Tuesday, August 7, 2007


Dear Reader,

Whenever you call someone by the wrong name, you know it instantly by the look they shoot you--a strange mix of surprise, confusion, disgust, and loathing. I've gotten that look before, and I've come to the conclusion that I've earned my very occasional lapses because people mess up my name on a daily basis.

There's a simple trick that a lot of people use when they are at a place where everyone is wearing name tags and they want to pretend like they know what each person's name is: they approach a person and attempt to get a quick glance at the name tag before their target notices. It's quite effective with names like Michael or Sarah, but when people try this trick on me, they get a nasty surprise, because my name is somewhat unique and, I have learned, utterly unreadable. So they come up to someone else and say something like, "Hey, Ashley, how's it going?" and then come up to me and say, "Hey there, Celleisisctisticly . . . isil."

Up until the time I graduated high school, I dreaded anytime I had a substitute teacher who was taking roll. They would call out each name:

Teacher: "Jan?"

Jan: "Here."

Teacher: "Kurt?"

Kurt: "Here."

Teacher: "Rachael?"

Rachael: "Here."

And then get to mine . . .

Teacher: "Cel . . . cec . . celeste . . celily . . . Miss Harris?"

Cecily: "Here."

Eventually, in order to save time and confusion, I started responding like this:

Teacher: "Rachael?"

Rachael: "Here."

Cecily: "Cecily. Here."

Teacher: What?

Cecily: I'm next on the roll. I'm Cecily. I'm here.

Teacher: Okaaaay . . . Michael?

Then I worked at a bookstore where my duties sometimes involved taking phone calls. It would generally go something like this:

Cecily: A Certain Bookstore, this is Cecily.

Customer: Hello Leslie, do you have any such and such shirts in a such and such size?

Cecily: (sigh) Let me check.

The things that I have learned about human beings in this process have been quite remarkable. Firstly, when people are presented with a name in print, they will typically only read the first three letters and scan over the rest, which is a careless (and sometimes dangerous) way of doing things. Secondly, I've learned that sometimes when people encounter something strange and unfamiliar, they will decide that it is unimportant to fully embrace the object in question, even if it is something as vital as what someone is called. This explains the friends who called me Celery, Sicily, and Olivia because they couldn't or wouldn't learn how to say it the right way.

My name is Cecily. C-E-C-I-L-Y. It's spelled phonetically. There is only one e and one i. I am not Cicily or Sicily or Cecilia or Celeste or Leslie or anything else. My name is Cecily, and I will make sure to pronounce it clearly to you when we first meet so you will be able to pronounce it right the next time.

Of course, I understand that I just have a hard name and that I can't really expect people to get it the first time. The only people who get it right from the start either know another Cecily or love great literature.* Some days it gets kind of annoying, but I've trained myself to look on the positive side and instead see correct pronunciations as a pleasant surprise. What I'm trying to say here is that considering the things that I've been through I don't think that it's completely unreasonable to ask for some leeway when I mistakenly call someone by a name that isn't theirs.

Best wishes, regards, and owing ones,

-Cecily Jane

*My name comes from the play "The Importance of Being Earnest" by Oscar Wilde, which means that all of my English professors have thoroughly studied the work and therefore get it right every time. I think that's my absolute favorite thing about being an English major. I got the name because Madre was in the play in college as she sought her degree in Theater Arts.


Cindy Jensen said...

I am pretty sure Ciara can sympathize with you about the name thing -- but she doesen't even have the great literature thing going for her. Unfortunately, now the only reason people know her name are teenagers who are familiar with the singer "Ciara" and is not somenone she wants to be "likened unto". I liked the name because it was different and that is was very close to "Clara" only one letter different. But people don't get that and she will forever have to spell her name for people.

~Stappsters~ said...

Great blog~Love Karen, I mean Caryn

Cecily Jane said...


Yeah, it's harder with unconventional spellings. It's kind of funny that we have a language that allows us to spell the same things so many different ways, or pronounce the spelling so many different ways. I don't know how ESL students ever get it straight.


Thanks a lot! I was thinking of when you were telling me about telemarketers calling you, and how the same thing happens with my mom and Rachelle, too. It seems Sarah is the only one of you sisters with a conventional name (and spelling). Weird, huh?