leila estelle johnston
I don’t use my middle name very much, but maybe I should, because I sort of prefer it to both my other names. Leila Estelle works well both lyrically and in terms of its meaning but sounds ridiculously frou frou as a proper double-barreller, so the Estelle part has slipped into obscurity. Though that in itself is relevant, because Leila means darkness, or night-time, and Estelle means star of course. So I’m a dark star, which I’m not sure my parents realised.
I used to be a bit embarrassed that Estelle sounded so affected and 70s, but increasingly I prefer it to the Leila (which no one can ever pronounce or spell, and feels very confusing and disingenuous as a name for a white British woman). These days I enjoy that Estelle is the name the writers gave to Joey’s brilliantly manicured, chain-smoking acting agent in Friends.
I suspect Leila was the name my dad wanted, and Estelle was the one my mum chose. The relationship didn’t last, but there’s the name, always the name… and I feel weirdly self-conscious even looking at it on this blog post, three words that weren’t quite meant to go together.
Some time ago I decided that the most powerful quality of middle names is their ability to chose whether and when to reveal themselves. They can give away everything, or hide in the shadows as a mere possibility, Schrodinger’s cat-like. They hold back and hold back, they hide in the underworld of your identity, then they erupt embarrassingly and magnificently when the social conditions are right.
My middle name isn’t a secret, but if you know it, you probably know me, too.