Nico is not the name listed on my birth certificate. Differentiated by just two letters, Nicole is the first name I was given. It was one of the most popular names of 1983, and when I entered kindergarten, there were five other Nicoles in my class. Always needing to be different, I experimented with variations and nicknames—Niki, Nic, Pinky—but I never felt that I’d gotten it just right.
When I went away to college I wanted to reinvent myself. I spent a long time thinking about what kind of clothes I would wear and how I would style my hair. It occurred to me that I could change my name to anything. I could be Jasmine or Tigerlily. I could be anyone, because nobody knew me. I tried introducing myself this way at parties, but I felt stupid and inauthentic.
During the summer after my first year of college, I was reading the book Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain. The history of 70s punk features the story of Nico, the German model and singer who Andy Warhol more or less forced into the Velvet Underground for one great album. (Incidentally, Nico wasn’t her real name either. That Nico was named Christa.)
Seeing her name in print, I thought, “That’s so close to my name. I could just drop off the L and the E, and I could be Nico.” It wasn’t such a stretch. If my name were Christopher, no one would cry foul if I said my name was Chris. It wasn’t as far-fetched as calling myself Stardust. It was a fairly realistic idea.
Soon after I returned to school in the fall, I would join a student environmentalist group and meet the group of friends that I would romp with for many years (all of whom I still love, and several of whom are still close friends). I would introduce myself to these friends as Nico. They never questioned it. It has been my name ever since.
My daughter’s name is Lydia, but Lila (lee-lah) is the name she chose for herself. When she was small and we asked her name, Lila is what she would say. In a family that respects chosen names, it held on. We call her Lila most all the time, unless she’s being scolded.
I recently discovered that the word Lila in Sanskrit means “divine play.” In the Hindu faith, all of reality and all of the cosmos were created by the playfulness of the divine. In our most playful, sometimes we are the most serious. At out most joyous, sometimes we are the most devout. This is my Lila in a nutshell: both serious and goofball, both focused and free.
It’s a bit silly anyway, naming someone before you know who they are. As she grows, I want her to know she has the space to tell me who she is, not the other way around. Perhaps she will prefer different pronouns. Perhaps she will take an entirely new name.
It is likely that one day she’ll no longer be Lila, and of course we’ll roll with that. I’m sure she will wear many costumes and titles on the long quest for who she wants to be. I’m just excited to be along for the ride, I’m hopeful that she’ll feel comfortable sharing her truth with me, and I’m curious to meet every stage of her along the way.
My own personality changes don’t happen as rapidly anymore, but I wouldn’t call myself static. I’m still wondering, I’m still growing, I’m still brainstorming about who I want to be. I’m pretty sure Nico is here to stay, though. Sometimes a name just fits.