Just Call Me Punky With A *Y*

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”.



10 thoughts on “Just Call Me Punky With A *Y*

  1. I used to HATE my name. “Tamara”. Oh, but not pronounced “Tah-mer-uh”. No, no. That’d be much too pretty. Instead it’s just “Tam-ra”, as if the middle “a” never happened, and just scurried in by accident. My mother has a penchant for giving her children unique names. I am Tamara Nicole, my brother is Joshua Levi, and my sister…her’s is the crowning jewel of my Mother’s eccentricity: Te Ata Colleen. Te Ata is one name, two words. In all my griping about my own name, and the uniqueness of our last name as well, I’ve never been envious of my sister’s struggles to explain to her small town, southern teachers why on God’s green earth she has a first name consisting of two words, neither of which seemed to make any sense. I was called “Tomato”, and “Camera”, she was called “Toyota” and it was all very frustrating, of course. But then I realized I don’t know any other Tamara’s. And certainly no other Te Ata’s. When we are met, our names are often misspelled, but we are rarely forgotten. There’s a sense of joy in this. So when I named my daughter I chose Abigail Iyana. At that time, Abigail was supposed to be rarely used. Now she is surrounded by other Abigail’s, so I suppose she’ll never have to face her name being misspelled. At least, not her first name.

  2. I get called “Jeanette” all the time instead of Janet. Ho hum.

    My surname is even funnier. I get Caramello, Calamari … lol.

  3. My last name is spelled with an ICE in the middle. Every single time I need to find my name on a form/roster/enrollment form – it’s spelled with a CIE in the middle. Every time. I even had a woman tell me once that I don’t spell my name correctly – and that I should learn to spell it.

    I know how to spell it. It’s Staicer. I’ve had it for 23 years so I’m pretty sure I’m right and not you, minimum wage office worker.

  4. I get that a lot with the last name Aiello. It is understandable, because it isn’t an easy name, nor does it start with the ‘a’ sound, but rather the ‘i’. So it doesn’t bother me when people try to pronounce it with all the appropriate letters. What DOES bother me is when they start throwing in letter sounds that aren’t there. I get Arnello, Atello, Arello…any combination you like, throw in whatever letter you like…ALL. THE. TIME.

  5. Oh my heart breaks for you between chuckles.

    My MIL has your issue: Her “Joanne” is JoAn.

    Without a middle name to fall solidly back on as a nickname-go-by.

    Mine and Hubs’ are boring, mainstream 1970’s names lacking historical significance which nobody mistakes or misspells.

  6. This is exactly why I go by Anne. My given name is Liane. Yeah, that’s a fun one. I don’t think anyone has ever spelled it correctly, and I used to get a horrible knot in my stomach on the first day of school, dreading the way the teacher would try to pronounce it. So now it’s just Anne.

  7. I feel for you! I always hated my maiden name (Emily Guy) because I was teased mercilessly (She’s a girl who’s a guy! Hi, guys! directed to me and my sister, etc, ad infinitum). It was also TOO easy so I always had to spell it. (“Guy,” I would say. “Gye?” they would reply, puzzled. “Guy,” I would repeat. “G-U-Y.” “Oh, Guy!” they’d respond. Did we really need to go through all that?”)

    When I got married (to a man who has a unisex first name and is therefore often the recipient of Ms. Birken solicitations and bills, feh!) I was thrilled to finally have a normal last name. No way to make fun of Birken.

    But, no one can spell it. I get Birkin (because of Jane Birkin), Berkin, Berken, Burkin, Burken, etc, ad infinitum. What drives me the most nuts is that I spell it aloud EVERY SINGLE TIME when stating it, since I know no one can spell it, and I still have stuff like the credit bureau which is checking our credit for a mortgage looking for an individual who does not exist.

    I also used to teach high school, and I would get emails from parents wherein they had to spell my name correctly since it was my email address, and yet the email still had my name misspelled in the salutation.

    It feels like a little thing, and if it only happened once, it would be. But the built up aggravation over the years makes it a big thing. This is why I take special care to spell names–particularly unusual ones–correctly.

  8. My name is Kamey. Pronounced Amy, with a K.

    I introduce myself that way, and people still call me Kamy. Or they tell me they know a Kamey. No they don’t. I have yet to meet another, but I’m constantly being told they know someone with my name.

    Open your ears people, listen to me say it. I’ve had this name for 35 years. I know what I’m saying. 🙂

  9. I hear you! My name is Christie – with an “IE” not a “Y.” My aunt still spells my name wrong. And that’s not to mention all of the people who think that they can shorten my name to Chris. NO!

  10. Oh how I feel your pain. I have a rather unique first AND last name as well.

    When I was in elementary school I was the only one with my name but then I moved to the town I live in now. Where I became one of 4 in my grade. Except THEY all spelled their name with a “C” instead of my “K”. So inevitably when we’d have teachers together I’d be told that I was spelling my own name wrong. In fact it’s gotten to the point when asked for my name by someone I automatically go “Kassandra, that’s with a K not a C”.

    And my last name? The only easy way to get people to remember it is to be all “Like you burned your ham”. Then they inevitably stare at me as if I’m some kind of alien and what not.

    I envy other people’s names not because I want a different name but because their signatures fit SO well into the teeny boxes provided (my once beautiful signature has become a mass of illegible scrawl to fit in boxes since I have a 9 letter first name and a 7 letter last name.)

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