Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Woman in her Thirties Gets it Right

On Friday night I did a very woman-in-her-thirties thing: I announced the names of the graduates at our high school graduation ceremony. I wasn't going to do it-- in fact I was avoiding doing it-- but one thing led to another and there I was at rehearsal with a handful of index cards of the full names of about 25 Seniors.

As someone with a "difficult"maiden name, I took this role very seriously. I have so many memories, memories others with unique last names can relate to, of teachers, substitute teachers, bank tellers, telephone solicitors and the like, stumbling over and sputtering out my name as though the act of saying it was the most annoying part of their day. Like I'd chosen my difficult last name, just to irritate them. Like I should apologize for having put them out so. In grade school, watching the look on my teacher's face as she tried to pronounce my name from the roster was enough to make me want to crawl into my Pee-Chee folder and hide for the rest of the day. By high school I could weed out the teachers who actually cared by their ability to say my last name correctly by the end of the school year (many couldn't). And by the time I reached my thirties, I realized that there is something to be said for a "difficult" last name-- at least there's only one of me on Facebook.

I made a big deal about going to each of the students in my section, overly pronouncing each syllable.

'E-liz-a-beth', I said to one girl.
'Lar-sen', I said to another.

They laughed, because playing the fool is my shtick. But there were two that really threw me, both names of Pacific Islander decent, and there was no more joking around.

'Don't worry about it,' one boy said. 'No one says my name right.'

The way he said it broke my heart, because I got it. He'd resigned himself to the fact that his 'moment' would be tarnished by mispronunciation, and that was just going to have to be okay with him and his family. It was not okay with me.

'Please,' I said. 'Say it for me. Let me hear you say it and then you tell me if I'm saying it right.' I was careful to say this without the condescension that I used to hear from most people when they would ask me to do the same thing for my last name. I would rather have someone butcher my name then laugh while trying to pronounce it.

I practiced and practiced, and I read all the names as perfectly as I could. At the end of the ceremony, the boy whose name I struggled with came to find me amidst the sea of people.

'Wow,' he said. 'You did it right. Thank you for that. Thank you.'

I shook his hand and smiled because a woman in her thirties knows when she is shown sincere gratitude. The practice was--simply-- worth it.


  1. That is great! It always made me sad at events when people screwed up someone's name, like they didn't care enough to get it right. I'm so glad you were able to make his day.

  2. Oh man, how I can appreciate this now that I married into the most unpronouncable (is that a word?) name ever - I've been called Mrs. Reetz all weekend.

  3. Absolutely worth it. Very important. I remember when mom was responsible for the 8th grade "graduation" spaghetti supper programs, and we went through and changed people's "birth certificate" names to what they actually went by -- like those who went by their middle names, and those who only ever use nicknames. Checking spelling, making sure the girl with a silent "n" in her name was correctly attributed -- coming from an "with an s, not a z" name, this is very important.

  4. I had no idea it was such torture for you growing up! That is so sweet that you completely made his graduation special. I have no doubt he will never forget that.

    T (AKA: it's only spelled like Megan-- it's pronounced TEEgan)

  5. I totally get what you are saying. My entire life, my name was butchered by American teachers (and still is, even by family members!). It took moving to Switzerland to hear my name pronounced correctly. Maybe that's why I'm still here...