"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)
Seated to the right of my desk is Joanna Devereaux.
Our IKEA-brand SKARSKA’s have been neighbors since November. And in that time, we’ve made our way through all of the standard desk-buddy topics: weekend happenings, travel experiences, changes in the weather, who got who sick, etc. But despite being two feet apart, we hadn’t really had the chance to get to know each other.
When we finally got around to talking, you can imagine my surprise when I learned that for the past few months, I’d actually been sitting next to TWO people.
No, Joanna’s not pregnant. Though she does have two children—Eloise, 3, and Connor, 1—with her husband, Sean. Nor is this some Parent Trap situation where Joanna met her identical twin at summer camp, ate some Oreos with peanut butter and then convinced her sister to stand-in as an Account Supervisor at Paradowski.
The real Joanna is most certainly sitting next to me. But so is someone else.
For most of her life, Joanna Devereux has been known by another name: JoJo.
It was the mark of familiarity amongst her childhood friends in Kansas City, as well as the name used by most of her family members. It followed her through grade school, high school and college. If people were comfortable enough to call her “JoJo,” it typically indicated that they were part of her inner circle and someone she could trust.
But when she graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a degree in Marketing, she began questioning whether the name was “professional” enough.
“My parents told me, ‘When you enter the workforce, you have to go by Joanna because no one’s going to take you seriously if you choose to go by JoJo.’”
She followed her parents advice, reserved the nickname for only her closest friends and—for the second time in her life—”Joanna” was born. But JoJo was not forgotten.
On the day of her graduation, Joanna crossed the stage, hopped in the car with her best friend and made her way to Arizona. She had no job, few plans and the desire to just “get lost.”
During the week, Joanna worked as an account intern for one agency and a marketing assistant for another. The first company created ad campaigns for local gated communities (“It was right before the bubble popped. Thank God,” adds Joanna). Most days, she could be found cutting news clippings or grabbing coffee for senior staff. The position left much to be desired. The second agency, however, offered much more hands-on experience. They allowed Joanna to work with various film festivals and to pursue her creative side.
“We went because it was sunny and didn’t have a winter. My sister had lived down there, so I had visited before and it just felt like an exotic, new location.”
On the weekends, she served tables at a local Arizona restaurant, Olive & Oak, and attempted to balance her party spirit with her new-found professional self. Joanna claims that she’s always gravitated to where the people are.
After a year and a half, she realized it was time to move on.
“Down there, I just had too much fun, So I was like, ‘I have to get serious.’ All my friends were back in St. Louis, so I said, ‘Okay, I did this, it was fun and now I’m going back.’”
Instead of returning to Kansas City, she found a new home in St. Louis. Most of her high school friends had ended up west, but Joanna was looking for an adventure.
“I worked some odd jobs in St. Louis at first. I worked in marketing at the Chase Park Plaza, and I directed events at Herbie’s down in the Central West End. Then I got a job at an agency.”
Joanna started a remote position at Moroch Partners, an advertising agency based in Dallas, TX. Most days, she commuted through video and phone calls. But eventually, they called her down to the main office. It was there among her real, live co-workers that Joanna realized the struggles with her name were not yet over.
While the name had originally signified a step towards professionalism, it now seemed to be painting a different picture. Joanna noted that while grandma names were “coming back,” they needed to be reserved for young children. The least her parents could have done was give her a cute name, “like Rosemary or something.”
“It was funny when I met my Dallas coworkers for the first time. They were like, ‘Oh my gosh, you look nothing like we thought you would.’ So I asked them why and they would say, ‘Well, “Joanna” is kind of like a grandma name and you have a deeper voice. We were just expecting this super old person.’”
Two years into the position, her coworkers learned that certain clients had earned the privilege of calling her “JoJo.” They had been welcomed into the inner circle, and now her coworkers wanted to be too.
As more and more people have adopted the name, Joanna has found balance between her two sides. She’s realized that while account service can be veiled in professionalism, it’s mostly driven by relationships.
“Accounts equal relationships in my world. It’s at least 95% of the job. Get to know your client and build a relationship, and everything else will fall into place. If you don’t actually care about your clients and their kids and their lives, you won’t last long. I really do genuinely care about the people we work with. And I try to go the extra mile.”
For Joanna, this means entering into a place where she is willing and able to share the details of her life for the sake of building personal connections.
For Joanna “JoJo” Devereaux, “JoJo” is part of her identity. To the untrained eye, it can be hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. On the surface, “Joanna” is the mild-mannered professional who works to serve the needs of her clients, while “JoJo” is the adventure-seeking, relationship-focused personality that hides beneath. But the two are one in the same.
If you’re able to spot the differences, you can count yourself lucky. You’ve been welcomed into a close and personal circle.