An Open Letter To People Who Find Their Names On Souvenir Keychains

Check your name privilege.

Image: Bernardo Barlach

Dear Just About Everyone Besides Me And Lupita Nyong’o,

My name is Toby. I’m a girl. And I love my name. I love being different. I love not having to say my last name when I leave a message for someone. But it hasn’t always been easy, this life of unpersonalized pain. Let me namesplain something for you.

Just this morning I was at the gas station and saw one of those seemingly ordinary display carousels with keychains and miniature license plates, all boasting names. Have you ever had a panic attack triggered by a revolving tiered merry-go-round of shame?

Image: Casey Holford

Of course you haven’t, STEVENS.


And don’t get me started on you, ELIZABETHS.

You and your comfortable life of NAME PRIVILEGE.

YOU have a name you don’t have to say twice over the phone or three times at a loud bar. You can use your REAL name when the hostess asks for it at a restaurant. You never had to correct a teacher on the first day of school. The worst name-related crime that’s ever happened to YOU is that you had to go by “Matt C.” at camp because there was also a “Matt R.” in your bunk.

You have closets full of personalized pennants and teddy bears in t-shirts that say “Chris” and “Sophia.” A juice glass from your spinster Aunt’s trip to Quebec that says “Danielle,” with a little beret hanging off the capital “D.” The “Lindsay” necklaces, the “Ryan” baseball caps. All emblazoned with your common-ass moniker. Me? I’ve got four scarlet letters: T, O, B and Y. I bet even Nathaniel Hawthorne had a “Nathaniel” pencil. Think about it.

These days, the shelves beside those rotating carousels of shame are only adding to their inventory. There are enough “Ashley”/”Ashlee”/”Ashleigh”/”Ashlie”/”Ashlé”/”Asheleighey” mug variations to caffeinate an entire season of The Bachelor. And as the “Teri’s” and “Tony’s” and “Tori’s” spin past, my fate is sealed: The only thing I will ever have with my name on it is my government issue driver’s license.

Someday I hope to live in a world where I can walk into an airport bookstore, head held high, knowing with full confidence that my name is just WAITING for me on a magnetic bottle opener in the shape of a mustachioed cactus sporting a sombrero. But not today. No “Toby” seashell. No “Toby” rock. No “Lupita Nyong’o” fanny pack.

So the next time you stumble upon a ceramic bullfrog holding a Swedish flag that says “Lauren” on it, think of me, would you? I’ll be writhing in pain in my personal unpersonalized hell next to a faded metal pin that says “Favorite Daughter” on it.


Toby Herman is a comedy writer and television producer in LA. She is also a girl. Besides water, she retains useless pop culture information and the phone numbers to her high school friends’ parents’ landlines. She will go to her grave proclaiming that Grease 2 is better than Grease.