I don’t have a lot, but I have a lot of name

It’s hyperbole to say, when looking around our very crowded apartment, that I don’t have a lot other than my name. But maybe, when you have a name like mine — that everyone tries to shorten or thinks you made up — it’s easier for it to seem a bigger and more solitary possession.

I haven’t always liked my name. I still don’t always. I got teased for it a lot as a kid (“Do you have a rash?”) and everyone still mispronounces it. Auditions and business meetings invariably begin with explaining to people how they’re getting it wrong and then being all cute and flirty about how I’ll give them three tries to get it right.

And I do give people three tries, before just sighing and resigning myself to all sorts of things that aren’t right but will totally do.

All that before we even get to my last name.

Despite this, the name is more or less here to stay. I went through a whole thing about becoming an Alex (for Alexander) or a Heather (the name I always used on a terrible job when I had to cold call Wall Street execs whom, upon hearing my last name would say, “Oh, like the dog?“) when I joined SAG and then then, once I decided to keep it, never really looked back; I’m not like other girls, so why should my name be? And the deed is done now anyway.

But sometimes it needs saying:
– No, I didn’t change my name.
– No, you can’t call me Rachel; my name doesn’t even sound like that.
– No, it’s not French.
– No, I do not have the falcon.
– No, I am not a dog.
– No, it’s not polite to ask people of Italian descent if they are related to mobsters.
– No, I am not to my knowledge a Maltese princess.
– And yes, I know it’s a handful.

Very few of us get to be in the world in the way we ask to be, and I would have never chosen this name for myself. But it’s still mine, and how I wear it matters even more than what it is.

23 thoughts on “I don’t have a lot, but I have a lot of name”

  1. I can sort of relate. My name is a book by Johanna Spyri. I don’t yodel, I’m not blonde or Swiss, and I know that there was a movie of the same name that interrupted a football playoff game (and that mention really gets me in a good mood- not!). The only thing I really like is that Cab Calloway used the scat sound in Minnie the Moocher. And apparently very few people can spell it correctly –often get the e and the i switched. My last name is of Polish origin and it is rare when someone can actually pronounce it correctly.

    Our family has a history of difficult names. My maternal grandmother was named Willie Mae after her grand father William. Her last name at birth was Lay. I don’t think her parents thought at all about the combination.

  2. With a name like Wiebke (pronounced Vipka)… I can sympathise … I considered changing to Vicky as that is the nearest English equivalent… but now it’s quite a good excuse to say ‘no, does not live here’ to sales people mangling it up πŸ˜€

    My first name confuses them so much, quite a few then get my surname White wrong too as the two Ws are pronounced differently … I’ve decided to be entertained by the mangling of my name now – just imagining the faces when you tell them – I work in a hospital as secretary and have patient contact on the phone

    1. Vipka! That is so pretty and I would have gotten it wrong on the first try. My maiden name and married name are English and Irish in origin, I am in the US, and people always mispronounce and/or misspell them. It does help to weed out the telemarketers. πŸ™‚

      My first name is common enough that it’s not messed up by anyone, so I’m one for three!

  3. god, yes. my name is debora. it’s an odd spelling, yes, I know that. and no, my name is not debbie and no you may not call me debbie and why am *I* the bitch when I request that you not call me debbie?

    I don’t know any other name (except Katherine/Kathy perhaps) where other people feel free to call you something other than the name you introduce yourself by.

    [here via LJ, where you know me by a totally different screen name]

    1. it’s not just you, I’m forever having to ask people not to call me Lizzie. I even ask nicely – once. And they still get all butthurt over it most of the time.

      I’m boggled at people who are out of primary school and still think being a cleverdick about someone’s name is ever going to be a good move.

  4. I get the dog-breed comment too. Mostly couriers. Makes me nuts. Who thinks that’s funny? Also, do they think they’re the first person to come up with it?

