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‘Part of your world’

By Ariel Wittenberg

Section: Arts

August 27, 2010

GRAPHIC BY Ariel Wittenberg/The Hoot

It’s amazing the difference six months can make. I was born into a mermaid-less world on May 10, 1989. My parents named me Ariel, in part, because the name was unique. They thought with a name like Ariel, I was automatically one of a kind.

And I was, until six months later when another Ariel made her debut on Nov. 17, this time on the silver screen. Now, with a name like Ariel, I am automatically assumed to be a mermaid.

On any given day, I am likely to be asked if my best friend is a fish, if I date boys named Eric and if I comb my hair with a fork.

You would think my brown hair and lack of fins would be enough for the general population to distinguish between me and the Disney princess, but apparently not.

I was first introduced to the harsh reality of my name at the age of three when, despite my being dressed as Trini, the Yellow Power Ranger, the Green Ranger confused me for Ariel at a birthday party. How he could have seen my red hair, purple shell bra and tail through the full-body suit is beyond me, but it was far from the first incident of its kind.

In third grade, my teacher would confuse me with my best friend because she had long red hair. In sixth grade, my music teacher made me audition for the solo to “Part of Your World” just for kicks even though it was a soprano part and I was an alto. In 12th grade, my science teacher was surprised I opted to take anatomy instead of marine biology, assuming I was infatuated with life “under the sea.”

I often wonder if girls named Jasmine or Mulan share my problem. If upon hearing their names people try to fit them into the two-dimensional images of their respective Disney princesses.

My roommate Madeline is often asked if she read the Madeline books as a child, but she has never been asked if she grew up in an old house in Paris all covered in vines.

I, on the other hand, have been asked if I was named after a mermaid.

It might seem strange, my arch-nemesis being a doe-eyed cartoon character teaching children that a voice is a powerful thing, but this is personal.

The mermaid pronounces our name Aerial, but I am Ariel. That her pronunciation of our name is not phonetic escapes people as they read my name aloud, opting instead to follow the broken record of King Triton playing in their head. Even when I introduce myself and say my name first, they assume I am the mistaken one, as if somehow the Disney imagineers’ choice for one mermaid should apply to us all.

And because Ariel is such a rare name, their decisions do. Often when I meet people, the only Ariel they know is the mermaid, so the association comes easy. It’s like having an older sibling who got to high school first—the teachers expect you to follow in her fin-prints.

The fact is, I love my name. My mom tells me she chose it because it is both strong and beautiful. In hebrew, it means “lioness of God”—a far-cry from the shell-bra-wearing, love-sick adolescent the film portrays.

Had my mother known of the soon-to-come association, she might have chosen to name me something more generic and less risky, like Sarah or Allison.

Then again, it could be worse. At least she didn’t name me Ursula.

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