The words roll off my tongue like TV static and fax machine sounds. To be fair, any name paired with Blankenbiller is an anti-poem. The hefty, blunt German moniker sounds like a tuba solo following a ballerina. I flirt with striking the last name from my record by flipping back to my dainty maiden “Jensen”, or tempering it with hyphenation. The hassle of calling every credit card and utility company, going to the DMV, and explaining to my sensitive-hearted husband that no, this isn’t a precursor to an abandonment plot has deterred me so far these past six years.
I don’t have a daughter, and I won’t. I’ve never wanted kids, but that doesn’t stop the occasional wistful wonder of what a Matt and Tabitha Blankenbiller kid would look like, whose talents and ailments they’d end up with, and what s/he would be called. For years I held onto Allegra as my favorite girl’s name, but after a drug manufacturer snatched it up for seasonal allergy meds, I saw it as yet another sign from the universe that I was making the right non-mom decision.
This morning, on the way to work, the morning radio DJs were discussing the meteoric rise of Khaleesi as a newborn’s name. Thanks to Game of Thrones, a post-millennial generation of babies were ending up with leaving the hospital as tribute to their parents’ favorite Westeros house.
According to The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, “Khaleesi was a more popular name than Betsy in 2012.” Arya, the name of Ned Stark’s youngest daughter, has also doubled in popularity since Game of Thrones premiered in 2011.
I watch the show every week. It’s the only series that could drive us to subscribe to HBO (sorry, Girls and Deadwood). Danareas Targerean is my favorite character, the storyline I always root to get the most airtime that week (there’s never, ever enough time with Danareas and the dragons). If suddenly, I became magically pregnant today, a girl would end up as Khaleesi or Elsa, the tortured queen from Frozen.
Our next cat, I decided. Kitty Khaleesi will rock.
When I arrived at work, I popped into the communal kitchen to warm up my oatmeal. As I watched the tiny cup spin on its plastic pedestal, I heard footprints clump across the laminate floor. I turned to see the company accounting manager, the one who wore so much Axe body spray that his presence curdled dairy. “Good morning, Dave,” I said out of courtesy with a weak pre-coffee smile, hoping to catch him in the same antisocial stupor.
“Oh! That reminds me,” he said. “Just yesterday I was talking to yet another person who can’t remember your name and thinks that it’s Samantha.”
I stared back, my mouth half agape, unpacking the message. First, there was apparently more than one coworker at the small office of maybe 50 people who could not muster enough memory storage to connect an accurate name with my presence, despite my over a year’s tenure at the same office. In addition, because Tabitha (featured in the top 1,000 of U.S. baby names for the past decade) is too big of a pain in the ass to learn, these people are using a memory trick to keep it straight that’s based on a 50-year-old TV sitcom. But attributing me to “that bitch from Bewitched” fails when the mother Samantha is recalled instead of Tabitha, the daughter.
The first person to make the mistake was a neighbor when I was still in grade school. At Christmas, my mom would hang all of the cards we received along the back doorway. One day, while flipping through the holiday greetings, I noticed that the woman next door had gotten our family wrong. “To Scott, Kathy, Brianna and Samantha.”
“Who’s Samantha?” I asked my mom. “And where am I?”
“She just remembered your name wrong,” she said, shaking her head at the airheaded card. “She’s got her Bewitched all mixed up.”
At that age, I knew the show. I had to, in order to make sense of all the people asking if I could wiggle my nose, from the birthing nurse on forward. I used to smile and squeeze my eyes shut, willing my nose to play along with the party trick for elders at church or cashiers at the grocery store. Back then, before I knew who I was, before I had a reason to care, being mistaken for a Samantha lifted my spirits. After all, Samantha was the chic Victorian American Girl doll that all the cool kids had, the one with the miniature petit fours and the pink pinstriped party dress. Being mistaken for whichever witch gave me a dose of attention, and I’d take any extra notice that I could.
“Maybe Samantha suits you better than Tabitha,” Dave decided before topping off his coffee cup and taking off. Because people who can’t memorize the three syllables of my first name definitely know what does and does not suit me.
For the record, my parents were not “big fans!” of Bewitched. It’s a bit before their time. The show premiered in 1964, when my mom and dad were still toddlers, and concluded its run in 1972, before they’d hit middle school. My dad dreamed of honoring a favorite character with a child’s name, while my mom is perennially inconspicuous. Before I was born, their first daughter of an eventual family of three kids, my dad pushed for the name Ilsa, after Ingrid Bergman’s role in Casablanca.
“I was afraid you’d get made fun of for life,” Mom will say any time I ask. The same answer she gives to my little brother Zachary, who would have been Anakin Jensen, had Dad gotten his way. Mom tried to shield us all with safe baby book names, but she forgot to cross-check mine with bizarre pop culture phenomena that refuses to wane.
I keep waiting for the people who know Bewitched to die out, or at least retire. Astoundingly, I found that it’s still syndicated on TV, though only during the hours I’m at work. The 2005 film adaptation was box office napalm. But the reference endures the way that Geraldo Rivera and Kathie Lee Gifford keep getting gigs.
I’ve tried every fix I can think of. At my last job, one of my colleagues kept beginning my emails “Dear Samantha.” After scrolling through the company directory, picking out my email address, and seeing it self-populate as Tabitha Blankenbiller. I wrote back, bumping my signature’s font size up to 32.
Thanks, Samantha, he replied.
“There are plenty of other Tabithas out there,” I’ve tried to point out. Tabitha King, the poet and wife of Stephen King. Tabitha Soren, Queen MTV VJ. Tabatha (the abominable spelling) and her tyrranical salon takeover. People shrug, people stare back vacantly at Samantha, whose polite laughter when asked to wiggle her nose has evolved over three decades into a hateful, jaded sneer.
The name Khaleesi isn’t stupid. Game of Thrones isn’t stupid. Trying to make your baby’s name special and relevant isn’t stupid. Unfortunately, the people she’ll have to live with are. This upcoming generation has enough to deal with in this warming, crowding world without having to share their identities with a sliver of pop culture minutiae that us future old people adore. It’s hard enough to find peace within your own skin without people laughing or shrugging you off because you have a character name. In half a decade, it’s easy to see Arya enduring as the simplest name to remember, setting up a century of mismatched memory game annoyance. Even if the right name miraculously sticks, the yuks won’t end, even after they’ve turned as stale and dated as a One Direction poster. None of these girls deserve to be asked where their dragons are hiding or if they’ll “eat your heart out” from the delivery room until they die.