What’s In A Name?

When I was a sophomore in high school, one of the final assignments in my intro to journalism class was to write an article about the origins of our names. In my “research” for this article (if you could even call it that), I interviewed several people, including my parents and friends, to discuss the literal meanings of my name and whether or not they were fitting. At one point, when I asked a classmate I had known since fifth grade to describe me in one word, his exact words were, “You’re just… Val.” Based on his answer, I fit my name well — at least the shortened version of it, anyway.

Of course, some people call me Valerie (my full name), but if I really wanted to, I could have pursued other options as well. I could go by my first and middle name instead, or just by my middle or last name (or a variation of my last name). At different times, I’ve had friends who called me Vallie or V, and I’ve even heard of girls named Valerie who shortened their names to Ri. Ultimately, I wonder what makes us choose the names we go by, and how our various nicknames might characterize us differently.

In Sarah Dessen’s latest novel What Happened To Goodbye, the main character’s entire identity seems to change based on what name she chooses to go by. Mclean Elizabeth Sweets was known as Mclean her entire life, until her parents’ divorce that led to her attending four different schools in the next two years. At the first new school, she was the popular Eliza (a variation of her middle name); next, she was the artistic Lizbit; then, she became Beth, the extremely involved yearbook student. This allows her to get close to others without really revealing much of herself, and makes it easier for her to leave a school and group of friends behind.

In high school and college, we desperately search for some semblance of identity, even if it isn’t necessary our own. We struggle with this, and rightfully so — in fact, according to Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development, we face the crisis of identity vs. role confusion around this time in our lives. Some of us combat this by morphing into our friends and idols (I’ve known girls who switched from Southern belle to only-listens-to-rap to hipster within a year or so based on the circles of people they ran with), while others tried to find themselves alone.

Ultimately, while I see the appeal in Mclean’s actions (new identities means new opportunities, and not getting close to anyone means not getting hurt), I don’t think that changing your name or anything else exterior can really hide who you are inside. You may have traded in your cheerleading skirts for skinny jeans and flannel shirts, or grown a mountain man beard, or changed your name from Elizabeth to Lizzie, but you can’t as easily hide the fact that you bite your lip when you’re nervous, you have a sarcastic sense of humor and you are fiercely loyal to your friends. Your name might define you in some way (Valerie means “strong” in Latin, and I would like to think that I’ve remained strong in the face of my challenges), but when it all boils down to it, you are who you are and it doesn’t matter how you label that.

The Dating Middle-Ground

Ever since I started college, I’ve noticed two major trends when it comes to the dynamics of boy-meets-girl. When both are attracted to one another, they tend to gravitate toward one of these two extremes: either meaninglessly hooking up (however you choose to define those terms) over a certain course of time without regard for anything other than the physical, or they dive into an exclusive, very serious relationship that sometimes resembles a marriage. I’m sure each of those options has its merits, but at only nineteen years old (twenty in less than an hour!) I often wonder how good of an idea it is to stick to such extremes.

On the one hand, we’re young, and we deserve to have a good time. On the other hand, it is important for us to develop strong relationships with the people around us, and surely, committing to one person for a while would help us to do so. (After all, according to many psychologists, now is the time in our lives when we must overcome the crisis of intimacy vs. isolation.) While I agree that it’s best not to rule out anything that is ultimately going to make you happy, I do think that it’s a wise choice to consider the middle ground between these two extremes, and that is going on dates.

It’s a foreign concept for a lot of us, because our generation is so used to either (a) hooking up at a party and then occasionally seeking one another out afterward, or (b) diving into a relationship with someone simply due to a fleeting attraction. The two of you might have nothing in common, but because of a simple feeling, you’re together, quite seriously, even though you might not even know one another all that well.

Going on dates without immediately becoming a couple, however, allows you to recognize that yes, there is a connection between the two of you, and you would like to explore that further. It doesn’t mean you have to spend all of your time with that person and it doesn’t mean that you have to be out with different people all the time, either. But going out with the person you’re interested in and walking around at the park or going ice skating or doing something you love — that’s how you can really get to know someone and see how compatible you are. If you realize that there’s still something there after a few dates, then you might consider an official relationship, but why not have a little fun together first before you launch into something that may not be real?

