Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Surnames and Forenames

Working in Baltimore in 1969-71 as a relief pharmacist, I changed neighborhoods and ethnic cultures almost weekly. One of the most important parts of a prescription is the correct spelling of the name of the patient, and physician. The correct pronunciation leads to better pharmacist/patient relationships.

In Maryland we were addressed as "Doctor" even though I nor many pharmacists had a degree entitling us to the title in those days.

One area of Baltimore had a large Polish concentration. I could neither pronounce nor spell their surnames and or many forenames. These kind, humorous people would patiently spell and repeatedly pronounce their names until I quit stuttering. The pharmacist with which I usually worked was Polish and had a most difficult name. The entire pharmacy chain (Read's) called him by his given name.

Recently married in 1969, I learned the humor of having an unusual, but easily spelled, and, I perceived, easy to pronounce surname, COWARD.

Easy pronunciation seemed to escape a majority of people. Perhaps they could not believe a person would have a name like "Coward," and surely it must have some exotic pronunciation.

I remember a visit to a new physician's office in Baltimore. As always there were reams of paperwork to complete, and then the wait for your name to be called.

A nurse in a crisply starched white uniform loudly called CO-WART, long "O" like co-ed. I looked around for somebody with cohabiting warts. Nope! Then she repeated it with a long O, CO-WARD. Momentarily, I thought maybe she was relaying some kind of information about a ward in the clinic/hospital. Then it hit me she was calling me! I grinned and corrected her pronunciation, "COWard with a D."

This became the usual response when asked my name: "The name is COWard with a D, pronounced just like it sounds. I married him." I thought it kind of funny. Hurried personnel failed to see my humor, and often give me disgusted looks. Geez! no sense of humor-they need to chill out.

If something arises I did not want to confront, I simply say, "My last name is Coward and I don't want to do that, whatever it is." This refrain usually gets me off the hook!"

But, I never figured how people got HOWard out of COWard unless my Texas drawl was really terrible. Or did they, too, hate to call me a COWard?

Surprisingly, in Denton, TX there was a woman with my identical given, middle and last names. We turned our film in at the same drugstore and regularly they were mixed up. I would have changed stores, except I worked there and received an employee discount as one of my benefits.

In Marion Co., Arkansas, we are the only Coward(s) of the County, both a play on words of a song by Kenny Rogers, and a 1981 movie of the same name based on the lyrics of the song. More fun!

When campaigning for city council, I introduced myself and husband as the only Cowards in the County, which seemed to break the ice. Or I would introduce myself and say, "I guess you wonder why anybody with a name like "Coward' would run for office!" Oh yes, last election all my campaign materials were printed on yellow background. I was elected almost 2-1.
My husband's birthplace is near a community in South Carolina, appropriately named Coward. It was known as a speed trap when he and I made frequent trips from Baltimore down I-95 to South Carolina.

After high speed driving on I-95 we exited to a smaller highway with reduced speed. Travelers did not reduce their speed quickly....nice place for a speed trap. I told my husband, facetiously, I thought I-95 was the speed limit. At times he believed me. We had an 8-cylinder Ford LTD that could hit 90 in a hurry.

But the surname is only half the story. My husband's Forename (given or first) name is Shelly (his correct spelling), a name used for both male and female, but seemingly more females. Johnny Cash posthumously needs to rewrite A Boy Named Sue, to "A Man Named Shelly. First line could be: "My name is Shelly, REALLY." Hmmm, maybe a poet and songwriter, I am NOT.

I have had lots of fun with this. When my husband's physician's office calls, the office personnel usually say, without taking a breath: Shelly, we have your test results and everything was normal. Ha!!! I say , "Thank you, very much." and hang up. Of course, I tell him, but he sort of forgets to tell me anything that transpires about his medical visits.

At times a caller will ask: Is this Shelly Coward? I return: This is Mrs. Shelly Coward -no lie. Sometimes they don't know if they supposed to be calling a male or female and just blab on. If it is soliciting, surveying polling, or other nuisance junk calls, I save him lots of time since I am known for slamming the receiver down. If it is a legitimate call for him, I 'fess up: Shelly is my HUSBAND, hold on a minute.

