what's in a name?

Bynes, Palmer, and Knox: An Amanda Comes to Terms With Amanda Shame

Photo: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images; Josiah Kamau/BuzzPhoto/FilmMagic; ABC/Ida Mae Astute

I was named after my great-great-aunt Mandy. She was a “real character,” according to my mother — “determined, outspoken,” the kind of Southern woman you’d see chewing tobacco on the front porch. My mom promises that Amanda was not a popular name in 1984 (though the Social Security site contradicts her a little); Dynasty had been on the air for a few years, but the Amanda character — whom my mother always blames for the name’s ubiquity — wasn’t introduced until later. “I always liked it,” my mom said when I asked if she had any regrets about the choice. “But I would have preferred to name you a less common name.”

I’ve come to feel the same way. 2013 has not been a great year for Amandas, as anyone with a passing interest in pop culture could tell you. There was Amanda Palmer’s tone-deaf Dzhokahr Tsnaraev poem (and her general cringe-worthy self-promotion); Amanda Knox’s memoir, and the rehashing of her fantastical trial for the murder of a study-abroad roommate; and Amanda Bynes, who has been tweeting and selfie-ing her way into the Celebrity Weirdo Hall of Fame. The most successful Amandas I can currently point to are Amanda Peet, who was very good in her guest arc on The Good Wife, and Amanda Seyfried, who at least got to make out with Eddie Redmayne in Les Miserables.

It’s not like I feel a personal connection to any of the notorious Amandas. If pressed to draw comparisons, I would say that I, like Bynes, have an unusual interest in Drake. My middle name — I’m not making this up — is actually Knox. And as for Palmer, well, I too say silly things on the internet from time to time. (Like right now.) But even though we have little in common, I still feel compromised by our shared name, as if Amanda has become a shorthand for public embarrassment. In Latin class, they teach you that Amanda means “one who must be loved.” On the Internet, it now means “one who gets made fun of.” And when so much of our lives is built around Twitter handles and e-mail addresses, name transference seems like a given.

There are more fraught names, I know. (Pity the poor Gwyneths running around the playground, still too young to know what a GOOP is and the role it will play in their future lives.) And Amandas have been in the spotlight for 30 years, meaning there is a backlog of cultural associations to cancel out the recent incidents: two songs (three, if you count Barry Manilow’s “Mandy”); an iconic Jennifer Love Hewitt performance (shout-out to all the college dudes who would only call me “Amanduuuuh”); and a host of well-meaning Bachelor contestants. It is not the profile I would create for myself necessarily, but then, this is not OK Cupid. We all chafe against the identities our parents selected for us.

I try to remember this when a particularly harsh wave of Amanda Shame — usually timed to coincide with the latest Amanda Palmer blog post — overtakes me. Secretly, I still hope for one breakthrough Amanda, an Oscar winner or a political superstar to focus on. Someone who, when I introduce myself or tell my name to phone service agents, I can say, “It’s ‘Amanda.’ You know, like the secretary of State.” But it’s just a name, and I’m probably the only person fixated on its significance — except for my mother, who spent a few minutes describing Aunt Mandy’s more difficult qualities and then defended her choice. “We did name you appropriately. The namesake turned out to be correct.”

Bynes, Palmer, Knox: The Year of Amanda Shame