I literally never meet people with my name. In 27 years, I’ve met maybe four Joelles. But recently, some Joelles have been cropping up around me – especially some little Joelles at a prechool I’m working at – and it’s inspiring me to put this message out there.
Growing up with Joelle as a name was interesting. For a long time, I didn’t always like it, and I thought the problem was the name itself. (I clung to my middle name, Elizabeth, as a badge of normalcy, proudly signing my name with my middle initial every time I wrote it down). However, as I’ve grown up and found my center (this feels like the only apt way to describe the growing-up process for me), more and more, I’ve identified with it. Now, I love my name. I feel it embodies me perfectly. I’ve also since met people who tell me that my name is beautiful, and I hear that sentiment and receive it. It is a beautiful name. So I’m here to say: why the Joelle shame?
Recently, my boyfriend’s sister excitedly let me know that her friend had named her daughter Joelle, only to quickly add that they’re “calling her Joey.” It was even on all the birth and Instagram announcements–Joey in parentheses right beside Joelle, as if to make sure no one mistakenly thought that Joelle was what she was to be called.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I get that this is personal for me and it could be totally innocent. Maybe she’s just excited about the nickname Joey and wants to share both. But still, my reaction was – really? You’re pegging down a baby’s nickname before she can even talk? How do you know she’ll like that nickname? Shouldn’t you be a little more comfortable with the name you actually gave her, so you don’t have to immediately tell people that you’re “calling her Joey”?
The only famous Joelle I’ve ever heard of, JoJo Fletcher of Bachelor(ette?) fame, is just that–JoJo. Same with JoJo Siwa. It seems to be a unique curse among Joelles that we cave to the pressure of wanting to be understood, even if that understanding doesn’t encompass our full selves, rather than insisting on being exactly who we are.
I understand some of why this is happening. A lot of people don’t intuitively understand the name right away, so there’s a need to preemptively shorten it or make it more palatable. For me, it’s always been really clear that it’s like any other female given name with a prefix and a suffix. (Like Jo-anne or Mich-elle. Put them together? Jo-elle). However, many people who aren’t the English nerds that I am will see it or hear it as a kind of mispelled/mispronounced Joel. (Don’t even get me started on being called Joel at Starbucks, LOL!) From that point of initial confusion, it then becomes really difficult to remember. I’ve been called Jolene, Jolie, Joeel (??)–pretty much every variant you could think of. Each time, it feels like a string is pulling on all my memories of feeling weird, different, or even made fun of, bringing them right to the surface. (This is where it stops being about my name).
All that being said, I’m no longer embarrassed of my name. I’m not interested in apologizing for it or introducing myself by a pseudonym to avoid awkwardness. My name is Joelle. How other people respond to that is none of my business. You can mispronounce it as many times as you want (no shade intended, by the way)–I’m still going to be Joelle. Maybe the more it’s claimed proudly by people who love their names, the easier it will be to understand, and therefore remember.
For witches, owning your name is a sacred act of owning your power. These days, that’s the kind of energy I want to embody. So when I was told by the lead preschool teacher that there were–lo and behold–TWO Joelles in the class, only to be told that they were both called Jojo, something shifted in me. I wanted something different for these little girls. I wanted them to have the option to be called Joelle, if they chose. Most of all, I don’t want them to encounter the telltale scrunched-up face, and then the pause, followed by, “How about we call you [insert nickname here?]” When I meet them, I’m going to be sure to call them by their names.
The idea that more Joelles are being born in the world now feels exciting to me. Symbolically, it feels like it’s a time where it’s safer to be unique, and where more people are going to do so unapologetically. Specific to women, it feels like we have some powerful witches rising in the ranks. And that’s also exciting to me. Because I know who I am, and more and more, I’m revealing myself to be the opposite of how I presented as a child–someone who can’t be shrunk, shortened, or tamed.