clock menu more-arrow no yes
Sascha Steinbach | Getty Images

I am not Princess Leia

My parents wanted to name me after my grandmother. Instead, they sentenced me to a life of Star Wars jokes.

June 23, 1987: I am born. My parents decide to name me after my grandmother's Hebrew name: Leah. They choose not to spell my name like hers for fear I will be called "Lee-ah" my entire life, rather than "Lay-ah," as it's meant to be pronounced. A prominent journalist in our family suggests spelling it phonetically: L-A-I-A-H.

Laiah.

It's a lot of vowels, but my mom agrees.

One day old: A nurse comes to the hospital room asking about the birth certificate. My mom says my name is Laiah. "Wow," says the nurse. "Like Princess Leia."

Kindergarten: The comments from kids in my class begin: "Whoa! Your name is like Star Wars!"

First grade: I am Princess Jasmine from Aladdin for Halloween. Kids ask me why I'm not Princess Leia.

I am asked this question every Halloween for the rest of my life.

Second grade: Kids suggest I wear cinnamon buns on my head. They hold paper plates to their faces and say that it's me.

Third grade: The Star Wars questions begin getting more personal. My family is not immune, either:

"Are you in love with your brother?"

"Are your parents obsessed with Star Wars?"

Fourth grade: Despite my parents' best intentions, a phonetic spelling of my name regularly gives people a hard time. I know my name is next in the roll call because the substitute teacher always stops and hesitates before she says my name. And then she says it incorrectly.

I begin to tell people to pronounce my name "like the Star Wars princess," always adding quickly that I am not actually named after her.

Fifth grade: I still haven't seen Star Wars.

Sixth grade: My teacher for computer class is strange. Everyone knows she's strange. Her clothes are ill-fitting, and her bra strap is always hanging out. She spits profusely when she talks. She never turns on a light in the classroom. Every student has a computer and a mouse. Every computer desktop and every mouse pad has an image of Star Wars. This is not to bond with the students. This is because she loves Star Wars.

She struggles with how to say my name. Every day she calls attendance and calls me a different name. Every day I correct her. Finally I suggest that she remember my name because it's pronounced like Princess Leia.

She calls me Princess Leia for the rest of the year.

Seventh grade: The new Star Wars movie comes out. I hear it's bad. I don't see it. People are amazed that someone named Laiah has no interest in seeing Star Wars.

Eighth grade: By this point in my life I have been called Laila, Lia, Lila, Leigh, Leigh-ha, Liea, and really anything that begins with an L and ends with a vowel sound. Especially Leah.

Ninth grade: I join a Jewish youth group and meet a lot of Leahs. Their names are easier to pronounce and don't sound like a Star Wars princess. Talking to boys seems easier for them.

10th grade: I begin drinking Starbucks. I learn that giving my real name for my drink is often a real risk of public mispronunciation and lost drinks.

I begin to use the name Katie. Later in life I switch to using Anna. Because, let's be honest, I don't look like a Katie.

Maybe I should have just said Princess Leia.

11th grade: I still haven't seen Star Wars.

star wars (Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope)

Not depicted: the author.

12th grade: I get my first real boyfriend. He loves Star Wars. There are still Star Wars figurines in his house from his eighth birthday party.

One night my friend tells me that no guy will ever commit to me until I have seen Star Wars, because every guy loves the films. I tell this to my boyfriend.

The next day, my boyfriend comes to my house with a VHS of Star Wars. He falls asleep (some fan). I watch Episode IV from start to finish. We stay together for six more months.

Freshman year of college: I go to Israel on a college trip. I can't wait to be in a country where the first thing people think of when they hear my name is not Star Wars.

My first day in Israel I meet our bus's security guard, David. I tell him my name, and he says, "Like Princess Leia!"

My dreams of the Holy Land are crushed.

Sophomore year of college: I visit a friend at Stanford, and we go to a frat party. Soon after arriving, a boy and I lock eyes across the room and we start talking. His name is Luke. We laugh at the Star Wars connection. He kisses me, and we make out for a while. I leave with my friends, but first he and I high-five. We have achieved the Star Wars namesake goal.

Junior and senior years of college: When I meet new people, specifically new guys, they usually mention Princess Leia. But overall the jokes slow down. Maybe adulthood is real.

Ages 22 and 23, first few years out of college: I was wrong about adulthood. I begin going to bars that don't just cater to college students. Drunk men think they're hilarious when they make Star Wars jokes.

I am in a bar with my cousins. Someone there is already drunk. He hears my cousin call me by my name, turns around, and loudly says, "Princess Leia! Are you named after Princess Leia?!"

I stop, look him straight in the eye, and say, "Oh. My. God. I've never heard that before. You're the first one to ever say that to me."

"NO WAY!" he says.

"Seriously!" I say.

He is amazed at his genius.

"I know! It's hard to believe," I say. "I'm 23 years old, but today, right here, you are the first person to make the connection between my name and Star Wars. I've been waiting this whole time!"

Everyone around us laughs.

Today: I have learned to like my name and appreciate its meaning in my family.

Unfortunately, another Star Wars movie has come out.

I hear Princess Leia is in it.

My husband waits in line for five hours to see it opening night.

I sit on the couch at home, with a cup of tea and a blanket, watching anything but Star Wars. I am happy as can be.

Laiah Idelson is a public health professional based in San Francisco. Read more of her work on her blog, or follow her on Twitter.


First Person is Vox's home for compelling, provocative narrative essays. Do you have a story to share? Read our submission guidelines, and pitch us at firstperson@vox.com.

Movies

I feel weird about Dear Evan Hansen

Movies

What the movies of this pandemic reveal

Culture

Gabby Petito’s disappearance, and why it was absolutely everywhere, explained

View all stories in Culture