Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What's In A Name

“Alferd,” said the Enterprise-Rent-a -Car dude as he read my name, putting an “e” where the “o” is. Alford has never struck me as difficult to pronounce and I didn’t correct his mispronunciation of ‘al’ + ‘ford’ because I got burned out on correcting pronunciation regarding my first name so young that I quickly developed a three-times-and-I’m-done-trying rule.

Al and Ford are commonly used, seen and yet I get Alfred or Alferd regularly.

What I don’t get is how a phrase like al’s ford (sounds kinda’ like a fijord doesn’t it?) but that common names like Al and Ford can’t be properly read, pronounced and glued together. Al + Ford isn’t exactly complicated.

My first name, Maren, that’s where the pronunciation-correction-fatigue first set in. I understand the pronunciation glitch when it comes to my first name because though it’s spelled like Lauren or Karen it’s not said like either. More than once during grade school teachers and substitute teachers would look at the roll, presume my first name was a typo and call out “Marvin Alferd” or “Marvin Alferd“. How is it even possible to get that much wrong during the process of reading and saying letters that are typed clear as day?

I was once on a sales team and Billy, one of my fellow sales people, got so fed up with Lou, our boss, mispronouncing my first name “mare“ like a horse + “in” Billy blurted out in a meeting “It’s Mar, as in the planet. Mars and in - that’s it - it’s not complicated! Mar-in.” Billy had just had enough, he was just sick of this Mare-in thing.

After the meeting Lou asked me “Why didn’t you tell me I was mispronouncing your name?”

“I did,” I said “A couple of times, after a certain point I just give up.”

Lou still looked perplexed by why someone would give up on their name, on something as basic as people saying one’s name correctly.

“Some people can never say it,” I said, “say it right- pronounce it correctly- no matter how many times I or someone else pronounces it for them”.

Jan Scholtz could never say my name. Jan’s daughter Anne corrected her for years, over a decade and Jan could never apply how to say my name to memory. I’d be standing there and Jan would say “More-in” I’d be standing there with Jan mispronouncing my name and Anne would say “Mom” and then pronounce my name correctly. As time went on Anne would occasionally get exasperated at her mother but me, I was accustomed to it. Even after ten years of corrections Anne’s Mom could not say my name correctly and to this day she probably would still mispronounce my name. didn’t matter how many times she heard it pronounced correctly- she just plain couldn’t repeat the sounds she had just heard.

I guess it just would have been nice to have had at least one name that people wouldn’t screw up 99% of the time. I’ve thought about switching to the middle, to Camille- Cami for short. “Camille” - not a tough one name wise and too it has cultural reference points: books, plays, and Bill Cosby’s wife but I feel certain that pronunciation wise Camille will be turned into “Ka-mile“.

I could always drop the e and thereby misspell my name but that would probably confuse the people who would have known how to say it if I hadn’t dropped the e- all in an effort to lower the mispronunciation rate of my name/s.

I almost dropped maren altogether when I went to college but what with my mother calling and asking for me and Catina having already known me and how to pronounce my name it had seemed like something that would have just invited confusion, switching over to Camille.

The name ‘Maren’ had been a big mystery within my family, well at least for me but for my mother it was a secret. I had asked her on several occasions how I’d come to have my name, Maren, but my mother never told me. She only hinted at how I got name shortly before her death writing a post-it note “this woman is your namesake”.

‘I was named after an actual person?’, I thought because this was late breaking news, a twenty year secret

What my mother had always said was that she “read Maren in a book and thought it was pretty”. Initially I accepted her explanation as to how I got a name that appeared nowhere, not on key chains, or ID bracelets or monogrammed items.

Once and only once someone found my name already on an item for sale, a key chain with a plexi-glass heart and Maren engraved on a fake gold name plate. Mrs. Handrich had been so excited for me and about her find she bought it - and of course got a key chain for my sister too which had her name on it. “Kari” you can find- “Maren” on the other hand rarely appears prefabricated. I kept that keychain for years but the more I read in school and the more I read period and having never heard my name and sharing it seemingly only with an actress on the original Battlestar Gallactica I started asking again about where I got my name.

“From a book I read, I thought it was pretty” Mom said and I accepted that on the surface but I was starting wonder if she was lying.

Years of more butchering of my names followed, as well by lots of reading and still my name appeared nowhere, not in any book and no adult had ever referenced a book in which they too had read my name.

“How come you named me Maren?,” I asked in my early teens.

“I told you, I’ve told you - I read it in a book,” she shouted.

“-and you thought it was pretty but which book?, “ I asked.

Then Mom/Martha started yelling, there was an edge of panic in her voice and just the repetition of what was clearly a lie, something I thought she rarely did but -

“What was the name of the book?” I asked

“I don’t remember- I told you I don’t remember!” Martha/Mom said.

“How could you not remember the character and book you named your daughter for?”

I don’t know that I dared ask aloud as the line of questioning upset my mother to the point of yelling. I never asked the question again.

Years later she suicided and before doing so wrote on a post-it note “This woman is your namesake”. The Post-Its sticky stuff was attached to a Xerox of a newspaper article that was about? That mentioned a woman named Maren, a coffeehouse owner who had poetry slams regularly in the St. Paul/Minneapolis area. Maren had an adopted Vietnamese daughter and I got the impression she was never married.

So the mystery was somewhat solved; my name, - my mother hadn’t read it in a book. Up until Anita Shreve wrote a book about a murder on a small island while telling the story of a vacation romp that became pivotal for the lead character researching a murder of early immigrants and travesty of justice? Only then did I ever encounter that name in a book. (I can’t remember the title- oh the irony but if it was Shreve- awful don’t bother she ends all her novels- or the two I’ve read and presume she does the same cop out ending where ever she goes: the novel/s ended on plot points as if she were too pressed for time or too lazy to complete the story or she didn‘t know that she ends just when things start to get %ing. Ah- but I’m judging her- well then: her endings suck, are inelegant, not at all thought out and decidedly unliterary.)

But I digress.

Of course there had been a clue much earlier than when my mother went a tad bit hysterical in the car after I asked her again how I got to be named Maren but I didn’t until now pick up on it: if Mom/Martha had simply read the name how come Maren wasn’t pronounced as it was in “Something’s Gotta Give”: mare-in or More-in as some people do pronounce their very own Maren name. How would Martha/Mom have known and been particular about the pronunciation if she‘d only read it?

I never caught onto all that.

So why the big, huge secret? Given that my mother left St. Olaf’s College after her freshman year and transferred to Luther College instead -something she was always very sketching about in her answer as to why- well I presume/d Maren and Martha had had a relationship. Maybe at St. Olaf’s maybe later- I don’t know but it would have been during the late 1950’s or early 60‘s- a much different time than now.

Or perhaps they were just friends and had a spectacular conflict that was never resolved but feelings remained? But that doesn’t strike me as secret worthy, not to the length time Martha kept that secret.

Once someone said they’d heard my name in a movie, though I’d thought that too and when I checked the credit’s the spelling was different. I was working at Seabrook for a short summer and a gentleman touched my arm and said “Maren, just like in Braveheart”.

I didn’t tell him that no actually the spelling’s different, I liked what he’d said it too much to correct him.

There’s a lot in a name and in a naming. Given the smoke and mirrors nature of my name I suppose there’s a certain cosmic balance to the fact that most commonly, ordinarily, no one can speak it, just like a secret.