On Being Tan and Named Bonnie

“But Bonnie is a beautiful name!”

My Bonnie lies over the ocean…

“Aren’t you glad you don’t have the same name as anyone else?”

My Bonnie lies over the sea…

“My brother Wendell married a Bonnie and I always loved it when he said her name.”

My Bonnie lies over the ocean…

“It’s such a unique name, just like you!”

So bring back my Bonnie to me…

Tan Bonnie.jpg
Tan Bonnie at her wedding reception.

So here’s the thing: my Mom loves the name Bonnie. She’s affirmed this fact my whole life. And she’s sung My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean to me hundreds of times—beginning in my infancy to most recently, four weeks ago. Arguably, my Mom loves my name more than any of my other five siblings’ name, some of which are far less unique, like Lauren and Will. My sister Audrey’s middle name is unique—Vandelyn— but she’s named after my Grandmother.

“But what would your life be like if you were named Emily?”

I however, am not named after anyone. I do have an aunt Bonnie, though. My Mom’s brother Wendell married a woman named Bonnie. They moved to Florida before I was born. Bonnie does not like planes, trains, or automobiles, so I have never met her. I do know she’s tan. I’ve seen pictures.

“But there aren’t many Bonnie’s out there! You’re a dying breed!”

But I am not named after tan Bonnie. My Mom simply loved hearing Wendell say Bonnie’s name. I am not sure if he said it in a fancy way because she loved her so deeply or simply because she thought it was a pretty name. Nonetheless, the name Bonnie has stuck with her ever since.

“But what would you complain about if your name wasn’t Bonnie?”

Unfortunately, I have never been able to hear Wendell say Bonnie’s name. Despite the obvious barrier of location, he died in a boating accident before I was born. But my Mom does write letters to tan Bonnie occasionally. Sends Christmas cards.

“Well, I’m sorry you don’t like your name. I hope you will appreciate it someday.”

So here’s the thing, she’s probably right.* I may not be tan and live in Florida, but I think I eventually will appreciate my name more than I do right now. I mean, it is kind of nice to not have the same name as everyone else. And perhaps someday there’ll be another Bonnie in my family living with the same plight. And perhaps someday maybe she’ll think about her pale aunt Bonnie who lived in Nebraska, and did just fine.


*Nota Bene: My Mom is right in all things, so even if I don’t buy in yet, I know I will someday. She really does know best.

**Just in case you’ve never heard “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean,” here’s a link to a children’s version, similar to how my Mom sings it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hp_vkZkMQNU 

You’ve Got… a Last Name


If you don’t love your first name, you really grow to appreciate a good last name. But there’s another reason why last names are important; they increase our validity in the world. Let’s jump to one of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite movies, You’ve Got Mail. If you’ve never seen the movie, I’ll give you a brief rundown. You’ve Got Mail is a classic 90’s romantic comedy, in fact, it’s arguably the best rom-com ever made, featuring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. (Think: smart dialogue, black turtlenecks, developed characters, imperfectly disheveled hair, and heroines more like Elizabeth Bennet than the common clumsy-but-lovable rom-om heroine trope.) In the movie, they’re pen pals who met in an online chat room during the beginning

You've Got Mail

of the internet age—but here’s the catch: they haven’t met in real life. In real life, they both happen to be in The Book Business. Tom Hanks, or Joe Fox, is part of Fox Books, a la Barnes and Noble of our day, and Meg Ryan, or Kathleen Kelly, owns The Shop around the Corner, a la the mom-and-pop shop you have in your town—full of charm, albeit overpriced. The two are rivals in real life but unbeknownst to them, chummy via email, being easily disguised by their email handles. The film is full of masterful lines the viewer cannot forget, like when Joe Fox says his girlfriend is so high strung that she “makes coffee nervous.” However in this below scene, Joe finds Kathleen in a coffee shop shortly after she realizes she met her business enemy a few days earlier, where she confronts him for not being honest about his last name and association with the Big Bad Chain Store, Fox Books. We get more than just a funny one-liner, but some potential wisdom and career advice.


I thought all that Fox stuff was so charming. F-O-X.


