A lot of people (nearly 7 and a half billion in fact) don’t know this, but I was born as Dmitriy Ilyich Vedernikov. Dmitriy is a common Russian name, fitting for a baby boy born in Moscow. Ilyich is derived from my father’s name, Ilya, adhering to customary Slavic patronymics. Vedernikov is my mother’s surname.
Funnily enough, my family never did call me Dmitriy. To them, I always was (and hopefully always will be) Yefim. Yefim is the name of my great-grandmother’s late husband who served as a doctor in the Second World War. As far as I have been able to figure out, the reason my birth certificate reads “Dmitriy” is that my maternal grandmother strongly disapproved of the name Yefim and convinced my mom to write in “Dmitriy” at the last possible minute.
And thus, I grew up colloquially as Yefim Vedernikov. My family immigrated to Los Angeles soon after I turned 4 and moved into a tight-knit Russian neighborhood in West Hollywood. I attended elementary school at Gardner Street Elementary where most of my classmates were also Russian immigrants. We spent our days hanging out together at the local Plummer Park.
From kindergarten to sixth grade at Gardner Street Elementary, my name lived on unperturbed. However, seventh grade came, and with it, my family was granted citizenship by the U.S. government. When filling out our naturalization paperwork, my dad unilaterally decided to rename the entire family. His goal was to Americanize our distinctly exotic names. First, he changed his own name from Ilya Tutochkin to Al Toshkin. Then, my mom went from Valentina Vedernikova to Valentine Vedernikoff. My brother went from Samuil Ilyich Vedernikov to Samuel George Vedernikoff. And lastly, I was rebranded as Geoffrey Yefim Vedernikoff.
I entered seventh grade at a new school with a new name. Adjusting to the new name was cumbersome but not unwieldy. I embraced the challenge and eagerly introduced myself as Geoffrey to every seventh grader I could. Going to a new school where nobody knew who I was only made it that much easier. Eighth grade was far worse. For eighth, my parents decided to transfer me to yet another new school that a good dozen or so of my old Russian friends attended. My Russian friends insisted on calling me Yefim. My teachers insisted on calling me Geoffrey. The dichotomy would only grow from there.
Eighth grade came and went and soon I was ready to attend high school. Again my parents decided (this time with my input) to enroll me in a school where not a single soul had heard of either Yefim or Geoffrey. It was easy to go by Geoffrey there. Note that at this point I did not have a personal preference. I simply wanted to have a name and be called by that name. It wasn’t until college that I realized why names were important.
I was accepted to the University of Pennsylvania as Geoffrey. I graduated as both Geoffrey and Yefim. As it often does, something interesting happened in college: my college friends met my Russian friends. It was second semester junior year, and up until that point my Russian friends were siloed in Los Angeles and my college friends were essentially everywhere else. For the sake of precision, I was on leave from what would have been my second semester junior year. Instead of college, I was working at a friend’s startup in San Francisco and living in a house with 8 startup founders - all dropouts around my age. When one of them went down to Los Angeles with me and caught wind that everyone there (read: all my Russian friends) called me Yefim, my worlds merged. The entire house picked it up and, to them, I was Yefim from there on out.
At first, I tried to resist. Summer came and I got a new internship at a new startup as Geoffrey. I went back to school to finish my senior year as Geoffrey. I interviewed for jobs after college as Geoffrey. I signed an offer as Geoffrey. I started work as Geoffrey.
However, socially, I had a choice to make so I slowly and nervously began to introduce myself as Yefim. Old college friends who had known me as Geoffrey for years were baffled. Nevertheless and with no questions asked, many of them made the switch to Yefim and I am grateful for their generous cooperation.
I want to be named Yefim because I feel like Yefim and I like being Yefim. Don’t get me wrong; I have definitely felt like Geoffrey and I liked being Geoffrey, but there is something that is distinctly me that is also distinctly Yefim, if that makes any sense. Besides the metaphysical, I want to be Yefim because I grew up as Yefim. My family calls me Yefim. I love my family and Yefim connects me to them in a way that Geoffrey never could. Additionally, I want to acknowledge and take pride in my Russian heritage. That’s obviously much easier to achieve as Yefim. Being Yefim would consolidate my fractured name dichotomy and solve the micro identity crisis I undergo whenever I introduce myself to my coworker’s friends. I have certainly made a name for myself as Geoffrey Yefim Vedernikoff, but now it’s time for me to drop Geoffrey and build a new (or is it old?) name as Yefim Vedernikoff.