I have a very mundane Christian name I’ve never been especially fond of. It’s Joann without an “e”. I go by “Jo” because people apparently find it too hard to spell or pronounce Joann without the “e” on the end. Whenever I write my name on forms, the data entry person always helpfully corrects it for me, adding an “e” on the end. Because it’s perfectly understandable that I might misspell the Christian name I’ve had for the past 44 years, isn’t it? Thank you, just-out-of-high-school junior administration clerk, just how do silly old women like us make our way in the world without the likes of you?
Sorry. I’m a bit sensitive about it.
At school I was renamed “Joan” all the time. It was far worse than it probably needed to be, mainly because of the fact my last name was “Southeren”. There’s a very famous (late) Australian opera singer named Joan Sutherland, and so renaming me in the fashion of that particular portly, middle-aged diva was just way too easy for any teacher reading the roll with a hangover or simply an abject disinterest in the emotional welfare of students.
People would also interrogate me regarding my surname. “Sutherland?” they would query, watching my lips for a sign of some speech impediment that would have me misprounouce my own family name. “No, Southeren. S-O-U-T-H-E-R-E-N.” “Southern?” No, SOUTHEREN.” “Sunterland.” they would mutter, and scrawl some bloody thing I’d inevitably have to correct again later with some other fixed-brain dullard with no imagination.
Why is it that some people can actually believe with their whole heart you don’t know how to spell or say your own name?
Often, I think it’s a word-association thing too. Perhaps if some people haven’t heard a name like yours before, and they are too embarrassed to check with you, they just name you for the closest thing they’ve heard even halfway similar. Sometimes I think people possibly even subconciously associate you with someone because of your name. I once lay-byed a sweater in a boutique, and I got the impression the younger girl serving me didn’t think much of me. I sensed a subtle resistance in her general demeanour toward me, but nothing I could really put my finger on. However, I became quite convinced she thought I was a little too forthright in my manner when I went to pick up my lay-by and written across is in capital letters in thick, black felt-tip maker was HIDLER. Freudian slip, perchance?
Three times now I’ve called my mobile phone provider to tell them the woman they are billing doesn’t live at my house. Joann without an “e”, I keep telling them, and they keep assuring me it will be fixed on the next bill. I have grown very tired of paying Joanne’s bills with Joann’s salary, so this time I went into the store and asked them to fix it, again. The young man went into my account and changed the details, helpfully informing me that while my bills would read correctly from now on, my account name could not be changed at the highest level. I have wondered with not a little concern what implications this may have for cases of fraud.
The correct spelling of individuals names certainly has implications in other situations. When I had cancer, I was receiving treatment at my local hospital. To my surprise, another Jo Hilder was having cancer treatment at the same regional hospital at the exact same time. We never met, but our files were often right next to one another on the receptionists desk. The only discernible difference when one glanced at those two files was the “e” missing from the end of my Christian name. To think that if the reference numbers were not checked properly, either one of us could have received the wrong cancer treatment. The implications of that are very, very disturbing.
So perhaps you understand now why I’m a bit obsessive about the correct spelling of my name. I am likewise a bit fussy about the spelling of other peoples names too. When Karise Eden won the Australian version of The Voice last night, the congratulatory Tweets ran thick and fast. I think I read six different versions of spelling of Karise’s name in the space of ten minutes. the hackles went up on the back of my neck. I felt I owed it to Karise to set them all right again. In truth, I’m insanely jealous of Karise – both of her voice, and her fabulous name. I always wanted an unusual name. I fantasised as a teenager about changing my name to Jay-Jay (I’m so glad I didn’t, considering that Jay-Jay has come to be associated with the nickname of a certain part of a womans’ body) Rainbow, Sunshine and even Talulah. I hated my name and wanted something exotic. Months before I was married I started calling myself Jo Hilder. It wasn’t that I didn’t value my maiden name – it was simply that I couldn’t wait to shed myself of that association with the chisel-jawed opera singer and lose that oft-forsaken “e” which caused me so much trouble.
I think the most awesome girls name ever is Soleil Moon Frye. Now those parents knew how to pick a monicker. We shouldn’t be surprised – Soliels mothers name is Sondra Peluce Londy, and her half-brothers name is Meeno. My brothers names are Glenn and Craig. It wasn’t until we were almost teenagers we worked out both their names mean grassy holes in the ground. Maybe my folks had a kind of celtic geological fixation – don’t know. What I do know is that Soliel became famous playing a girl with the second most awesome name ever – Punky Brewster. You know what? From now on just call me Punky. That’s Punky, with a “y”.