I never lied about it—


“Joe. Just call me Joe.” As if you were one of those stupid 22-year-old girls with no last name.

“Hi, I’m Kimberley.”

“Hi, I’m Janice.” What’s wrong with them? Don’t they know you’re supposed to have last names? It’s like they’re a whole generation of cocktail waitresses.


I am not a stupid 22-year-old girl—


That’s not what I meant—

This scene has always struck me. Not because of the banter between the two, but that if you don’t introduce yourself to people with your last name, you’re suddenly part of “a whole generation of cocktail waitresses.” Nothing against the profession, but that’s not what I aim to be. If you only introduce yourself with your first name, or one part of your identity, you so easily blend into the mix of others that share your name. (Well, if others share your name…) Kathleen could be anyone, but Kathleen Kelly is a small business owner, full of charm and history. Joe could literally be anyone, but Joe Fox adds the weight of his last name and synonymous book store.

So, I’m Bonnie Martin: Not a Cocktail Waitress. This import is lost on some. When meeting my friends’ new boyfriends and significant others, I always extend my hand for a handshake and say “Hi, I’m Bonnie Martin.” Then I am usually teased for the level of my formality. I can’t help it. Adding your last name to your first name adds a whole part of your persona. It literally doubles the length and depth of your name, if you want to get technical here.

I teach a Career Development Seminar in my role in the University’s College of Engineering, and also stress this last name significance to students. If you have a somewhat common name, like Matthew or Ryan, an employer at a career or networking event will have trouble remembering your name if you only offer your first name. Perhaps they met multiple Ryan’s that day. (I have a theory that Ryan is the most popular name of engineering students in Nebraska. Just last week, I had 3 back-to-back appointments with Ryan’s. All different people.) By using your first and last name, you differentiate yourself. You clue them in on your full identity. I ask in my class if anyone has seen You’ve Got Mail. They haven’t—who am I kidding? They are mostly male, Gen Z, engineering students. So, I laboriously explain this ENTIRE scene about last names, hoping it will resonate with them. They think I’m a little crazy and oddly obsessed with this movie, but introduce themselves with their last names anyway.

Upon further thought, maybe this blog should be Being Bonnie Martin

Source: You’ve Got Mail. Directed by Nora Ephron, performances by Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, Warner Bros. Pictures, 1998.

“Hello My Name is Bonnie M.”

Bonnie M. That’s what the name tag said. Before receiving said name tag, I first had to read and sign a waiver that the library does not pre-screen any candidates before the event. So basically, if you get murdered it’s not their fault. Fair enough.

Welcome to speed dating at the public library.

I never thought I would have the gumption to do such a thing (I am afraid of online dating, app dating, and— sometimes!— in-person dating). But my neighbor friend told me that it would be a good time and likely make for some good stories.


My neighbor and I approached the library on the cold, snowy Friday night shortly after drinking a glass of red wine each, as that’s what one must do before they go speed dating at the public library the Friday before Valentine’s Day.

Here’s the breakdown. Within your designated age category (I fell in 25-35) you meet with 30 men. The 30 women stay seated and the men move after 3 minutes of conversation. Just in case you’re unable to fill 3 minutes of conversation, the library leaves questions and icebreakers on the table (e.g. Where do you work? What is your favorite book?). You may be scoffing right now, and I did too, but I also admit that I used them once, specifically “What is your favorite restaurant?” Because, desperate times, people, desperate times.

You find out later if you have a match because you fill out a scorecard of sorts for each suitor. You get their first name and first letter of their last name. Bonnie M. First off, after signing that waiver, I start worrying.

My name is too unique. If there’s a murderer here, it wouldn’t be that hard to find Bonnie M in Nebraska later on to stalk and murder. Especially because Bonnie M needs to shut her big mouth and stop telling everyone specifically where she works during speed dates. (I’m not used to being ambiguous!) If you google “Bonnie M UNL Nebraska,” I am the first person who pops up, contact information and office number, or future crime scene if you will.

Other than potential crime scenes, here’s the funny part, I get a decent handful of comments about my name.

From a lanky, blonde chemical engineer I hear, “My mom’s name is Bonnie!” His dad was the art teacher in the town I grew up in, oddly enough. I never took art though.

