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The Who, What, Where, Why and Huh? of ADHD, Part I: What’s in a Name?

Juliet: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

–Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

Ah, the famous Shakespeare quote from Romeo and Juliet. Silly, silly Juliet.

What’s in a name? Plenty, sister. My salvation, for one.

Before I had the label ADHD, I was lost at sea and sinking fast. It’s true that argument can be made on both sides of the “name it” equation, but I definitely fall on the go ahead — name it — side.

And I’ve had plenty of experience. As an adoptee growing up in the ’60s, I cut my teeth on cruel name-calling taunts. If someone really wanted to sock it to me in the schoolyard, all they had to say was, “Nyah, nyah, you were adopted!” In fact, under the Canadian adoption legislation of the time, we adoptees were endearingly referred to as “illegitimate.” So names I know.

But is it really the name that is to blame? Or the ignorance, attitude, and judgment behind the one wielding the name as a weapon?

Once again, I’m looking for the truth of my life. My theory is, if I could transcend the label of adoptee by diving in, head first, and learning what being adopted meant to me, then why not apply this method to ADHD?  I consider it a personal triumph that it’s been a couple of decades since I’ve even thought about my status as adoptee.

Zoë Kessler, Chick-A-D-D
Are you a Chick-A-D-D?

Here’s my new label: a chick with ADD. A Chick-A-D-D.  See how much fun words are?

So, what are the pros & cons of — if you’ll excuse the expression — adopting a label?

Some fear the stigma of a label. Fair enough. But heck, even condiments are labeled, why shouldn’t I have one? Shouldn’t people be warned about how hot and spicy I am? Don’t they deserve fair warning?

On the serious side, yes, labels can be used cruelly, especially by kids (see adoptee experience, above). That’s where mature, nurturing, informed adults come in. Isn’t it our job to instruct kids about kindness versus cruelty? It’s not the label’s fault. It’s how it’s used that is the problem.

Fellow ADHDer Denise, a 23 year-old freelance video and film editor, agrees that labels can be helpful. Denise was diagnosed at around 8 or 9 years old, and says she understands that some parents “…avoid diagnosis because they want their kids to be normal.” But, she says, “By not accepting the label you’re in denial. If they do accept the label, they might be able to work on some strategies.”

This is exactly what happened for her: once she received her diagnosis (her label), her mom, a nurse, began working out coping strategies to help her daughter to succeed. And succeed she has.

I understand the argument that labels make us feel different. My answer to that is: Duh. Hello! We’re already different…we know that. The real problem lies in a society where different is feared, shunned and ostracized. Our cookie-cutter, manicured-lawn, one-size-fits-all world doesn’t fit anyone. We all end up feeling varying degrees of discomfort, and those of us who are obviously eccentric (I’m speaking of myself here, but the rest of you know who you are…and to you I send a big, warm kiss — mwaaw!), end up feeling the most uncomfortable of all. We sometimes feel that we have to at least try to conform, or pay the price.

Long before we evolve into a culture where differences are honored and enjoyed, we need a language to talk about them. Enter the label ADHD. (And believe me, this is a lot better than one of its historic precursors, MBD — Minimal Brain Dysfunction! In fact, who was the genius who coined that one – if we have minimal brain dysfunction, does that mean we’re the only ones firing on almost all cylinders?).

Instead of burying my head in the sand, I’m taking the opposite approach. I’m filling my mouth with words, not sand, and shouting them from the rooftops (or at least, from this blog, in standup comedy, through my books, one-woman shows, interviews, whatever it takes. Call me for a booking!). That way, maybe a dialogue will start and those of us with these special traits can start to understand and optimize our experiences of the world. Only then can we neutralize the label.

Works for me.

We’ll continue our Who, What, Where, Why and Huh? of ADHD Series on Wednesday in Part II: What The #$#%! Is ADHD?

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The Who, What, Where, Why and Huh? of ADHD, Part I: What’s in a Name?

Zoë Kessler, BA, B.Ed.

Zoë Kessler is an award-winning author, journalist, and speaker specializing in women and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD / ADD).

A frequent contributor to ADDitude Magazine, Kessler has also created video, standup comedy, and guest blogs on ADHD and Marriage covering ADHD-related topics.

Zoë, an internationally recognized ADHD expert, has been interviewed on radio and featured in magazine articles, documentaries, and books on the topic of women and ADHD across North America.

Her newly-released memoir ADHD According to Zoë - The Real Deal on relationships, Finding Your Focus & Finding Your Keys (New Harbinger Publications, 2013) about life with ADHD is now available.

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APA Reference
Kessler, Z. (2015). The Who, What, Where, Why and Huh? of ADHD, Part I: What’s in a Name?. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 5, 2020, from


Last updated: 21 Jul 2015
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