    I’ve always been curious about how you pronounce your name, and now I have a little bit of an idea πŸ™‚

    My name changed several times when I was a kid — but these days, shortening it seems to work a treat, so I’ve stuck with it.

  5. My last name begins with a non-English phoneme, and I imagine I have had to spell, explain, etc. tens of thousands of times.There’s no point getting angry, but I find it unspeakably tedious.

    1. My original first name included a non-English phoneme. After 30-plus years of having it mangled daily, I changed it; I just could not take the fingernails-on-the-chalkboard of it anymore, and the insistence of everyone to try saying it, over and over and over.

      These days I’m glad to have linguistics-geek friends. To them, I can just say “It has a vowel that doesn’t exist in Proto-Indo-European; it’s really only pronounceable if you grew up with Finno-Ugric,” and they’ll say “oh, okay.”

  6. Is this ever familiar. The name I use on the ‘net is my first AND middle names, due to a quirk of the way MIT assigned usernames in the late 80s (you could have first and middle initials plus up to 6 of your last name, OR you could pick anything up to 8 letters that wasn’t already in use); it seems to confuse people less than my first name on its own, and attract less teasing. No, it’s not a boy’s name, no, I’m not a mongoose, yes, I AM so fine, and give me a damn good reason why I shouldn’t lose your number. And my birth surname was spelled like the currently notorious congressman but pronounced the other way. Is it any wonder I changed my name on marriage and DIDN’T change it back on divorce?

    I hear you.

  7. When my mother was first pregnant with me, she was given the advice that all children(girls? I don’t remember) should have princess names -something beautiful and flowing that they can append the title “princess” to and live happily ever after. Which is how my siblings and I wound up as Katarina, Nikolai, and Alysandra. I think Princess Racheline could work, if you ever needed that sort of pink-dresses and tiaras mood.

    Of course, no one can pronounce Katarina correctly, and if they can, they can’t spell it right. I get Katrina _constantly_, and Katerina, and questions if Kat is short for Katherine or Kathleen or sometimes even Kaitlin.

    (As an aside, while the pronouncing “Katarina” as “Katrina” thing is bothersome, the pronouncing “Kat” as “Kate” is just ri-fucking-diculous.)

    Also, I have to deal with this much less than my parents did, as she mostly left the public eye by the time I was old enough to be fielding questions, but I am not named for Katarina Witt. I am named for a woman my dad sorta-kinda dated. Her and her daughter are the only two real-live people I’ve ever met who share my spelling.



  8. My first and last name both cause confusion, often seemingly because people want them to “match”, which I find odd seeing as a) I live in California where cross-cultural combinations are everywhere and b) my surname is a perfectly common English language word that really shouldn’t cause any trouble.

    That said, it doesn’t really bug me when people get it wrong as long as they aren’t assholes about it-lord knows I don’t always get everyone’s name right the first time, particularly if it is one I haven’t heard before, is one of several variants of a popular name, or is from a language I am not familiar with.

    Of course I’m fortunate that my name is not easy to abbreviate, so I haven’t run into that. I don’t think I would take that well at all. Nope.

  9. Just last night at Strand Book Store, Simon Pegg peered at a Post-It and asked, “Shaw-nuh?”


    “Oh! Sorry for getting it wrong.”

    “S’all right, everyone does.”

    And this is why my inscribed copy of NERD DO WELL has a star above the first A in my name.

  10. As a Rachelle the “Rachel” mispronunciation has driven me insane since my first day of school back in kindergarten. Nobody mispronounces “Michelle” as “Michel”. Grr….

  11. How do you pronounce your name? I generally call you RM when I’m talking about you (that makes me sound creapy, but say, when I’m plugging your stuff at people) because I don’t know how to pronounce it and would prefer not to mangle it.