You’re young and vibrant and wonderful, so you definitely don’t have to settle for a relationship just because you feel like you have to. Be open to meeting new people — don’t just cast someone away because they don’t seem like someone you would be “serious” with — and enjoy your youth. Hopefully someday our generation will revert back to the ways of some of our predecessors, and date won’t seem like such a foreign word. 🙂

The Friday Five: Rules of Making a Mix CD

Gone are the days of the 8-tracks and cassette tapes, but while CDs may be losing their competitive advantage, they still hold a place in many of our hearts. For me, the trek from home to college requires about three hours alone in my little blue car (Carlos), and if there’s anything that keeps me going, it’s music. So far, in the last year, I have created ten mix CDs (aptly named Carlos Mixes), each of which represent different aspects of my first year of college. Making a mix CD has become almost an exact science for me, and so for all of you who would like a musical release for all of your long car rides (or even the short ones, too!), I would like to share my rules of making a mix CD or playlist. (And yes, I know today is a Saturday, but when life gets busy, you do what you must!)

The Friday Five: Rules of Making a Mix CD

1. Start strong and end strong.

Before you start rearranging files in your iTunes library, you should have a general idea of some of the songs that you’ll want to feature on your CD, but after you’ve figured some of that out, make sure you start the CD out strong. By that, I mean that the first track on your CD should be one of your favorites from that particular playlist, something fun and exciting that gets you pumped for the drive ahead of you. It may sound silly, but it really works! Carlos Mix #10, my latest creation, opens with Goldspot’s cover of Float On, and honestly, how can you not be instantly happy when you hear it? The same thing goes for the way you end the CD — try to pick a song that has some kind of impact for you. For example, Carlos Mix #2 comes to a close with Geto Boys’ Damn, It Feels Good to be a Gangsta, and I don’t think I’d have it any other way! If anything, we tend to remember the first and last songs we’ve heard — something psychology refers to as the serial position effect. And if psychology says it’s true, then of course it has to be!

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2. Avoid too much of “the same.”

When I was in eighth grade, my favorite band was Something Corporate. After catching their concert one night on Fuse, I immediately borrowed the CDs from friends and listened to their music (especially the stuff from their North album) as much as I could. Then came the day that I was mildly sick of what was once the music that kept me going. Moral of the story? Don’t get caught up in one band or one genre of music like I did. While I have gradually fallen back in love with the sweet voice of Andrew McMahon, who now fronts the band Jack’s Mannequin, I will no longer be able to listen to his music for any prolonged period of time. In order to avoid a fate like mine, it’s good to follow this rule of thumb: if the artist has already appeared once on your mix CD, he or she should not appear again. Let’s face it, if your favorite band has monopolized the CD, then you cannot in good conscience refer to it as a mix CD anymore. It’s good to switch up artists and genres so that you never get sick of one thing, and so that your CD is more listener-friendly when you do have guests in the car. You can always create another CD later, with more from those artists you can’t get enough of.

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3. Don’t make it too much about one person.

Let me be the first to admit that crushes and significant others have a huge impact on what we listen to and how those songs impact us. Looking back through my middle and high school years, I can easily remember which songs I associated with the boys I liked at the time — If You’re Not the One by Daniel Bedingfield for my first real crush, Burn by Usher for the boy who was my best friend and never more, and If I Were a Boy by Beyonce for the boy who broke my heart on Spirit Week (just to name a few). We relate to the lyrics of these songs in some way, and then we play them nonstop just for that effect they have on us. For that very reason, I can listen to Carlos Mix #5 and immediately be reminded of the boy I was talking to when I made it. Now that I’m in a relationship with someone else, it’s always a little awkward to play that CD because of its connotations. The point is, it’s okay to put in a few songs here and there that relate specifically to the apple of your eye, but don’t go too crazy with it, because if things end poorly, you may not want to be reminded of that every time you play that CD.

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4. It’s okay to embrace your past.

Your CD does not have to stick to one time period — it can include anything! While most of your music will probably be more recent (unless you’re strictly a fan of a certain era), it’s okay to include some slightly dated songs from your childhood. For example, my CDs have been known to feature lots of 90’s alternative bands (think Buzz Ballads, only better), a little bit of 80’s, some genuine oldies, and yes — The Spice Girls. Can I honestly say I regret any of those choices? No, I do not. 🙂 Embrace your nostalgia. Choose anything that brings back happy memories, and don’t be afraid of embarrassing yourself. As long as you’re enjoying the music, no one else can take that away from you!

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5. Keep it upbeat.

If it’s something you’re potentially going to play in a moving vehicle, then make sure it doesn’t put you to sleep! One of my friends can’t listen to Enya while driving, and Viva La Vida by Coldplay makes me want to veer off the road. Even though The Smiths’ music makes me feel as infinite as it does the characters in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I will choose their song There is a Light that Never Goes Out over their song Asleep for a CD mix any day of the week. Not only will an upbeat song keep you safe on the road, but it will also boost your mood and make your journey all the more worth it! 🙂