I was not always Bear. The name I was given at birth is Erin Ainsley Wilson. It’s a pretty name with good flow. A little white bread to say the least but it is what it is. It’s hard to know for certain who started the nickname, but from a very early age (as long as I can remember) family and friends affectionately referred to me as Erbear or just Bear. Yes, I am aware that many Erins, Claires, Merediths and other similar sounding names have been nicknamed as such. I however, took it a step further. All my life I felt surrounded by other Erins. I distinctly remember coming home in second grade and crying because I hated being called Erin W. There were always other Erins in my class, on my sports teams and even names that just sounded a lot like mine (Shout out to the Erics out there). What’s worse is that I was told many times growing up that I didn’t look like an Erin. People would even blame forgetting my name on that. So when I was given the opportunity to go by a different name, I jumped at the chance.
My first job out of high school I had a manager named Erin. (I’m not kidding, I was surrounded!) Things got confusing quickly and I let my coworkers know they could call me Bear. It was easy to remember, I wouldn’t get confused with someone else and most importantly, I knew I would respond to it. And this is the part where I get real dramatic: My WHOLE life changed. Okay, maybe not my whole life, but the difference was significant and meaningful. I felt like ME. I felt like I had discovered this alter ego that allowed me to be a stronger and more authentic version of the girl I had been developing for the first 18 years of my life. I quickly became obsessed. As Bear I was bolder, more vibrant. I wasn’t afraid to be the ferocious human I had always felt raging inside of me. I decided as I went off to college that I was going to go by Bear full-time. Even letting my best friend, who I would be rooming with, know that I would appreciate her complying with the name change (at least while we were around other people). She graciously agreed to go along with my obsession.
It could not have gone better. My teachers, new friends and everyone I met knew me as Bear and I was elated by it. I got a rush every time I heard someone call me Bear. No one forgot my name. Instead of telling me that I didn’t look like an Erin, people would talk to me about my name, what it meant to me and how beautiful and unique it was. Now (6 years later), Bear feels more like my name than Erin ever did and I even had it legally added as a second middle name just because it needed to officially be part of my identity. Going by Bear has been one of THE most important decisions I’ve made in my life.
No matter what you do, if it is in any way outside the norm, you will have haters. And yes, going by the name of a mammal turns out to be a little bit unusual. I have experienced a few different reactions that most people fall into.
- The people who meet me, demand the story of my name or demand I tell them my “real” name and then try to call me Erin. I have very little patience with these people. If you meet someone and they introduce themselves a certain way, you do not have the right to refer to them differently because it is an unusual name to you. In my mind I categorize these people as the ego-centric ones. They confront my choice because they disapprove, misunderstand or want to self-aggrandize by setting themselves apart as different just by how they refer me. People have tried to use my given name to make themselves feel more important or different or emotionally closer to me. These are not people I make room for in my life.
- The people who tear me down. These are the ones who truly hurt my feelings. They are the people who have known me from before I was Bear and who refuse to let me be her. The way they do this varies. They either call me Erin without hesitation and make snide comments about how “I’ll always be Erin to them“. Or, they roll their eyes when I introduce myself as Bear in front of them. Or, they talk about me when I’m not there. Saying how pretentious I am, how i’m looking for attention, how it’s so annoying etc. I know many of these people and there are probably more. Their judgments hurt, but the fact is that going by Bear has brought me infinitely more joy than they have. And so Bear is where my loyalty lies. And at the end of the day, these are the people who WANT to tear others down. It makes them feel better about themselves. Maybe they are jealous because there are things they want to do but think they can’t so they punish me for doing what I want. In reality, even if I was still going by Erin, in their eyes I would probably still be pretentious, vain, annoying and who knows what else. So I try not to let them get to me.
- The people who I meet and immediately accept the name Bear without question, or after hearing the story, honor my request to be called Bear. These people make me so happy and are (thankfully) a majority of the people I am privileged to associate with. To them it is not a question of if they want to call me that, they just do because that is how I identify and introduce myself.
- The people who knew me as Erin (before I was 18) and try hard to call me Bear when they remember. These people are the ones I am most grateful for. How frequently they remember, or correct themselves, ranges. But what matters to me is the effort. At the end of the day it is just a name. I never try to punish people who forget or refuse to respond to my given name in retaliation. Just the fact that they try makes me feel loved, and that my desires and wishes matter to them even if they are slightly inconvenienced. These are the people who love me.