I am a Jennifer. That quintessential name that belongs with Generation X. There are so many of us, after being the number 1 name for girls 15 years from 1970 to 1984. You’d think with this name we’d all become cookie cutter images of each other. But Jennifer represents the diversity that many Gen Xers seek. Because we felt like we might be put into a box with other Jennifers, we found ways to express ourselves by taking control of our names and reinventing ourselves.
In my case, I was a Jenny when I was small. That works for a cute grade school student. I went to a small school, each individual grade had about 15-20 students in it. Typical of the Gen X generation, our numbers were so much smaller than those before us (after I left that grade school, the district closed it and shipped the kids elsewhere). But even in such a small class, there was still another Jennifer in it. I was perfectly happy with Jenny. My parents and siblings called me that, it was my identity, shaped who I was.
Then we moved to another town. I started junior high (ah, remember the junior highs before they all became middle schools?) in a town a little bigger than the one I grew up in. This town had three junior highs that all fed into the high school. The student numbers were large enough, that junior high included 7, 8, and 9th grade and high school was 10-12. More students, more chances for Jennifers. Each grade had a good number of them. Many went by Jenny. Or Jenni. Or Jen. Then, in eighth grade, someone told me that there was another Jenny at a different junior high, a year ahead of me, with the same last name! Same last name spelling! What eighth grader wants to share a name with someone? We want to be different, yes? I made the choice then, that at least I would spell my nickname differently. I became Jennie, just so I could be different. So many of us Jennis and Jennies and Jennys were together in high school. In fact, the other Jenny was in choir with me. They couldn’t call us by our first name and last intial (which we were used to in so many other cases). It never occurred to either of us to go by Jen or Jennifer. We got called Jenny A. and Jenny L. Thank goodness the middle names were different, otherwise, I think I would have really wanted to chew out my parents.
Moving through college, I found my name to be even more versatile. College often means you need to change up your image. Start calling yourself a different version of Jennifer. Jennie had become too little kid-ish. Besides, we all shortened our friends’ names to one syllable. So Jennie became Jenn. Not Jen, because of course, everyone was using that spelling. There were Jenis, Jennys, Jennies, Jens, Gens Gennies, and even the dignified use of Jennifer.
When I became a museum professional, it seemed more appropriate to call myself by my full name, to show I mean business. My new business cards had Jennifer on it. I would wince if someone shortened it to Jennie, because that was my younger self and seemed inappropriate to me. Although, the older gentlemen who volunteered in my museum did not get the wince. Since they were older, I let them call me whatever version of Jennifer they were comfortable with. Other people would get gentle reminders that I preferred Jennifer.
What does all this have to do with Generation X? I think the way each of us Jennifers takes our name and uses it to reinvent ourselves, while having a version of our name that still identifies us as a Jennifer shows how versatile we are as a generation and how we take something ordinary and common and make it our own and extraordinary. This basic name versatility translates into our creativity and adaptability to changing situations. We are getting older, and I would agree, sometimes we don’t like change. But once we get over the initial shock of change, we’re willing to dig into the new stuff, marvel at it, play around with it and make it our own. It’s been pointed out in articles that we just want our Baby Boomer bosses to recognize us for our versatility and creativity. Well, that and actually use our ideas. We get frustrated with being pushed aside, when our ideas for change are not tested. Not all GenXers are perfect, but when we show our creativity and excitement, take notice and use it.
If we don’t get our talents used, we push that energy elsewhere, evident in our versatile creativity. Me, stuck in a job I was hating, first channeled that creativity into writing. Writing an entire fictional novel, about, what else, time travel and history with a friend and co-author. Still stuck in the same rut, I then channeled that energy into preparing for a 471 mile bike ride across the great state of Iowa. Ok, so biking doesn’t take talent, but I wanted to feel accomplished again. And what can feel more accomplished than hauling ass across 471 miles in seven days? I get to learn stuff about bikes, biking, biking gear, increase my fitness, find some dedication again and see a light at the end of the tunnel. So not related to my history museum job, but look at how I reinvented myself yet again.
I love each of my names. Jennie is what my family calls me, what my friends from junior high and high school call me. It reminds me of being a little kid, being young and with less cares. Jenn is the wild and crazy college student, striking out on her own, also what my adult friends call me. I’m casual and fun. But when it came down to business, I was all business and pulled out Jennifer. It feels powerful, in charge and business-like for me. So, to all the Jennifers, and Gennifers, and any other way you can spell it, keep changing who you are and be ready to be versatile. And that goes for the rest of Gen X as well.