was the decision to treat my brother and me like twins.
It started with clothing. David and I wore matching outfits all the time. The clothes weren’t a big problem, but other issues arose as we aged. The fact Mom and Dad ignored the difference in our ages and sizes was almost amusing when I look back on those days. It was annoying then, but we were just kids and didn’t think about it often.
The nickname thing had nothing to do with the clothing issue. Regardless of how we were dressed, David was always called by his given name, and I was always called by a pseudonym. Any time Mom used my given name, I knew there was a problem.
The name thing did become confusing and sometimes problematic as I grew older. It was not a problem in public schools. Everyone knew me as Eric Jackson. Teachers, coaches, principals, and friends all called me Eric. They thought my legal name was Eric Jackson, as most people did until I had to get a driver’s license.
Yep! I was sixteen years old. Mom, David, and I were preparing for a road trip to Indianapolis. I was to be Mom’s backup driver, but first, I needed a driver’s license. There was one slight problem. My legal name was still Stephen Eric Jackson, and the State of Texas insisted my DL needed to match the name on my Birth Certificate.
Other than the shock of learning my identity had been an alias for most of my life, it was no big deal. No one else, schools, jobs, or whatever, really cared about my legal name. So, I was still Eric Jackson 99.999 percent of the time. Then I started college.
At first, nothing changed. Eric Jackson started college, held a part-time job, and bought his first clunker of a car. Then the academic powers began to react to the social changes in the U. S. It seemed higher education faculty were perceived as pompous and overbearing by the younger students. A change was mandated!
One semester your professor is all formal and uppity, addressing you as Mr. Jackson or Miss Smith and occasionally Mrs. Smith The laid-back culture of many new-age college students felt that it was “So Yesterday!” Accordingly, professors were forced to become more social.
Suddenly, the roll call was not “Mr. Jackson.” Instead, the professor would call out “Stephen” or occasionally “Stefan,” and no one would respond. Depending on the class or the prof, another calling out of the given name might happen before a disgusted sounding, “Is Stephen Jackson here?”
It was an interesting time for me. I’m not certain whether it was an unconscious rebellion or a cognitive issue. Whatever it was, it took a while for me to recognize the prof was speaking of me when they used the name, Stephen. But! I found a solution!
Yes, the professors had to learn a more personable way of addressing students. So, I decided there was a less confronting way of reminding them my name was Eric. I started using S. Eric Jackson on my papers and communications instead of Stephen E. Jackson. It took some time, but it usually worked. Then I went into law enforcement.
The first little issue was my background check. Try explaining to a background investigator why a twenty-something with no criminal record had multiple aliases. The next little communication problem came up when I started moving up the ladder in law enforcement.
I’ll share that little story another time.
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