Thursday, March 15, 2007

What's In A Name?

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet."

Last night was parent conferences, aka "The Hostage Crisis." My day started at 7:30 AM and didn't end until 7:00 PM. All 120+ of us teachers were crammed into the gym and seated by twos at long tables. At 3:30, It began. The slow and steady trickle of parents wended its way around the maze, each of them peering like confused lab rats at the name signs helpfully perched at each corner of the rectangles. Naturally, the administration had done its part by changing the configuration and seating each and every time so that maximum entertainment value for its weary teachers could be achieved. (Hey, our district is so strapped that they can't even provide water, tea, or coffee for us! We have to have something!)

At conferences I renew my amazement/amusement at the names my students have been given. I am perplexed by the number of parents who plop down in the chair and announce, "I'm Sarah's mother." Period. Lady, I have 123 students this year. Six of them are named Sarah. Four of them are in the same class. Which one of them might yours be????? And then, when I handwrite a report on the spot for this parent, filling in the name of the student quickly, with an up-to-the-minute grade and percentage, with other parents in line breathing down her neck, does she thank me? No. She helpfully points out: "Oh, my daughter doesn't have the "h" at the end of her name." Graciously, I smile and say, "Oh, of course she doesn't. I was writing quickly. But the information is correct, let me assure you."

Another mom sits down and brings her daughter, one of my favorite charmers. We laugh and tease her. Her name is Shaquanta. I say, "I call her Shaq, like Shaquille O'Neal, for short." Her mother looks confused. She says, "Oh....Well, I just call her Quanta. I let my sister make up her name when she was born. I didn't really understand it, and Shaquanta spent most of kindergarten and first grade trying to pronounce it and spell it. She kept trying to use a "k". But pretty soon she got onto it. That was the last time I let my sister name one of my babies."

My tablemate leans over and rolls her eyes. "What the heck did she let her sister name her kid for?" she says. I just laugh. It starts me thinking about all the oddly-named students I've had over the years (I will give them all the last name Smith to preserve confidentiality):

Shatamela Pamela Smith...yes, exactly. I loved saying her whole name out loud when I called on her. It was like an addiction. I found myself calling on her even when she wasn't there.

These twins were very distinctive. Their mom was black and their dad was white. One twin was light-skinned; one was dark-skinned. You will not believe me, but I swear it is true:
Chocolate and Vanilla Smith.

We have had at least two girls at our school named: Toyota.

This is one I'm still trying to figure out: Clechie. Pronounced to rhyme with "peachy." It is a boy's name. But you probably could tell that. Yeah.

No one at school has ever gotten over this one: Jjiimmeellee. Did you pronounce it "Jimmylee?"
I'm sorry; that's incorrect. It is "Ja-Mell." I used to wonder if his mom was a stutterer.
A couple of years ago, I had a young lady whose name was spelled Tiey. Did you prounounce it "Tay?" BZZZZZZZZZZZ. Sorry; thanks for playing our game. It's to be said this way: "Tie-ya."

Last year, Tareyn was a girl. This year, Taryn is a boy. Last year, Ash was a boy. This year, Ash is a girl. I am so glad retirement is nigh. Do you know, in 26 years, I've never, ever had a single Nance?


  1. I did have a student named Latrina and another named Martin Luther King Johnson. The year I was pregnant with our oldest, I had seven students named Jennifer...all spelled differently. I vowed never to give my kids a name that would sound bland or trendy, while at the same time being a name that didn't require them to seek counseling. I think we did okay.

  2. Too funny, I love it! I remember Jiimmeellee...his sister and brother had strange names too but I don't think they had the double letters. You probablly won't be teaching when Tequla (Tah-quay-la)and Dejione (day-zha-nay) reach high school. Lucky for you!

  3. And I thought it was hard to learn all of the names of the Asian students in my department.

  4. My son has a choir friend named Taquasia. They call her Asia (better than Tacquo, I guess). He has another friend who's Congolese. Her given name is Mbengi Saila-Ngita. Pretty name--but no one is allowed to call her anything but Holly! In the book Freakonomics, ch. 6 presents statistics about the link between names, education level and success. There's a telling excerpt, simultaneously funny and sad, on the web at
    but I strongly recommend skimming the chapter in the library. The authors break the study down into tables, too.

  5. Nina thought I should check this blog out, and wow!!! I was an EHS student, and I don't know which disappoints me more...the fact that the names only get worse (making it nearly impossible to obtain a job putting that on a resume) or the fact that 2 of the people you named are (distant) related to me, and I know a couple of the others!!!

    Yes, it is fact there was a couple of clients that I have run named Shithead (pronounced Shi-THed) and the other, you ready for this??? Marijuana Cocaine...Smith.

