What’s in a name?

Yesterday on social media, there was chatter regarding unique names. The name I ‘goes by‘ is not my given name.

Because I worked at the same place for 2 decades, they went by my given name — more on that, later. As you can imagine, I have to use the given name for financial and medical records and communiqués. It’s a PIMA.

The natural thing here is to say, ‘Then go by it all the time!’


There’s a whole lot of reasons for the name being problematic and not just that I’m the only one with it. I can imagine where people might think, ‘Ooo! To have an exotic name!’ You’re wrong. I mean, maybe if you were the first Oprah (if unfamiliar with the story, she was meant to be called Orpah* but due to ignorance, the name was officially MISSPELT) or Beyoncé, it’ll pay off when you’re rich and famous.

The facts that support my claim of weird-name-liability is that nobody in the world knows how to spell it and if it’s explained, they’ll still not be able to remember, even if they love you. -my own godmother cannot spell my name; it’s different on every birthday card

Fact: government (the United States, for example, since I was born and live here…some foreign countries can handle it), financial and medical software programmes (remember it’s necessary to use my legal name?) cannot ‘fit’ the letters. There are too many.

Fact: government (again, U.S.), financial and medical software cannot use accent marks.

Fact: government (the Federal has my back on this one, not-so Missouri), financial and medical software cannot handle a simple mother-fucking hyphen.

When I was a kid, it was less of a problem because a lot of people in the Ozarks have weird names, often long ones. Most go by something completely different. Hence, my uncles whom I refer to as ‘the 7 dwarves.’ They were not short. Regular readers may recall my dad has been called Spike these 70 years. My mother goes by a name that sounds like a diminutive of a normal name but neither are her birth names. -are the new readers gone yet?

And since people here are accustomed to weird-name-liability, you’re not going to get ‘How do you SPELL that?’ Shit, man. They ain’t even gonna try. They know. You’ll get something like ‘Oooweee!  I bet that gives you one heckuva headache’ or ‘You know what?! My Mama’s called —-!’ or better:

Shoot, girl! We can start us a club. My name’s Verniclum Standard but I goes by Stephen. You know…my daddy remembered some teacher a-telling him the word vernacular and he thought it sounded awful smart. When I come along, he did his best to spell it out but when the registrar sawr it, he said, ‘Would you prefer the standard spelling?’ You know, my Daddy looked at him and says ‘Heck, yeah! That goes together real nice. Mark that down: Verniclum Standard.’

The proper response to this is, ‘Can I call you Stevie?’

Where was I?

Point being, as a kid in the Ozarks, it wasn’t a big deal. Then, like Heidi, I had to come off the mountain and go to school. School was a pain. My mother would FREAK that they tried to give me some shorter/ easier name. It was the given name or nothing, Mister! Now, we’re still in the northern Ozarks, so a 4’10’ woman, stomping her foot was enough to get them to comply — but I had to hear it ALL THE TIME.

Hearing this bullcrap, when all you want is to be called Mary, means everybody around you hears it. As kids, I caught hell but it was more like for causing difficulty (by, you know, being given this name), not trouble for the name. This is important because it changed.

When I started working a job that paid taxes, it began being an issue for me with adults. I was 15 years old and had to file the tax paperwork and get a name tag. Yay, me! The name tag was a nickname — of course! The taxes were the real deal. The manager gave me shit and not good-naturedly.  You’re a 40 something woman and I’m 15 years old. Really? That’s the thing that you’re going to do? Well, you are working in fast food… –note, I may have to again, soon — I know not to give people shite for their fucking given names

I had 24 jobs by the time that I was 22 years old. That’s what happens when it’s the 1980s -fucking Reagan and you are trying to not drop out of school. They didn’t allow for school hours. They didn’t have to do. There were hundreds of adults wishing that they had your part-time position. I hopped from job to job til uni, when I got a job setting up sound systems, which was freaking awesome because it had plenty of down time when I could study and they wanted me at night, so I could go to school during the day. Sweet. The coworkers at all of these jobs would invariably (if I worked there over a couple of months) learn that my given name was different than what I went by and that was usually gleaned by the time cards that people literally punched back then. People seemed to be offended. I don’t really understand why it offends them but if I give it a very quick thought:

  • They could never possibly re-spell, if quizzed 5 minutes after seeing it the first time and maybe that made them feel dumb. They’d be wrong. Why should you know how to spell my weird name?
  • They believed that I thought myself better than they were. While we both had to clean shit off the same toilet, I had a ‘fancy’ name.
  • This is America. I have a foreign name.

It’s probably the latter. I’m way more foreign than they ever thought just being from the Ozarks but whatever. And the funniest part is while my name’s origins are ‘foreign,’ none of that provenance has anything to do with my heredity. I’m 1/2 Irish and 1/2 Russian Jewess. My mother responds to peoples’ denigration of my given name with ‘Americans are ignorant and stupid. You can’t teach them.’

The Duchess is a hoot. -except not in reality; out of context, she’s got some funny shite

Remember when I said something way back at the beginning about the job I had almost 2 decades? I’ve finally come back to that because I want to make a point about adults being freaking ignorant and stupid.

I worked happily and joyfully, using go-betweens, for all but my last year. At that point, I had to speak to ad agents directly. Let me first say, to my utter surprise, I loved it. Who knew that it would be fun? I mean, you’re going to run into aholes everywhere and if you have to run into them, it surely helps by having a good 50% of the phone calls you receive a day with people kissing your arse. Ad agents, I’m thinking, by trade make money by being pleasant, let’s say.  I was not there to give them money! I was there to answer questions about artwork and printing processes and guide them towards making the best decisions possible for their client (who was giving them money). It wasn’t my job to ring out but I spoke with literally hundreds of individuals per week. That’s a lot of ass-kissing-receipt.

What I did not like and what my company insisted, was that I had to use my given name. The ad agents don’t give two shits what you’re called so long as they know who to ask for and by THAT I mean, rarely could they repeat my given name. They’d say, ‘Oh, erm, yeah. Who’s the really nice lady who has been in the business a long time and who has a — um — long name?’

I learnt within a couple of months you could tell when somebody was going to be a Rare Asshole. They’d begin by mocking my name (coming up with alternate versions, all the better if it rhymed). They’d USUALLY (if these assholes knew how many assholes did this same trick? They’d stop.) ask how to SPELL it. And then repeat. Several times. By several, I don’t mean 3 or 5. More. I spelled it slowly, in case you’re thinking, ‘Damn, bitch! Give them a chance to write it down!’

It’s not because they’re jotting a note to remember. It’s a control game. I’m going to make her re-spell it a whole bunch of times and she’ll smell the POWER!

Not so much. I will listen to you treat me like a prick but that doesn’t make yours any bigger, darling.

While this is a PIMA, it was almost more of a PITA for the people sitting around me. I’d hear, ‘Damn!’ or ‘How many times are they going to ASK?’ Also, ‘I don’t get what’s so hard about her name. They don’t need to spell it right for what they do. It’s just not that weird.’

Oh, but it is.

Name your kids Mary or John, for fuck’s sake.



* Orpah (Hebrew: עָרְפָּה‎) is a woman mentioned in the Book of Ruth in the Hebrew Bible. She was from Moab and was the daughter-in-law ofNaomi and wife of Chilion. After the death of her husband, Orpah and her sister-in-law Ruth wished to go to Judea with Naomi.


I like it when you talk to me

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