Friday, May 24, 2013

Love in a name

Ralph Johns, a municipal judge in Mansfield, Ohio, for a number of years, had an understandable pet peeve. He hated being called Judge Jones. It's  amazing how easy it was to write "Judge Jones" when you were thinking "Judge Johns." I know because I did it once myself. I was an editorial writer at the time, and in one editorial I called him "Judge Jones," and the mistake survived copy editing.

The judge didn't seem to care what I wrote about him in the editorial, but he was incensed that I got his name wrong. I had no defense. I could only plead guilty and throw myself on the mercy of the court, although when it came to his name, Judge Johns showed little mercy.

One of my wife's nurses is named Kendalyne. She jokes about the variety of names she has been called and insists she will answer to "anything that begins with a K," but I suspect she is grateful whenever somebody gets her name right. Most of us are like that.

I feel compassion for anyone with a name that is hard to say, hard to spell or hard to remember. Imagine going through life having to repeat or spell one's name several times a day. Actually it's not that hard to imagine. I have a relatively simple surname -- Mapes -- but it causes difficulties frequently. I often get mail addressed to "Terry Mates" or "Terry Maples." A college history professor insisted my name had two syllables. I've learned a few tricks. When a restaurant hostess had trouble with my name, I told her, "Mapes, as in grapes." When our table was ready, I heard her announce over the speaker, "Mapes as in Grapes." More recently a woman on the phone couldn't figure out my name even when I spelled it for her. Finally I said, "It's like the Planet of the Mapes." She got it.

Even those with the most ordinary names can have problems. In the town where I live there were for many years two men of comparable age both named Smith. One was H. Wayne Smith. The other was Wayne C. Smith. Both men were doctors. Both lived on the same street. Both joined the same church. The confusion over their similar names continued for as long as both men lived, and probably for a good many years afterward.

I'm fond of the Dar Williams song It Happens Every Day, one line of which goes: "And the only word for love is everybody's name." Perhaps all of us, even crusty municipal judges, really do feel love whenever we see or hear our own names.

All we have to do to make this world a better place is to get those names right.

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