Growing Up in the ‘Twilight’ Era With the Surname Cullen

Having the same last name as a famous fictional family could never go ignored, especially when you’re an awkward teenager and the family is from one of the most famous franchises in the world.

The year of 2008 is one that contained many significant moments in cultural history. Britney Spears was making her comeback with the Circus album, Beyonce and Jay-Z tied the knot, and Barack Obama had won the presidential election. 

More importantly than all these events (obviously except Circus – it was pretty revolutionary), it also happened to be the year that changed the scope of cinematic franchises as we knew it.

The novel Twilight was released in 2005 by a little known Mormon writer named Stephenie Meyer. It quickly developed into a series, which turned into a monumental film franchise. Unbeknownst to me, the release of the first film in 2008 would be a moment in pop culture that would rock my small world.

My discovery of the Twilight series came suddenly and without warning. I had just turned thirteen years old, and in an effort to jumpstart my career as a world-renowned actress, I was acting in a play with the local theatre group. There was a sign-in sheet by the stage door that was used to keep track of who was coming and going. 

One evening I was getting changed when two of the other girls came running in. 

“Who is Jessica Cullen?” they demanded.

Huda Beauty

I raised my hand, and they dragged me out of the room. We made it downstairs to the sign-in sheet, where one of the older girls was standing. She pointed her finger towards the board.

“Is your surname really Cullen?” she asked.

I nodded. She slowly unzipped her coat to show her t-shirt, revealing the face of a man I had never seen before, with pale skin and beautiful voluminous hair. Underneath, the name ‘Edward’ was printed in sharp white font.

“Just like Twilight,” she whispered.

She proceeded to tell me about a film she had seen the previous day: a little indie flick called Twilight. I hadn’t heard about the film or books, but was somewhat impressed that my surname had been gaining a reputation without my knowledge.

The following week, I saw the film with some of the others in my year at school. As we sat in the dark theatre, I enjoyed the small flutters of pride every time a character said the name ‘Cullen’. The others in my group would occasionally glance over at me and give a little squeal of excitement.

As the film exploded into popularity over the next few weeks, people would come up to me at school and ask if I knew about the fictional Cullen family. Admittedly, my personal popularity had not been significant up until that point. Twilight seemed to put me on the map, and I was all too happy to welcome it.

I eventually got my hands on the book series, and devoured them faster than you can say ‘Renesmee’. I needed to catch up on the lore that came with my brand new image.

However, there is always a little curse hidden in every blessing.

The joys of this association were short-lived. After a while, the association began to intersect with the hatred the fandom was starting to attract. Twilight was quite like Marmite, and for every fan there was a hater in equal measure.

To my horror, people had suddenly decided that Twilight was no longer cool. Even it’s own stars turned against it.

“Did you change your name because you’re obsessed with Twilight?” People would ask.

“Oh watch out, you’re gonna sparkle in the sun!”

“Do you, like, love Edward Cullen?”

Not long after, the questions and fun-poking started to get tedious. I would respond sharply and sarcastically, trying to divert the attention away. The more people started to reject Twilight, the more I tried to reject my name. My copies of the novels were shoved to the back of the bookshelf, and I jumped on the bandwagon of making fun of the series and those who loved it.

With the Twilight boom came an enormous internet explosion. The ‘Edward VS Jacob’ debate was in full swing, the Harry Potter fandom started to wage a war, and I was just a few steps away from hearing Muse’s ‘Supermassive Black Hole’ in my nightmares. Don’t even get me started on the Twilight Moms.

People were now making fun of Twilight, and I worried that my name would carry some negative connotation for the rest of my life. Life as a chubby, spotty-chinned, thirteen year old girl with an unflattering block fringe was already embarrassing enough.

I’m proud of my surname for many reasons. The fact that it also happens to be the name of the sexy vampire family from one of the most famous film franchises and most passionate fandoms in the world is just a lucky coincidence.

Eventually (and thankfully) people I knew started to forget about the Twilight saga. The franchise started being carried solely by the megafans, and everyone else slowly forgot to keep caring. The hype died down, we grew out of it, and in the years that followed nobody asked me if I sparkled in the sun.

The surname connection became a forgotten part of my embarrassing teenage history, until recently.

In the last year, there have been many trends coming and going as a result of the pandemic. Tiger King (2020), banana bread, and online yoga classes were all collective hobbies that drew our attention. It also brought back some vintage moments of pop culture that we could explore again.

It seemed that Twilight was coming back into the narrative. The new book installment Midnight Sun was released in August 2020, and people were revisiting the franchise due to its bingable availability on Netflix. YouTuber Sarah Z has an incredibly thorough deep dive exploring the history and comeback of the franchise.

When my flatmates and I decided to marathon the franchise, I was hit with a wave of nostalgia as soon as the first few lines of Bella Swan’s sombre opening monologue could be heard.

I pictured the Edward Cullen t-shirts and remembered my conversation with the girl from the theatre group where I was first introduced to Twilight. I was reminded of all the conversions with school friends discussing my new found name fame, and that feeling of sitting in the packed cinema and hearing my name being said over and over again when referring to the impossibly attractive and rich vampire family.

I had of course remembered the negative aspects of being associated with the Twilight series, but had seemingly forgotten the fun parts. The first film, with it’s moody atmosphere and impressive soundtrack, truly captures a moment in time when we were all permanently in a state of being embarrassed, horny, and wanted a vampire boyfriend of our own to watch us sleep. 

It may have taken us a few years to stop making fun of it to realise this, but the first Twilight film is, at its essence, a good movie. The latter films admittedly deteriorated into something much more cringeworthy, but one cannot deny that this film series changed the course of pop culture. 

Without Twilight, would The Hunger Games series have been as popular? We certainly wouldn’t have Fifty Shades of Grey (more a curse than a blessing, but you get the point).

I’ve thought back to my relationship with Twilight when I was a teenager. I have to thank it – at a time when I felt invisible and lame, the name Cullen gave me something to talk about. Made me something to talk about. 

Even if it did come with a side dish of embarrassment when the films lost their edge, I would still much rather have that interesting little tidbit about myself than nothing at all.

Besides, I once saw a ticket inspector on the train with a name badge that said ‘Tom Riddle’. So I guess there is always someone out there who has it worse than you.

We were three films into the franchise during our marathon, when my flatmate turned to me and said, “Oh my god. I’ve just realised their name is Cullen – like yours!”

I’m proud of my surname for many reasons. The fact that it also happens to be the name of the sexy vampire family from one of the most famous film franchises and most passionate fandoms in the world is just a lucky coincidence.

Has talking about Twilight got you reminiscing on 2008? Well good news, Taylor Swift has just re-released her album Fearless, and got a Swifties groupchat to react.

Tags: twilight

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Jessica Cullen
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I'm an avid lover of film and television. I'm also a true crime obsessive and I swear by the three F's: flea markets, frozen margaritas, and Fleetwood Mac. When I'm not writing, I'm posting pages of my embarrassing childhood diaries on my newsletter The Jessica Diaries.
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