Put Your Name On It

By Anna Mastryukova

In the summer of 2013, I worked as a staff member of a ballet intensive in the buildings of the Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Opera House and the Julliard School. During my lunch breaks, I would escape to the cool air conditioned shops at Columbus Circle, or browse through luxury designer stores. Admittedly, I spent a lot of time in C.Wonder, a branch of Tory Burch. The golden bangles and bright, eye-catching blouses adorning the aisles drew the attention of women on the street. Many items in the store were monogrammed: jewelry, notepads, cardigans, hats, and pillows with “A” or “B” or “K” or “M” stamped on the side.

In a moment of reflection, I considered the monogramming process. Why did “preppy” brands (or any brands for that matter) feel the need to stamp initials on products designed for women?

A week ago, after seeing a classmate with lettered post-it notes, I realized why this method of personal branding really bothered me. I learned from a young age that name-labeling was a form of pride, as it denoted ownership of good work. As time progressed, I noticed that girls in school were praised for the quality of their penmanship (unlike their male counterparts). Even at a young age, beautiful penmanship, particularly exemplified in the calligraphy of a name or signature, was a stereotyped standard of femininity.  In middle school and high school, my friends began buying (or receiving) personalized diaries and bracelets, accessories that indicated sophistication and self-importance.

But why does it matter? Why do I care? I am bothered by the fact that women use their names as decorations on items such as jewelry, stationary and room decor because I see it is a result of gender bias in both our upbringing and our society. Viewing a woman’s name or initials as genteel decorations is a hindrance to risk taking. A woman’s name should not be a decoration, but a tool. Women need to use their names as anchors that tie them to the entrepreneurial and innovating work that they are doing. Yet this leaves us with a dilemma of two extremes: the decorative nature of a woman’s name, and its solidified link between her and her work.

This presents a problem as young women become afraid to jump on exciting opportunities or embrace new challenges. Is this the effect of “feminizing” their names? Have girls become so accustomed to these standards of “cuteness” and “girliness” that they are afraid to tie their names to risking taking ventures? Women in the workplace struggle with tying their names to things because failed endeavors strike them in a far more personal way. They feel the effects of their failure very acutely, and rarely accept situational factors or the work of their colleagues as potential components to that failure. This might be the phenomenon of ‘personalization’.

Consumer markets target women with “feminine” items; stamped, embellished, and finely wrought things that draw the eye. Our name shouldn’t be abused though (let’s take heed of that hackneyed expression: “That’s my name, don’t wear it out.”)

On a serious note, if I could strike the balance between “name-stamped” flourishes and crippling failure, I think I would be more fearless. To think all of this self-reflection was prompted by a pastel-colored shop filled with jewelry, stationary, and accessories flaunting the first letter of my name…