By Daniel Dunaief
With a number of extended friends and family pregnant during this turbulent year, I have been thinking about one of the first decisions parents make on behalf of children who can’t yet verbalize their preferences.
What’s in a name, you say? Well, just about everything.
A long, complicated and difficult to spell name could help someone stand out. It could also connect that person to a family legacy or history and enable him to
carry the trappings of a family tree every time he says or writes his name.
At the same time, that person, if she interacts with a large collection of people, may spend an enormous amount of time each day spelling or pronouncing her name and answering questions about its origin.
As an aside, one of my favorite names comes courtesy of a close friend who is a doctor. He was in the operating room many years ago during a complicated delivery by an expectant mother who didn’t speak English. She decided to name her son Nosmo. His middle name was King. She got the name from the No Smoking sign she read in the waiting room.
For some reason, when I meet someone, I struggle with two of the most basic elements of communication. First, they say their name. Something happens in that time shortly after I hear the name. I’m so focused on saying my name, which I’ve known all my life, that I erase her name. It’s as if a devilish part of my brain has blurred her name with a miniature eraser. That also appears to happen to other people, as several of them have listened to me say my name and then ask, “Did you say your name was Doug” or “Dave?” They tend to remember the first letter.
You would think I wouldn’t have any trouble with such a simple first name, Dan, and yet, you’d be wrong. When I start with “My name is” or “This is,” somehow, the “s” from the “is” elides with my name, making my response sounds like, “This is Stan.”
To compensate, I have tried to wait as long as possible between the “is” and my name, almost as if I’m building suspense. “Hi, this is” … wait for it … have a sandwich … check your email … look at that pretty bird … okay, now, “Dan.”
Sometimes, when I’m outside, I hear my name when no one was talking to me or to anyone else who shares my name. I returned from walking my dog recently and heard “Daaaannn,” “Daaaaaaaann,” “Daaaaaannn” calls. At first, I thought it was my wife, trying to use her special human echolocation to find me, but it turned out to be a crow welcoming my dog and me back.
When people are flustered, injured, or disappointed, they often yell something. Unfortunately for me and, perhaps, other Dans, they shout something that sounds like my name. After stubbing their toe or reading a disappointing email, they scream, “Damn!” Hearing the frustrated and loud call, I match that with, “Yeah, what?” That might be funny to them, if they weren’t already annoyed.
The ubiquitous nature of my name has created confusion on athletic teams or in offices. My last name doesn’t offer an easy alternative.
Indeed, my son, who doesn’t share the same first name as anyone on the baseball team, is, nonetheless, nicknamed “Knife” because, somehow, Duh nay uff, became Doo knife, which was shortened to knife. It makes sense to teenagers.
As one of Jerry Seinfeld’s girlfriends on the eponymous show “Seinfeld” pointed out, it could be worse: her name rhymed with a female body part Jerry couldn’t remember, and it wasn’t “Vulva.”