    I’m one of the innumerable Katherine variants, and I prefer Kate, but my mother tends to call me Katie, which is teeth-grindingly annoying in any one other then her. That said, I’m awful at learning new names for people. I have one friend who I met at girl scout camps and learned by her camp name– Smurf. Since she’s An Adult and Older Then Me, I felt odd calling her by her first name, but since she is my dear friend, I felt odd calling her by her last name. Thus, Smurf. I confuse people to this day.

    1. My current boss and I met at Burning Man. For all that I think we both tried, at first, to stick to legal names when discussing work issues and playa names for anything else, it’s Koosh and Sparky more often than not.

  12. Well, my legal name is definitely not Nicoli Dominn, but for a while I wished it were. (And just so you know, that’s pronounced Nikolai Doe-minn.) My legal first name is easy enough, but the ridiculous attempts at my last name (Comeau, a somewhat common French name in Canada and Louisiana) are laughable. I think it’s just something about all those vowels in a row that people can’t handle. Sometimes I want to take a page out of my friend Julie’s book and call myself ‘Michelle Unpronouncable.’

  13. Hi, you know me as rena_librarian on LJ.

    My first name (not actually Rena, another whole story) is common and everyone who speaks English knows it, but my last name is German and people seem to never be quite sure if the vowels are long or short. (Long o, short e, thanks.) We did find this handy when telemarketers would call–if they didn’t get it right the first time we’d tell them there was no one there by that name. =)

    The other thing was the mail we’d get with it flat spelled wrong, too. The last syllable is -bel as in Nobel Prize, not as in belle of the ball or bell-ringer. But then it’s pronounced bull–and no, that doesn’t mean you can spell it -ble.

    It wore a complex into me where anytime I am asked by a service person what my last name is, I just automatically say-and-spell it because they’re not going to get it right. I decided as a teenager that when I got married I’d either keep it, or hyphenate if it sounded nice. Part of my decision to hyphenate was that after spelling my part, for his name I could just say “Like the country!” =P

    On the bright side, we don’t often get confused with other people–there’s not many of us on Facebook and last I checked I’m the only one with my first/last name combination (pre-hyphenation).

  14. When you have a name that reminds people of a well-known neighborhood in Los Angeles, CA, or of a author of children’s books featuring a little girl named Ramona, you develop sympathy for others with a similar issue.

    Did I also mention that it is spelled differently as well?

    The instinct to make really tired jokes at the expense of other people’s names must lie deep in the lizard brain part of our minds; it is the only explanation for its persistence even in the face of eye rolls and smiles through gritted teeth.

    1. I have to admit, I sometimes have to deal with a young girl whose name is Michaela Quinn. I always manage to keep a straight face around her. It’s her parents that make me crack up every time. Because really, parents, really. (and, for the record, it cannot be a coincidence given her age and the fact that Michaela is almost unheard of as a name where I live).

  15. lorien gruchalla. this is funny, i wrote about my name yesterday on lj.

    growing up, nobody could pronounce it and i ended up grudgingly answering to lori-anne or lauren. in fact, my boyfriend’s parents still call me lauren. it’s been 10 years now. i had a co-worker consistently call me “laurel-or-whatever.” sigh.

    the most common thing that happens now is people wonder if my name was really lori and did i see the lord of the rings movies and get inspired to change it.

    my last name used to be longer, the polish contingent shortened it by 3 syllables when they cam eover here. in a way i kind of wish it had stayed longer, i like watching people struggle with it.

  16. My name is currently fairly straightforward, but my surname will soon be changing to McLeod (pronounced McLoud) which seems to give people all kinds of problems. I foresee much spelling over the phone in my future.

  17. “No, it’s not polite to ask people of Italian descent if they are related to mobsters.”

    I know better than to be holding a cup of tea while reading your blog! Thankfully nothing spilled.

    No one ever gets my Italian last name right. So why did I pick an equally difficult to pronounce Turkish SCA name? Because I like the work of a period calligrapher who had the same name, that’s why.

    I don’t know what I’d do with a name like Sarah or Jane or Smith. Oh wait . . .

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