Wednesday, November 12, 2008


I have always been very picky about people's names, particularly students. I am obsessive about spelling them correctly, and it gets on my nerves when other people continue to misspell their names. I mean it's not like we're teaching middle school, where girls change the spellings of their names every other week and decide that the only way to dot an "i" is with a little heart. Blecccccchhh!

Once at another school I was returning papers, and I noticed that a young man had written his name differently on his paper from the way I spelled it.

"Darrel, does your name have one L or two?"

"It don't matter."

Yes it does matter! It's your name, for God's sake!

Maybe I'm picky about names because I resented my own name for most of my life. I'm pretty much over it now (most of the time), but I HATED it when I was younger. I couldn't understand why I had to have the weird name. My mother named her children Jane, Bobby, Kay, and Jack. Nice, simple, easy-to-spell, can't-mistake-the-pronunciation names. And then she got to me. D-E-N-A. Also simple. No wasted letters.

And people can't get it. They can't pronounce it when they see it, and they damn sure can't spell it when they hear it. How much easier can it get? I get called "Dana" (long "a" vowel sound), "Denna" (like when they ring the denna bell to call the cowboys to eat on westerns), and "Dee-anna." For God's sake, how do you get three syllables out of D-E-N-A? It doesn't help that I have a niece whose name IS Deanna.

I was named after my great-aunt Dena and her first husband, Joe. Hence my name is Dena Jo, and you just can't get much more Southern than THAT. I had a third grade teacher who insisted on using both names when I was in trouble. I heard "Dena Jo" a LOT. Mom, however, never called me by both names that I remember. It was usually "Dena Dammit." "Stop, dammit." "Shut up, dammit." I distinctly remember bursting into tears when I was about six years old and saying, "My name's not dammit!"

Aunt Dena apparently hated the name too. All of my life she was called "Aunt Dean." She just reversed the "n" and the "a." Then when she was in her 70's, I think, she reverted back to Dena. Personally I think that's a little old to have to learn a new way to sign checks.

I used to teach in a somewhat inner-city school, and calling roll on the first day of school was always..... something of a ....... challenge. Once I was about midway through the list, making notes about how to pronounce names and whether a student went by first or middle name. I got to a name on the list and stopped. Zhenbgrratitopwrest. Okay, maybe that's an exaggeration, but it started with a "Z" and it had that many letters. As I opened my mouth to attempt it, I heard a quiet (male) voice from the back of the room say, "I go by Bushay."

Before I could stop myself, I said, "You don't know how happy that makes me."

One of the computer systems we used at the beginning of my teaching career would print out a list of students' first, middle, and last names, as well as what they went by. I was going over my class roster before the first day of school, and I took my list to my department chair.

"I don't care what this roster says, I refuse to call a child 'Cheesebox.'"

On the same list was a child named Jeffery. Okay, that's cool. Only he went by "Big Sam." He was a sixth grader, for God's sake, how big could he be? He was Jeffery in my class.

In my class last year, a student and I got on the subject of names and whether we liked our names or not. I said the main thing I disliked about my name was that I could never find those cute little key chains, zipper pulls, and other personalized items. (I still look for them in every tourist shop I go into.)

Another student overheard our conversation and agreed with me. "Me too! I can never find my name either. What's up with that?"

I paused. And said slowly, "I'm....not....sure...........Letexias."


Badger said...

Hmmm, If I had a dollar for every time Theron Colucci got butchered...

KatyDid53 said...

You were called "Dammit" because Mom could never remember whose name she should be calling at any given time, and yours was the last one on the list . . . being the baby and all.

Professor said...

Well you know my name and it's always an easy one to say and read, but I'll be damned at how many people ask me to spell it.

And this is a delightfully entertaining post, by the way! Love it!

RBK's Realm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RBK's Realm said...

Trying again.

Oh my God - I love this post! You have no idea how it resonates with me. My name "Raksha" has been distorted beyond belief from Rasha to Rashka to Rasika to Russia for crying out aloud! And I responded as a good sport to all versions till someone got the brilliant idea of wanting to call me Roxanne or some such. At that point I dug in my heels and put an end to it without further ado.