  6. Nance, I have the best one. A friend of mine taught in Norwalk and had a boy named Obgyn. Mom said that she saw the name on the side of his bassinette after he was born, thought someone else had already named him, so she kept it. Do you see it? Ob-gyn!

  7. wordgirl--how well i remember the Jennifer Trend. And the Tiffany Trend. And the Joshua Trend. Now we are in the Sara Trend and I fear that, once my son hits the classroom in about 3 years, it will be the tip of the Madison Trend.

    nina--If Dejione's mother had spelled it Dejeuner, the pronunciation would be the same, but the word would then be the French word for lunch.

    ih--i don't doubt that learning the asian names is difficult. share some!

    sputnik--thanks for that link. i went to it and read the excerpt, and it was familiar. i think i had read the chapter in another article or someplace else. it is so true! names' influence has been studied before, but it certainly bears repeating. as you can see from the other commentors, these names are reaching the status of urban legends.

    tera--thanks for not using the name of the school where i teach. i do try to preserve my anonymity on this blog by not directly stating my city or school or last name. it's sticky territory. and thanks so much for visiting The Dept. and commenting here! i hope you come often and share in the chat! and are you completely serious with those names? those parents should be shot. honestly.

    j.--OMG. i am speechless. i am without speech. you cannot be telling me the truth.

  8. O.K., here’s the scoop from a private all-girls’ high school: (any given class will have at least 5-6 girls with these names, usually 2 of each, and, of course, slightly different spellings.)

    Katherine (Catherine, Cathryn, Kathryn), Sarah (Sara), Maddy (Maddie, Madee, Maddee), Hayley (Haley), Claire (Clair, Clare), Jordyn (Jordan, Jorden), Ashley (Ashly, Ashlie, Ashlee), Meaghan (Meagan, Meghan, Megan), Christina (Cristina, Kristina), Caitlyn (Caitlin, Kaitlyn, Kaitlin) Caiti (Kaiti, Katy, Katey, Katie), Lindsey (Lindsay, Lyndsay, Lyndsey)…

    I welcome the ethnic names, even if I can’t pronounce them, since at least I don’t have to remember which spelling is the right one!!! And, of course, if I don’t get it right every time, I get to hear “Señora, can’t you even remember how to spell my name?”

  9. Truth, I swear. No one could imagine up something that absurd.

  10. Yep fellow bloggers!!! Those names I mentioned are actual clients at my former place of employment!! Sad, but 100% true!!!

  11. Followed you here from Citizen. Funny comment you made over there, and your post here is so funny, I'm reading it aloud over the phone to my bf. Have a great weekend!

  12. My name isn't common but it's not unique. I've never seen having an unusual name as a plus but it hasn't been a problem either. Some people have told me it's a sexy name and that always makes me laugh.

    My kids have plain vanilla names--not that I did that consciously. I have loved my daughter's name since I was a little girl. It's the first name of a favorite poet, and it's also featured in a dreamy Simon and Garfunkel song that I adore. It rolls off my tongue. It's a very common name now but that hasn't diminished my love for it.

    My son's name just seemed like the right name for him. It doesn't have any particular history. I liked the name Tristan but it didn't work at all with our last name. I also considered the names Thomas and Ryan--other plain vanilla names.

    My sister knew a woman in Mississippi who had twins and named them Orangelo and Lemangelo. She'd had horrible morning sickness and the only thing she could keep down was orange and lemon jello.

  13. ortizzle--Ah, yes! The many Lindsays. My favorite was "Lindesay". And I'm disappointed that you didn't have any "leigh" variations on the LEE's. Soon, too, we shall be inundated with Carlys. Forgot about that one.

    j. and tera--maybe it's not so much that i don't believe you; it's that i don't want to.

    fringes--hey! thanks so much for coming by and chatting with me here at The Dept! and to hear that one of my comments at another site got you here...well, that's really flattering! please do come back and enter the fray as often as you like!

    v--again, i am astounded by our similarities: Tristan was one of my choices for a boy's name when i was pregnant with Jared. Rick would absolutely not hear of it. I got it from a book series I was reading about a country vet in England. I still love the name, but was thwarted again when pregnant with Sam. That Rick...what a killjoy! LOL.

  14. I met a boy named Asbestos. I also know a grown man named D'Jon. He doesn't like mustard.

  15. mist1--welcome to The Dept. and thanks for adding to the discussion! I am such a fan of the apostrophe'd name. I am totally considering adding one to my own: N'ance. It could be marking the omission of the "u" in Nuance, which would be a pretty unusual and cool name, though not that unusual to a person named "Asbestos" or some of the others above.

  16. Ah, Tristan the mischievous vet in the James Herriot books! I read those too.

    And Tristan in the movie Legends of the Fall? Yum, yum.


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