It was their favorite taunt. “They” being my prepubescent peers who thought themselves quite the witty bunch. Clearly, “plain Jane” was for amateurs. I hated my name. My mother, when questioned about her clear lack of imagination, would say that she almost named me “April” after my birth month, but decided to go with Jane after one of her aunts instead. That would have been acceptable had Aunt Jane been a wealthy, maiden aunt who bestowed upon her namesake a fabulous fortune – or at least bought me a pony – but I never even met the old bird and don’t recall ever getting so much as a card with a buck in it from her.
I sometimes think my mother wanted me to have a name I would have to work to overcome. Girls with pretty names like “April” are already ahead of the game. Life lets them slide on a lot. Perhaps she felt I needed to be made of stronger stuff if I was to make it in a world that had proven so challenging to her. Or maybe she just didn’t want me to get my hopes up.
Regardless, I wasn’t one to let such an injustice stand and so when I was in the eighth grade, inspired by the second-tier movie bombshell of the time, Jayne Mansfield, I declared that my name would ever after be spelled with a “y” – J-a-Y-n-e – and woe be it to the soul who should mistakenly leave out that crucial consonant.
Eager to change my image, I buried “plain Jane” like a dead hamster and took to wearing tight skirts, bleaching my hair platinum and painting my lips and nails “Hot Pink.” No one would throw the word “plain” in my direction again, although the term “slut” periodically floated my way. Oh, the irony. While I held onto my virginity until I was 19, the “good” girls in school – girls with names like Monica, Jennifer and Debbie – were vanishing like shoes at a Nordstrom clearance sale. “She’s spending a few months visiting family in Oshkosh,” was how it usually went. Maybe that was what my mother had feared and why she gave me a name that came with a chip on its shoulder so big I was practically unapproachable.
I could have changed my name altogether when I was 18. Many of my friends who were also pursuing acting careers at the time did exactly that. Had I done so I would have chosen the name "Jillian" – never to be referred to as “Jill.” I’m glad now that I didn’t. “Jillian Martin” sounds like an author of bad romance novels, the ones with covers of Fabio burying his face in the heaving breasts of some half-naked young wench.
But something else held me back, too. In Hebrew, “Jane” means “gift from God.” Mind you, there has never been a drop of Hebrew blood anywhere in my Anglo-Saxon (with a bit of Cherokee) lineage, but maybe at the then-considered-late-in-life age of 32 when my mother finally gave birth, I truly did feel like a gift to her – though one I’m sure she considered returning when I reached my teens.
I’m comfortable now with the name I fought so hard against most of my life. Maybe it’s not so much the name I’ve grown comfortable with as the person I’ve become. As it turned out, "plain Jane" wasn’t plain at all once I got to know her. Besides, changing my name would only have made me feel like a fraud and, as a writer – by nature one who fools themselves into believing anyone could have the slightest interest in reading what they have to say – that feeling is already never far from the surface.
My mother’s birthday is on Saturday. She would have been 95. I’ve long forgiven her for saddling me with such a boring name, although considering her name was June, “April” really would have been a no-brainer.