In middle school, I daydreamed about having a husband one day. I had it all planned out: His name would be John; he’d be a veterinarian; I’d be a stay-at-home-mom and novelist; and we’d live in the Connecticut suburbs with four children and a bunch of dogs and cats. (Give me a break, okay? I was 11.)
Of course, my actual marriage is nothing like I had imagined. My husband and I rent in Brooklyn; I can’t imagine having a pet or a child, let alone four; he’s a stand-up comic, not a vet; and, most unforeseen, I’ve used these three words nearly every single day since getting married: “like the vegetable.”
Because far from marrying a John, I married a Kale. Kale, like the vegetable — low in calories, high in iron, an excellent source of vitamin K. Kale, a food that has in recent years become synonymous with the mockery of a certain kind of moneyed, healthy lifestyle. Kale, my husband. He’s the only Kale that I, and most people, have ever known.
“Kale, K-A-L-E, like the vegetable” is how I explain it when questioned. (I suppose I could also start saying “like the smoothie.”) You can probably imagine how often I am questioned. Most often askers want to know what sort of Park Slope yuppie nightmares bestowed such a name on a defenseless child. Their furrowed brows show exactly what they’re thinking: What are the other kid’s names? Bok choy and Sorrel?
But those Park Slope yuppie nightmares aren’t Park Slope yuppie nightmares at all. Nor are they hippies, farmers, chefs, nutritionists, green juicers, or Gwyneth Paltrow. My in-laws are refreshingly normal: a schoolteacher and an executive who live in the suburbs of Perth. Their son’s name is the quirkiest thing about them. When Kale was born in 1984, kale was not the Zeitgeist-y vegetable heralded by hipsters today; it was just a unique entry in an Australian baby name book. Like any parents, they chose a name because they liked the sound of it.
Let me answer a few frequently asked questions about Kale and kale:
Yes, Kale likes kale.
Yes, I like kale, but I prefer kale chips.
No, we have never ordered kale together at a restaurant.
Yes, Kale buys kale at the grocery store for salads and stews.
No, neither of us own that KALE sweatshirt that Beyoncé (!) wears in her “7/11” video, although that shirt has been around for years and every few months someone emails it to me.
And no, Kale has never thought of changing his name. Why would he change it? Does anyone tell Beyoncé her name is weird? Of course not. Kale has had his name for 30 years, but kale’s elevation to cult vegetable status only happened in the past couple of years. And while he admits he would not have chosen the name Kale himself, my husband doesn’t complain. Instead, he works around it with a “salad alias.” The women at the Chop’t by his office know him as Ken. He explained to me, “Otherwise it’s just too confusing: ‘No, it’s still romaine, I’m Kale.’”
When we first met on OKCupid, I didn’t know if his name was pronounced “Kale” or “Kal-eh” or something else entirely. But as someone who lost her virginity to a Marvin, I wasn’t about to start being picky with names. Plus, I already had a high threshold for weird names: My brother-in-law is named Grekim — pronounced “Greh-kim” and made up by artists in the suburbs who wanted their children named something original. Grekim’s brother is named Verryn, pronounced “Vair-un” and also made up. “Kale” is at least a real word.
Not everyone is as understanding as I am. Total strangers are mean about my husband’s name. Internet commenters snark about my “vegetable husband” and say things like, “You should’ve had the decency to change his name.” Time magazine even put kale on its list of words to ban in 2015, alongside slang like “om nom nom nom,” “basic,” and “I can’t even,” describing the reason for the vegetable’s inclusion on the list as such: “You haven’t been so tired of having a single thing talked about and trumpeted and pushed in your face since people started signing up for Twitter.”
What the haters don’t understand is that there has never been a better time to be Kale. Along with the kale sweatshirt there are hundreds of items from sites like Zazzle and CafePress with slogans reading “My heart belongs to kale” and “kale makes me horny.” National Kale Day is celebrated the first Wednesday in October (no, we didn’t partake — how does one celebrate National Kale Day?). You can purchase a fake business card for a “kaleologist,” bumper stickers, tote bags, socks, nail polish, and even a wall clock dedicated to kale. It’s a jump on a bandwagon that could disappear in an instant should chard or arugula become the vegetable of the moment. It’s silly, yes, but not everyone gets to experience their name being “hot right now.” I certainly haven’t. Even if I’ll never find Kale’s name on the keychains at a gift shop in Disney World, if we stock up now, he could wear T-shirts emblazoned with his name the rest of his life.
I’ve never thought names had much to do with identity, what with so little I have in common with the Jessicas Alba, Simpson, and Biel. Of course I would love Kale just as much as if he were a Mike or a David or Marvin, all names of men I’ve loved before. But I like his name; I’d even say I love his name — not because I like kale, but because I like my Kale. Like that leafy green vegetable we get so many questions about, he’s good for me.
But no, we’re not planning to name a hypothetical future child Quinoa. I would prefer something like John.