For my whole life, my name has been something of a ‘tag.’ When I was little, the name Rhianna was pretty unusual and as a child I didn’t really know what to do with . I feel like people make a personal statement or identification by having a nickname, a name that is unequivocally them, but for a lot of my childhood I didn’t. I used to pretend to be called Anna, until I met someone who was actually called Anna, and then for some reason I got very very embarrassed and never told anyone that was my name every again.
I also remember my grandma buying all my cousins pens with their names on and mine just said I’m sorry, they didn’t have your name.’ Is there any bigger kick in the face as an 8 year old? A pen shouting out how unusual my name was, and in all honesty I didn’t know how to identify with it. My friends came up with the nickname ‘Yinna Yanna’ after much deliberation, and this eventually was shortened to Yanna, and when people call me that now I’m hit with a wave of nostalgia for when that was my name. Various people have tried to call me Rhi over the years (including my GCSE history teacher) and it has never really stuck, thank God.
When I was 13, Rihanna’s ‘Umbrella’ hit the charts like a snowstorm and suddenly, I was identified with her. I was someone to follow round with umbrellas and yell the lyrics at me. This is something that continues to follow me around now, as I’m sure all Rhiannas (or various spellings) will appreciate. The same name (mine is spelled differently btw) does not make this a conversation starter, and so I became even more disconnected from my name. My name was famous, but I was just me.
When I went to University, the name RhiJo was born, and I loved it. I felt fun and important and popular with a name that my friends had come up with. They still call me it now, and again it feels like the name of an old life. I still don’t really click with my name when people say it, something in me shrinks away from it, but at the same time I can’t imagine having another name. There was recently a Twitter thread of various ‘Rhianna’s all tweeting each other about the funny situations we have experienced having this name (my favourite, being asked ‘were you named after Rihanna?’
Funnily enough, no.
Leading on from this (I was going to do a whole separate post but I didn’t think there would be enough) is my want to escape myself. Things that have always defined me that I didn’t choose. Last week, I dyed my hair blonde – it’s not even properly blonde, it’s kind of a brassy strawberry blonde – and so many people were devastated that I’d given up my defining feature and mourning over the ‘death’ of my hair. I said the same hing to all of them – that I didn’t want to wake up one day at 60 years old, with grey hair, and realised I had never dyed it a different colour, out of fear of losing my hair colour, when that is not what defines me. My name doesn’t define me, my hair doesn’t define me, only I define me, and it’s something that I’ve not cherished recently – the privilege that I have to be able to define myself however I want to. I never had a teenage rebellious stage of acting out, of fighting against the confines that life had given me, and I don’t really think I’m having that now, but maybe as part of my mid-twenty life crisis, I’m realising that I don’t always have to be the person other people have convinced themselves I am.
I don’t always have to be a good role model. I don’t have to have ginger hair. I don’t have to have it all together all the time. I can have tattoos, piercings, and purple hair, and it makes no impact on who I am. I am a wimp in many aspects of the word, and for a long time I’ve been afraid of changing things about myself, but as someone who has never had a strong sense of self – I need to start trying to find it.