Because I was blessed with a beautiful but uncommon first name, I’ve spent my life answering to nicknames. Most of them are derivatives of my given name (Jus, Justy, Jae, and Tina, for example). One friend nicknamed me Scooter because I walk so fast. One called me Roni because my given middle name was Veronica. I’ve also been Pam and Panama, although I’m not exactly sure how that happened. My cousin’s husband decided when he met me that I look like a Mitzi, so that is what he has always called me and I now go by Cousin Mitzi. Then there were the times when folks couldn’t figure out that the “e” at the end of my name meant that it rhymes with Kristine and not Kristin and then called me Justin instead. Still, I answered to that because I knew they were talking to me, and it wasn’t worth the effort to explain it. Turns out I will answer to anything.
During my junior year of college, my then boyfriend’s roommate took to calling me Polly Purebred after Underdog’s girlfriend. I assume this name came about for two reasons: 1) I resemble an anthropomorphic dog with bobbed blonde hair and 2) at the time I was an innocent, naive, sweet young woman. You could add that I am also third-generation, 100% Polish-American, which technically makes me a purebred and a standout in this melting pot nation. So, perhaps the name fit on a number of levels and that’s why it stuck.
The nickname Polly Purebred (or just plain Polly) to which I responded never bothered me. So I was named after a dog. She was still a pretty cute dog, and she was a reporter which at least gave her above average doggy intelligence. I could live with that, right? There were millions of nicknames given to other women at college that were far more offensive and derogatory than Polly. I counted myself fortunate.
But, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that despite appearances and my purebred status, I’ve never really fit into the Polly Purebred mold. Although I am certain that the originator of the nickname meant no disrespect to me, I realize now that I’ve spent the past twenty years working to negate that sweet Polly Purebred image. Polly consistently needed to be rescued by Underdog from Simon Bar Sinister or myriad other villains. If I seem sweet, innocent, and helpless to you, then you’re a poor judge of character.
This past summer I was at the end of a quick 15-mile ride, coming up a hill at a fair pace but not really pushing myself. A gentleman in his 50s rode up beside me and asked if I needed help. Wholly confused by this statement, since I was ably pedaling my bicycle (not even breathing hard) and wasn’t standing on the side of the road fixing a flat or anything, I responded hesitantly with an “I don’t think so,” and he cruised on up the hill without me. As his butt was fading into the distance, I realized that he had been offering to let me draft behind him so I could get up the hill more easily. There aren’t words enough to describe how angry that made me. I hadn’t been struggling on that incline, but he mistook my slower pace to mean I was tired and might need his help. Funny, but I bet that if I had been a 225 pound, sweaty male and not a small, blonde female with pigtails poking out from under my bike helmet that gentleman would not have offered help. I fumed all the way home, my legs fueled by fervent indignation.
I’m not above asking for help if I need it, but I hate when the assumption is made that I need it. Yes. I can carry a 40 pound bag of dog food without your help. I’ll replace that GCFI outlet by myself. I will climb out on our roof to wash the windows on our home. I have calmly extracted a young rattlesnake from our basement and set it free outside. I may be small, but I am intelligent and capable and I don’t need your help unless I ask for it. My husband once remarked that he is glad I have a hearty dislike for large spiders, otherwise I might not need him around at all. You see, I may look like Polly Purebred, but I’m not innocent and I don’t need Underdog to rescue me.