And from an artsy-looking “I teach creative writing” man with curly hair and super white teeth, I also hear, “What an interesting name!” (Side note: this event was full of English majors and engineers. I fall into the former, not the latter, category.)

My favorite was the gentlemen that said, “Bonnie…hmm…Bonnie…hmm…that reminds me of something…” He thinks and thinks. He starts guessing weird names.

“Bonnie and Al?” “Bonnie and Roger?”

“You’ll get it,” I assure him, rolling my eyes.

“BONNIE AND CLYDE!” He is pleased with himself.

“Yep. I get that a lot.”

He’s deflated. I don’t remember what he looks like; he might have been number 28 or 29 at this point in the night. I try to smile to assure him that it’s okay that his reaction was not very unique, but honestly I am counting down the next 1 minute and 58 seconds until the men rotate again down the line.

I won’t go speed dating again. It’s nothing to do with the people there, some were very lovely, but I just realized it’s not my cup of tea. I was using my scorecard to track who made comments about my name, thinking about my online classes and what I could write when I got home, instead of being engaged in the moment. I guess Bonnie’s don’t go speed dating. But when they do, their name makes an impact.

Speed Dating Infographic

Bonzodittos Makes Charcuterie Boards.

For one minute you’re a professional, polished twenty-something-year-old and the next minute you’re an eight-year-old again. One minute you arrive early (gasp!) for a birthday party with a gift in tow, wrapped with coordinating paper, tag, and

Lauren and Bonnie
Bonzodittos and L-Girl circa 2001

washi tape, and in the next minute, you feel like the kid with a bowl-cut haircut who had to bring the birthday gift in a Toys-R-Us bag because your mom forgot when the party was. That’s what being called Bonzodittos (pronounced Bon•zo•dee•toes… kind of like Doritos) feels like. The name itself brings you from adulthood to childhood in an instant.

My older sister Lauren— perfect, brilliant, beautiful Lauren (the kind of eldest sister you see in movies who is high achieving and for some reason, always brunette, a la Wren from the Even Stevens or Melissa from Pretty Little Liars)— dubbed me Bonzodittos in the second grade. To be fair, most second graders have the looks of someone named Bonzodittos. Sometimes I was called “Bonzo” (affectionately close to the word Bozo!) for short.

I digress.

This nickname has stuck after all these years. I no longer have a bowl-cut haircut but each time Lauren calls me Bonzodittos, I am suddenly an eight-year-old girl again. I am suddenly unkempt and unsure of my existence in the world, like someone’s name for me defines me. It’s weird how something like a name can do that, right?

In reality, maybe I am not that different from my eight-year-old self. Although last time I attended a family birthday party I was early and wrapped the gift as a put-together adult ought to, wrapped and coordinated—as previously alluded—I’ve been guilty of reverting to my eight-year-old late, Toys-R-Us bag ways. I attended a Christmas party last year in which I was late and my “dish” was a charcuterie board. Well, that’s what I wanted it to be. It was basically a cheese and cracker tray. I even bought pre-sliced cheese. I threw it all on a tray with some grapes and called it a day. That’s honestly not too disparate from walking into a party with an unwrapped gift in a Toys-R-Us bag. It’s like I’m saying, “Hey. I do care. I did go to the store. I just can’t plan far enough in advance or reach that domestic level of excellence I am expected to at this point in my life.” Furthermore, I came with this “wannabe” charcuterie board late. I walked in late with my pathetic cheese and cracker tray. As in, everyone was basically waiting in the food line for me to come as I rolled in at 12:10. I walked in, barely said “Merry Christmas” before they started the prayer so they could eat.

I had no reason for being late. Unlike Lauren, who has three girls under the age of six to dress in Christmas dresses with matching hair bows, I just had to get myself ready. Still late.

Lauren, also waiting in the food line, saw me sneak in late. She hollered “Hey Bonzodittos!” Maybe I should be called Bonzodittos more often.

