What's in a Name? Sometimes, an Automatic Rejection Email

by Lori Day

Image via Fiona Bradley/Flickr; Modified by Maximum Middle Age

Image via Fiona Bradley/Flickr; Modified by Maximum Middle Age

The other day I was reading a political article and the author mentioned interviewing "older voters." The first "older voter" she interviewed was 53 — my age. It stunned me. I wondered, if I’m an older voter at 53, what about the people who are 63, 73, 83, and 93? When does one become an "older voter?" I realized the answer probably lay with the author. If the author is a millennial, then perhaps everything appears to be one big blur of old age after 50. Surely we must all have the same political concerns that emerge from our decrepitude. Enough about that.

Suddenly, some dots connected themselves for me and I understood in that moment that when I pitch articles to editors at certain popular sites, I am usually submitting to someone named Madison or Amber or even Kylie, and the first thing they see is that my name is Lori. I was born in 1963, when the most popular girl names are now relics of history: Lisa, Mary, Susan, Karen, and Linda. Not far down the list were the cutesy names like Cindy, Marci, Tracy, Stacy, and yes, Lori. They all scream, "I'm a child of the '60s! Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!" That is so helpful when I am submitting writing to millennial editors named Brittany or Tiffany. My name is now synonymous with cronedom and irrelevance, even though my writing is as good or better than it ever was. 

So what about the guys over 50? Do their names advertise their descent into insignificance the way female names do? I began by looking up the five most popular boy names of 1963: Michael, John, David, James, and Mark. In 1980, we had Michael, Christopher, Jason, David, and James in the top five spots. Lots of overlap. And as I read further down the lists — from both 1963 and 1980 — the overlap in traditional male names was remarkable, with just a few newcomers like Ryan and Derek. 

My brother's name is Michael and he is 51. His name is one of the most popular boy names of all time, still to this day. No one can form any preconceived ideas about his age or anything else about him due to his first name. It was not until recently that we have entered the era of Aidan, Dylan, Caleb, and Brayden. Someday certain boy names will have the same date stamps that girl names have always carried, but not yet.

When I was younger, I used to wish that my parents had not been so desperate to find a trendy name for me. If I had been named Lorraine or Loretta, then Lori could have been my nickname, and I could have applied for jobs and signed documents with a non-hippie name. Today, if my name were Lorraine or Loretta, I'd be no better off than I am, because it would still be clear to all of the Nicoles and Crystals that I am "older."

Someone recently quipped that if I'm unhappy with my name I should just change it. I understand that I can go to a lawyer, shell out some money, and start calling myself Caitlyn or Chelsea or Chloe. But there's a small problem. I've built my entire career on my birth name, published a book under my birth name, and developed a wide social circle of people who've called me Lori for more than half a century. How effin' weird would it be to suddenly be correcting people? "I'm not Lori anymore. I'm Zoe." Yeah, sure you are, sure you are... look Sybil, I want to talk to Lori now, can you get her for me? And also, I have a good Twitter username and don't want to lose it.

I've been thinking about simply changing my byline to L.M. Day. Unlike J.K. Rowling, I would not be trying to obscure my gender, just my age. My male peers with names like William and Thomas are in the clear. Even if they submit their writing to a Jason or a Justin, no flashing lights and sirens accompany their submissions as boomers. Since it's mainly the Loris and Lindas of the freelancing and blogging world who feel the water lapping around their ankles as their essays are virtually circular-filed, what's to be done besides gaming the system? I encounter increasing ageism each year, signaling my presumed inability to contribute meaningfully to a digital dialogue that is no longer everyone's, as if ownership of culture rationally belongs to any particular age group over others.

F*ck that. The absurdities do not end. Ever.

So should I make the move from Lori to L.M.? I could resubmit all of my best articles that suddenly started getting turndowns in the past few years, using the new moniker. At the very least, I'd have an interesting social experiment I could blog about for an over-50 site. Good times.

Lori Day is an educational psychologist, consultant and parenting coach with Lori Day Consulting in Newburyport, MA. She is the author of Her Next Chapter: How Mother-Daughter Book Clubs Can Help Girls Navigate Malicious Media, Risky Relationships, Girl Gossip, and So Much More, and speaks on the topic of raising confident girls in a disempowering marketing and media culture. You can connect with Lori on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. She does not use Snapchat, Instagram, Kik or Yik Yak because she is a social media dinosaur, due to being in her golden years.