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Names They Have Called Me

Gorey and his cats. Image: Children's Book Council

Gorey and his cats. Image: Children’s Book Council

“What?”

As a child, this was the most common response to telling someone my name. What was dispensed in a neutral tone for the first name. The second name most often skipped the what altogether for hard confusion, or laughter.

Getting older and going to school, the relationship changed. Older people’s doting and affected surprise gave way to tough kids who liked the word faggot. I don’t blame them: stay in your wheelhouse. But teachers and other authorities, ostensibly held to a higher standard, could’ve tried harder.

Texas was challenged with pronouncing my name, and walked away. On the first day of class, I would wait for the inevitable lurch in reading the class roll while the teacher attempted to parse syllables that weren’t bland Anglo-Saxon or, rarely, Hispanic. As time went on, I acquired a little catalog of the possibilities. Matching which one would come out of what teachers’ mouth became a private game.

The Name That Will Come Game

Match the incorrect spelling and pronunciation of your name against what the other person interprets from what they read off a paper, or hear from your careful, if shy, pronunciation.

Correct pattern to match: Derek Dexheimer [DERR-ek DEX-hy-mer]

(The family name is German, lit.: a person from County Dexheim, in Bavaria.)

What You Will Probably Hear (with probability for the last name):

Doctor Dayxmeer (a rare bird I distinctly remember – less than 1%)

Derek Dexelmeier (5%)

Derek Dextimemer (15%)

Dexter Dexleimer (20%)

Delk Dexenmeier (20%)

Decter Dexenheimer (easy favorite – 40%)

or some permutation thereof – last and first name mix-and-match.

Most kids laughed and forgot about it–by third grade I had stopped changing schools, so everybody knew the joke. The feeble and humorless fossils Texas retained for its elementary school teaching staff were flummoxed and then hostile that I showed them up, their huffing and puffing becoming a foundation of a shared Stalag kind of humor. The kids who liked faggot pulled a few punches.

Every so often a kid would be upset by my name’s mangling. All were earnest country boys who came to school with their jackets dusty from stables, their eyes innocent-wide and tough from work, but not hard.

“Man, you can’t let ’em walk on your family name like that.”

I don’t remember his name, hardly more than the brown eyes and the jacket with its dust. His shock was sincere. He was upset the teacher had so mangled my name, and maybe moreso that I didn’t protest.

“It’s not a big deal. It’s too hard for everybody to say right.”

Even turned around in the ancient desk, the kid reared. I had thrown a moral snake at him, and he had never seen such a thing.

“Dexheimer.” His shock turned sullen. “I can say it right. Your family’s important. It’s all you got.”

He turned around. My memory ends. I hope he’s well, taking care with family names, and his family takes care of him.

The best name incident, by far, is this:

One bland high school day, my friend Dave tells me how his father intentionally mangled my name. “What’s the name-a that friend-a yours?” And his father, full of Texas salt, warps my name into something hilarious.

Later, looking for Dave, I call Dave’s father’s place. His father picks up. “Hello?”

“Yes, is Dave there?”

“Who’s callin’?”

“This is Dexter Dickhandler.”

The man chokes. “Uh, just a minute.” The handset clatters on a countertop, and I hear in that old Bell System distance: “Goddammit, David! I told yew not to tell ‘im that!”

And that, friends, is how I left all annoyance, disgust, raw-feeling and grasping of how things should be and received the wisdom of my own

Ineffable effable
Effanineffable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.

 

T.S. Eliot - A Very Practical Cat. Image: The Spectator

T.S. Eliot – A Very Practical Cat. Image: The Spectator

 

 

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2 comments on “Names They Have Called Me

  1. I never had any difficulty with your name, which confirms my suspicion that I am above average. (Winkie face here.)

    My childhood best friend was Laura Sue Seasongood. My father always called her Laura Sea Susangood. I don’t think I ever told her. I guess that’s not really in the same ballpark as Dickhandler. Your friend’s dad was funnier.

  2. While making fun of names was popular in elementary, by junior high we’d figured out that our parents were to blame for bad naming and laid off the kid except to offer sympathy. You had a rough time.

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