The odd thing about this childhood nickname is that Lauren became jealous of it. She had so many charming and not-to-charming iterations of my name to call me, that she wanted some of her own. It wasn’t fair that I got to be called Bonnie, Bon, Bon-Bon, Booney Booney Kai Yai, Barnacle, Bonzo, and Bonzodittos. It wasn’t fair that I got teased with these names and she didn’t. She wanted one too.

So I called her L-girl. Really clever, right? You get it, because her name is Lauren and she is a girl? L-girl. Hey, I was eight. It was the best I could do.

She liked it. And there we were, Bonzodittos and L-girl, the eldest Martin sisters ready to take on the world, be it eight-year-olds or twenty-something year olds, navigating birthday parties, Christmas parties.

I walked into the Christmas party and Lauren, waiting in the food line, hollered “Hey Bonzodittos!”

“Hey, L-girl.”

I Need New Pants.

“What’s your name, honey?” Gosh, I hate it when salespeople call me honey. Or sweetie. Or any other term of endearment. I also hate it when they ask your name. I am just trying to casually shop at New York & Company (after many failed attempts at Banana Republic, Gap, Dillard’s, Ann Taylor, Loft, and the thrift store) to find the perfect pair of work pants. Ones that are snug yet roomy. Ones that are long enough. Ones that aren’t too wide-legged that they flop around when I walk. I would argue many stories start with me trying to find the perfect pair of pants. It’s hard being Bonnie.

The saleswoman wants my name to write on the fitting room door. I also hate this. Now my name will be scrawled— and probably misspelled—on an old chipped-up fitting room door for hours until another poor soul tries to find their perfect pair of work pants.

“It’s Bonnie.”



Here we go. “Oh my goodness! My mom’s name is Bonnie! She’s much older than you though.” Then she says “What an old person’s name in a young person’s body!”New Pants Quote

Indeed. I laugh of course. It’s nice to connect with people while shopping. And to be frank, she was simply delighted that I shared the name of her mother. I am not sure if anyone had ever shared her mother’s name before. Or if so, they were quite elderly based on her exclamation. I laugh and mutter some agreement as she walks away.

I’m mid-pant leg and I hear her shuffle back to the room…

“Now I just have to ask. What is your middle name?”

“It’s Leah,” I say, not quite knowing how to act or what she wants from me as I am half-dressed trying to talk through the chipped-paint door.

“Okay! Leah. Bonnie Leah. Bonnie Leah. Bonnie Leah. Bonnie Leah.” She repeats my name continuously as she exits the fitting room hallway and is free to accost another customer.

When I am ready to leave New York & Company, I purposely avoid her. I am not quite sure why, but I really don’t want to be called out. Once someone knows your name you feel more obligated to buy stuff. I am sure there’s research out there on that. Just like how there’s research out on how most expensive items should be placed on the right-hand side of the store and how touching something leads to a larger percentage of buying it. Anyway, I am able to leave without running into “Bonnie’s daughter.” It’s hard to know how to respond to someone who exclaims your name does not fit your body… “What an old person’s name in a young person’s body!” It’s like now I my identity or persona does not align with my name.

Anyway, the pants didn’t fit.

So, I call my mom. One of the things that Bonnie’s do is call their moms when something like this happens. You know, to complain about being named Bonnie. I only call her to make plans for a relative’s birthday party, complain when she hasn’t made plans for a relative’s birthday party, when disaster strikes, and when someone makes comments—both snide and kind— about my name. Since this name issue is going 26 years strong (I have an 86-year-old’s name in a 26-year-old’s body), we could have binders full of interesting stories that have cropped up because of it.

She loves it. I tell her the story, laughing and rolling my eyes as I tell it, in a “you won’t believe what happened” kind of fashion even though she would believe it because it happens all the time. She laughs and laughs and says “Well, isn’t that so great? You just made her day I bet.”

“I guess it’s fine, it’s just a little odd. And what happens when I am old and actually an old person with an old person’s name?”

I digress.

What you need to know here is that this most recent story, which occurred a couple of weeks ago now, has been recurring my whole life. The girl with the first name that doesn’t fit. The girl with the first name that causes pause. The girl with the first name that causes laughter, sometimes teasing, and inspires stories.

The girl who has yet to find the perfect pair of work pants.