However, one occasion was a tad annoying when the AR drivers' license bureau seemingly had misinformation about an expired CDL license he once had, a requirement of his employment. The wording referred to him as HER and seemed to imply some kind of infraction. Because several facts were erroneous the police chief had to clarify them to the licensing agency. I told the police chief it seemed to insinuate this was not a traditional marriage, stirring up my dandruff a bit, but I'm over it--that is also amusing.

I had trouble using my given and middle names as the name to which I answer: Carol Ann. It is my legal signature. However, too many times it is run together into Carolyn, Caroline, Carol Lynn, so I answer to Carol. Mother called me both: Carol, normally, but Carol Ann was a call to discipline. Whoops!

Professional women often keep their maiden names: mine was Richardson. I have have too much fun to change, and after 40 years, why should I?

[Photos: Earlier in my life I had a passing interest in coat of arms for families. I ordered this plaque with both families' Coat of Arms. I have no idea if these are authentic design, or just a ploy to get my dollar!]


Carol @ TheWritersPorch said...

Having had O'Gwynn as my surname,
I so understand! You would not believe hoe many ways it can be mis
pronounced!By the way, I may have told you this, my name is Carolyn Ann but I only answer to Carol!

Arkansas Patti said...

Delightful post. I have been guilty of altering a persons name when I think, "surely it can't be pronounced as it looks".
A lovely lady here has a surname that implies being mentally unstable. I really tried to make it sound like something else ( the long O trick) so as not to be rude.
I finally quit being actually rude and now pronounce it properly.

Pat - Arkansas said...

My youngest sister is a Carol Anne, and though nowadays I seldom see her, when I do I nearly always address her by both names. Yes... it's a hold-over from early days, and definitely a discipline thing; I'm the BIG sister and used to giving orders.

Our family name was Griffith (Welsh origin) and my mother was always distressed when called Mrs. Griffit or Mrs. Griffin. She would frequently correct the speaker by saying "ith, ith, ith! It's Griff-ith!"

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

Dimple said...

Wonderful! You had me laughing in recognition! I'm glad you are able to see the humor, some would be offended.

NitWit1 said...

Carol, AR Patti, Pat-AR, Dimple :

See y'all have similar stories to tell. I do like Pat's quote which is so true, in any social setting, and I have a life time history of difficulty in remembering names.

I had a boss who was a gem at this. I asked him how he did it? He claimed he repeated it three times while talking to them, and then he typed it when filling a RX. Somehow it never worked for me.

My Dad had the same problem and he was a well-liked business man. He welcomed everyone, with Hi, or Howdy Neighbor. He said sometimes in the conversation their name would come to him,

But mispronoucing, at least the person is trying so humor seems to be better than bruskness.

Renie Burghardt said...

Ha! I enjoyed this post Carol Ann. Ooops, I should say, Carol. I'm so used to Carol Ann, that it will be hard to change it.

Burghardt is my name by marriage, of course, and it's a German name. My maiden name is Hungarian, and very hard to pronounce properly. Szilak. In high school, when I first came to America, it was pronounced Zizlak, Sighlak, etc. It should be pronounced "See h lock". Hungarian is a really hard language to learn. They never teach it as a foreign language! The closest language that resembles it is Finnish. Even I can barely speak it anymore, but I can still read it. Haha.

Funny post. Yes, pronouncing names can pose problems.

Take care!


lakeviewer said...

I gladly took my husband's name as people have a great deal of difficulty pronouncing and spelling my maiden name.

Cute story. Loved every detail.
Thanks for visiting me.

Amber Star said...

That is such an interesting post. I've had troubles in the past when I was married to my first husband whose last name was Gasca. Holy Cow I had no idea people could mess that up that badly. I was called Mrs. Gasaway once. I have a normal name now and am very glad of it. But I guess we are both so lucky to not have been children of Jim Hogg who had a child name Ima.
A Roze by Any Other Name