Identity Krises

Alphabet Soup

By Kristina Campbell
Published on January 27, 2005, 12:00am | Comments

Until my senior year in college, I was half the person I am today. I don't mean that this was the point at which I mastered self-actualization or doubled my brain power, although I'm sure I made steps in both those directions. I literally was half the person I am today; I went by Kris instead of Kristina.

I don't remember thinking much about the name on my birth certificate until I was in college, when my journalism school adviser insisted that I should be using Kristina in my byline rather than Kris, the name everyone in my life to that point called me.

I tended to trust his judgment; he was wise, he was experienced in the field, and he was the person who signed documents authorizing things like my degree. I remember hearing outcry from some fellow students when I made the announcement; I'd been Kris Campbell in the student paper for three years, and now I was going off to an internship at the daily newspaper in Des Moines where I would be Kristina Campbell.

"It's just not you," one particularly rattled observer lamented. "You're Kris Campbell."

There was some truth to that, and his words gave me pause. There was no Kristina Campbell at that point, except as I existed on formal documents and, annoyingly, in the existence of a girl around my age who grew up near my hometown and seemed to be routinely listed in the hospital admittances column in the local newspaper.

Kris Campbell was a solid name; it was utilitarian and tidy, conveniently tri-syllabic but sufficiently alliterative to keep it from being completely bland. It wasn't an unusual moniker, but there was the unexpected K spelling to keep people on their toes. It was a nice, functional, friendly name, and I wore it well. I wasn't sure I was ready to give it up with all its simplicity and down-home sensibility, but I was perched on the brink of my career, and I decided to listen to the voice of experience, not the 22-year-old j-school smart aleck who couldn't handle change.

At first, I used Kristina as my byline but identified myself to sources as Kris. Gradually that started to confuse people, so I started using Kristina with people I didn't know. It seemed like a clean enough separation; Kris in my personal life and with colleagues, Kristina in my professional life as it extended outside the newsroom. 

A couple of years later, when I moved across the country and settled in D.C. with my girlfriend at the time, I started a job at the local gay newspaper and promptly started introducing myself as Kristina to everyone, including my colleagues. A couple of people asked if I preferred Kristina or Kris, and I acknowledged that most of my friends called me Kris, so that name slipped into use with some. My boss, an aficionada of the newsroom of yore, called me "Campbell," which caught on with a few coworkers. But most other people inside the paper and in the larger community called me Kristina, and it was a name I settled into.

As I started branching out socially, I would introduced myself as Kristina in these extracurricular settings -- people at my church know me as Kristina, for instance, and there are other settings where people know me on a deeply personal level but call me Kristina instead of the nickname I grew up with. It is what I get called by most people I interact with, although there's still a large Kris contingent out there -- my partner and my in-Vermont-laws, my own family, my friends from before 1994 or so.

It turns out there's also a Kris contingent left over from the days of the internship in Des Moines. I just started a new job this month and my new boss is also an old boss, the managing editor from that Des Moines newsroom, back when I went by Kris in the newsroom and Kristina in the reporting sphere. (Fans of this column need not fret; it will continue on into perpetuity or until my termination, if my editor finally gets sick of my abusive behavior toward deadlines.)

The new boss calls me Kris. This means everyone he communicates with about me also calls me Kris. My new job entails a lot of communication with editors around the country, so in newsrooms near and far there are editors, new colleagues, who leave me voicemails and send me e-mails that start with "Hi Kris..."

It's jarring in some ways, comfortable in others. I feel like I suddenly have this expanded network of really close, old friends -- all of whom would be great resources if I ever need an employment reference again. But I can't break my habit; I sign e-mails as Kristina and start phone conversations with "Hi, this is Kristina" -- although sometimes I'll sign off with a simple and ambiguous "k" if an e-mail starts with the shortened form of my given name.

Not long ago, my partner's father asked if he should be calling me Kristina. No, I assured him -- I still answer to Kris. Just as I am gently rattled when a work associate I've never even met calls me Kris, it would flummox me to a similar extent if members of my family started calling me Kristina all the time, not just when I am in trouble.

As it turns out, Kristina carries some significance in the gay realm. Years ago, my erstwhile colleague David latched onto the fact that I share a name (at least phonetically) with Joan Crawford's daughter. "Kristiiiiinaaaaaaaaa," he'd bellow down the hall at me. "NO WIRE HANGERS!!" Having some street cred with the male homosexuals is always handy.

Conversely, though, after I left the gay professional world, a prospective employee -- who later became a colleague and a close friend -- read in my bio that I had worked at the Washington Blade and assumed I was not a lesbian despite my long tenure at a gay publication. The name "Kristina" was too unseemly for a lesbian to sport, she sheepishly confided much later.

I refrained from beating her with a wire hanger.

Kristina Campbell, also known as Kris, can be reached at kcampbell@metroweekly.com. "Alphabet Soup" appears biweekly.


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