Jessica Contrera

The Washington Post

She hadn’t yet become a TV personality, received thousands of dollars in donations or made her flight plan - and so she hated her name.

Amelia Rose Earhart of the second grade decided she would be Amy. She couldn’t understand why her parents gave her the name of a woman who was famous for feats she attempted and more famous because she never achieved them. So she was Amy. Amelia was just too big.

Fast forward 24 years, and the name couldn’t be big enough.

It has brought her financial sponsorship, an Internet following, the means to start a scholarship fund and, most of all, the chance to fly a plane around the world. A decade after she took her first flying lesson (and changed her name back to Amelia), the 31-year-old Denver woman embarked on an 18-day, 24,300-nautical-mile trip in a Pilatus PC-12 NG to retrace the path of her namesake.

She landed in Oakland, Calif., on Friday night, becoming the youngest female to circumnavigate the globe in a single-engine plane.

“I am a woman who has charted the course of her life based around another woman’s legacy,” Earhart said on the phone from Honolulu on Thursday night.

The way she sees it, names are one of the only parts of our identity that we don’t get to pick. There’s the possibility of changing your name legally or using a nickname. But for most, the name our parents chose - for good or for “what were they thinking?” - is the name that we carry. We make it our own by deciding who we are.

Unless of course, the world has decided for you. By coincidence or parental intention, people like Earhart are forced to live with names that belong to figures they have never met but whom everybody knows. The blessing or burden of living with a famous name goes beyond the awkwardness of introducing oneself (“Yes, it is real,” “No, we’re not related”) and can affect the course of a day, an opportunity or, in Earhart’s case, a life.

Take it from Abraham Lincoln, a man from Lake Stevens, Wash., who has had a number of run-ins with the law. Dedicated to the honest reputation of his namesake, Abraham Lincoln told police his legal name when caught jaywalking at the age of 16. With no driver’s license to show, the young Lincoln was arrested under the assumption that he would not reveal his real name.

Years later, his fate flipped. Abraham Lincoln was caught attempting to steal a “Lincoln Rock Company” sign in Lincoln, Calif. (honest, he promises). The cops let him off the hook when they realized the irony of the situation.

These days, the 53-year-old Lincoln is thinking about moving three hours east of his home in Washington to the town of George. “Abraham Lincoln in George, Washington, get it?”

Casey Anthony is a mother of six children in Tazewell, Tenn. Every time she makes a restaurant reservation, she makes a point to say she’s not thatCasey Anthony. Although she doesn’t believe it’s her place to judge the other Casey Anthony, she wishes the whole thing would go away entirely. Even three years after the other Anthony was acquitted, it’s highly inconvenient to be named Casey Anthony when you’re trying to become a school teacher.

For Steven Colbert - “It’s Col-bert, with the T” - of Columbia, Mo., the coincidence has ruined the pronunciation of his name. For Sarah Palin - “It all started in 2008” - of Dallas, the coincidence has saved it.

“People used to always say it like ‘pallin,’ but after she started becoming a household name, they started pronouncing it right,” she says.

Each time the former vice presidential candidate says something controversial, the 23-year-old dietetic technician’s Facebook is bombarded with friend requests. Her Twitter has fewer than 200 followers, a far cry from former governor Sarah Palin’s more than 1 million. But from time to time, the two do seem to have some thematic overlap, with tweets from her account theothersp like “Big Jesus decals on the back of car windows are my favorite” or “AMERICA.”

Jennifer Lawrence, of Newport News, Va., is hoping her name boosts the reputation of her daughter, a theater design student. “I told her, if someone asks you if you’re related to Jennifer Lawrence, you look them straight in the face and say, ‘Yes I am, but I would like my work to speak for itself,’ “ Jennifer Lawrence says. “It’s not lying.”

Justin Bieber had his name become famous at possibly the universe’s most cruel time to share a name with a pop-singing, girl-swooning and soon-to-be egg-throwing, car-crashing boy superstar: freshman year of high school. The Fairview, Mont., teen is a basketball player, aspiring car designer and sugar beet farmer. He does not like the other Justin Bieber’s music, and he is not at liberty to disclose how his name assists him with talking to girls because his mom was listening to his phone call with The Post.

For Amelia Rose Earhart, the journey of having a well-known name - including the discovery that she was not actually related to the famous Amelia - came full circle this week when she flew over Howland Island, the spot the first Amelia never made it to in 1937.

“It was such a big risk for her to take,” Earhart said. “To see how tiny that island was, I have a whole new respect for that woman.”

When her flight is over, Earhart plans to continue honoring her namesake with a scholarship fund for teenage girls interested in aviation. One woman is following her journey closely: Amelia Marguerite Earhart, 61, who lives in Whittier, Calif., who says she’s related to the original Earhart but hasn’t pursued an aviation career beyond a few flying lessons.

Abraham Lincoln indeed might move to George, Washington. Sarah Palin will stay in Dallas, where people are a bit friendlier about her name than other places. Justin Bieber is starting another freshman year in the fall, this time at University of Wisconsin at Superior. He imagines it will take about a year for people to stop making fun of his name.

And then there’s Orville Wright of Cody, Wyo. He believes he is related to the original Wright brothers, who are credited with inventing the airplane. Although Orville - who prefers to go by John - has been to 45 states, he hasn’t been in a plane in more than 30 years. He’s proud of his namesake. He admires someone like Earhart.

“But I don’t know,” he said. “I’ve just seen too many crashes.”