“Hilary with one L,” Maybe

An Internet search on “Hilary with one L” brings up…

Hilary Grant Dixon, who says, “I’m Hilary with one L. Welcome to my blog.” And that is supposed to mean… ? Wait for it… .

On twitter, there are four “Hilaries with one L:” @HilaryLoveLace, @barr1966_barr, @Iguana_lane, and @BeingHilary.

There’s a Hilary with one L on youtube, two on Flickr, and one on tumblr.

Hilary Duff complains that her name was her parent’s mistake, and has been a hardship all of her life.

A blogging father writes about unknowingly giving his daughter this marred spelling and he defends it, saying she’s grown up just fine thank you.

On dailymail.co.uk, journalist Hilary Freeman says her name marks her as white, middle-class and unromantic, and she hates the sound of it (so do I – it’s a combination of “ill” and “eerie” and I think that’s had an influence on me).

Again, artist Hilary Zaloom titles her website “Hilary with one L,” but never does explain the significance. Why should anyone care to identify themselves with the number of a certain letter in their name?

Finally, a distraught Hilary with one L complains about the Clinton jokes whenever she meets someone for the first time (she’s not a Clinton fan)—and a respondent to her post “cleverly” calls Clinton a “two-L Hillary” and tells her to get over it.

Apparently, some people think there are worse things than constantly being compared to Clinton.

Do you get it now?

We are a bunch of self-involved women startled by the spelling of our name into an identity crisis.

But you do understand, don’t you?

It’s annoying for anyone to have to spell out their name again and again over the course of their lifetime.

If you could just get that ill-spent time back, think what you could do with it!

That was a joke, by the way – tongue in cheek with a pinch of salt, just the way I like it.

It’s especially annoying when each stranger’s predictable first question is  – “How is your name spelled exactly?”

Polite people do this. In our culture we equate respect with correctly spelling and pronouncing each other’s names. That’s about where it starts and ends for us, but we’re very careful to get that bit right.

But here we go. The dirty truth is that we one-L-ers  are secretly proud of this spelling. We are smarter, sleeker, more intellectually mobile without that superfluous extra letter encumbering our name.

And I’m not joking.

It’s a subliminal thing.

When we see a “Hillary with two L’s” we automatically think less of her. She’s stuck with having to write or type that extra “L” for her entire lifetime! Think of the time she’s lost!

And when she’s asked, “One “L” or two?” she has to answer, “Two,” and you know she’s just a little startled that there is even another option. She is a victim of her own two-L privilege. She’s never had to question whether her name is spelled right or wrong.

Whereas we are keenly aware of the difference and can proudly snap “Just one!”

But, confession here…

I wasn’t always a one-L Hilary.

That’s how I know what it is like on the “other side.”

When I was 21, …

I was visiting a friend. Theresa came from Greece. She was 38, wore her dark brown hair tightly braided in a bun behind her head, and she looked proud to be matronly. I was 21 and I looked like an unkempt Hippy.

Here’s a rare photo of me from that time.1976 HilaryPortrait taken by Max Wolfensburger

So there we were, drinking verbena and peppermint tea sweetened with honey at her round oak table covered with a starched and ironed white tablecloth bordered with handmade lace, and her home smelled of citrus and sage, and everything was neat and tidy, and she was telling me the history of Greece since World War II, how the Greeks had fought a bloody war with the NAZIs all on their own, the various oppressive governments that had followed, and the impending economic collapse. This was 1977.

Suddenly, Theresa says to me, “Let’s look up the original meaning of your name.”


“It is a Greek name… I’ll get my dictionary.”

She runs out of the room and a few moments later comes back with a thick old book, and then flicks through the pages, looking, looking…

“It is spelled with one ‘L,’” she says, pointing to the page, “and it means, ‘The joy that you feel when you receive the grace of god.’”

So! You don’t say!

I had always heard that the name means jovial — not quite the same as the joy you feel when you receive the grace of god.  That was very specific.

But this older meaning moved me. You see, I had come of age in the 1960s, and seeing life as a spiritual journey was right up my alley. I had been experimenting with meditation and I thought I might know what “hilaria” meant… it was like what can sometimes happen in meditation, that moment when you forget who you are … and you just are, …  and then you feel saturated with goodness.

The joy you feel… when you forget your name.

My life’s goal at the time was that as I grew older, that feeling of goodness would become my everyday sense of self. I didn’t know whether this would be possible, but I knew it was what I wanted . . . when I was twenty-one.

And I was thinking about that when Theresa began flipping through the pages again, looking, looking…

And she said, “There is another word, a similar word, but this one is spelled with two ‘L’s.’ It means…. ‘cross-eyed and confused’.”

That. Did. It!

I went home and practiced my new, less encumbered signature. I would be Hilary with one L and, hopefully, one day feel that joy.

A Spelling of Magic

If names have any magic at all, and if the way you spell them has any magic at all, well, I wanted that magic spelling to work for me, not against me, not pull me into… being cross-eyed and confused.

About the name Hilary. If you look it up in the urban dictionary it turns out that the street meaning of Hilary is someone smart, lively, effective, with a high IQ and great articulateness. What a weird word that is, I bet you had a hard time reading it!

My parents wanted a smart little girl, and they named me “Hillary” at a time when the name was exceedingly rare. But they didn’t check a Greek dictionary, so they didn’t know that the original meaning had been corrupted from “joy” to “confusion” through the English miss-spelling.

So it was all my parent’s fault after all!

Another joke.

But isn’t that how, metaphorically speaking, it is for all of us?

Our parents want the best for us. If they could be the 12 fairies in the story of Sleeping Beauty and endow us with all the best gifts they could imagine, that’s what they would do. They aren’t fairies, but they try to do it anyway, at least a little, through the name that they give us. That name should empower us to become the person they hope we will be.

Then we grow up.

Truth be told, I knew exactly what it felt like to be cross-eyed and confused, the blurry weight of it, knowing that I was so very ignorant at age 21 that I couldn’t follow a newspaper or understand national or world politics at all, or even follow the conversations of persons-over-thirty.

Where had I been all my life? How had I managed to filter out so much?

I also knew what it felt like to have a gut sense of “being somebody worthwhile and important” while having very little to show for it.

In other words, I knew what it felt like to be myself at 21.

You know, there are times throughout each of our lives, but especially in the 20’s, when rational thought flies out the window. You might have had the ability to think rationally when you were at home with your parents, but now, out in the world on your own…

Everything becomes a sign.

You are on the lookout for omens that signal your true passion and purpose.

Chance events and correlations are imbued with meaning. They are messages sent directly to us from Life with a capital “L.”

I have seen this in my children, too, who in their early twenties went from more or less logical, thoughtful persons to confused young adults looking for that guiding intuition in coincidence, colors and dreams…

So in a way, all of us are choosing how to spell our name as though it were important, how to lay out our life as if we could plan it, and how to ensure, as best we can, that at the end of our life we will have fulfilled some part of our potential that felt so fragile when we were young.

The really surprising thing for me is that the URL www.hilarywithonel.com was still available when I looked for it, even with all the self-identifying one-L-ers already thriving on various platforms.

Is that reflective of our not really wanting to own our experience?

I mean, wouldn’t defining an entire website with the one-L meme be the epitome of the self-involved, middle-class white woman whose understanding of the world is about the size of a pea and who wants to draw attention to the quirks of her own personal world to alleviate the isolating pain of her narcissism?

I hope not!

Hey – If you have a story about your name whether with one, two or three L’s, send it to me, and if it is cute, smart and original enough to be worthy of the name Hilllary (and of course it will be, your parents named you Hilary after all), I’ll post it on my site.