Thanks to my job, and my membership in various organizations, I regularly sport name tags or other labels. On different occasions, I represent our Lutheran synod, the Naval Academy Parents Association, The American Society of Journalists and Authors. Sometimes my name is preprinted; other times I am given a marker and the freedom to self-identify. Depending on the circumstances, I tag myself as Elise, Elise Seyfried or Mrs. S (the latter for my younger students, for whom “Seyfried” is just too high a linguistic mountain to climb). Sometimes I wear an adhesive label, which I invariably forget to remove after the activity ends. Last November, several weeks after our primary election, I walked around all day sporting an “I Voted” sticker on my shirt, which gave the viewer two impressions: 1) I am inordinately proud of having cast a ballot at some time in the past, and 2) I wear my shirts twice without washing them.
Long, long ago, I held various positions in the kids’ school PTA, including Head of Room Mothers, Fundraising Chair and Assembly Coordinator. I do not recall specific badges for these jobs; however, I do remember being inadvertently labeled prior to an address I once made to the entire parent-teacher organization at Thomas Fitzwater Elementary. As I approached the podium, there was a wave of laughter and applause—which would have been fine had I’d said anything ovation-worthy. It was not until (much) later that I discovered the source of the humor: one of my children had festooned the back of my shorts with huge Disney Princess stickers. Ask not for whom the clappers clap; they clap for Ariel and Belle.
Nowadays, I am labeled by my appearance. Each wrinkle and gray hair confirms my membership in the Baby Boom generation. I am also labeled as a white woman, which allots me certain privileges my sisters of color do not have in this country. When I open my mouth, my accent gives me away as a daughter of New York City (try as I vainly did to neutralize it during my acting career).
I have very mixed feelings about labels. In an ideal world, our uniqueness would render any labels unnecessary—how big would a label absolutely defining you have to be? Wouldn’t “Human Being” do the trick? I must say it is sometimes nice to be part of various groups of folks with like interests and passions. However, in this current, über-polarized climate, labels bear risks. I could certainly be called a Democrat, for example, but do I really want to be jeered at as a “Democrap?” No, thank you!
As I prepare for the next church event, I pull out a huge roll of blank name tags. Some of these will be filled in so sloppily that they’ll be useless for ID purposes (Jane Smf? Bill Derlllllgg?) But I hope to see another label similar to one a little child wrote last winter.
Instead of writing his name, he simply drew a heart.