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Monday, February 27, 2012

Tremble Before the Awesome Power of Consonants

While I would like to leave actual surnames out of this, for now, I do feel it necessary to point out to you that my last name is a Scrabble dream.

We’re talkin’ big points, baby!

In other words, my last name can beat up your last name.

My last name, a hyphenated monstrosity created by the marriage of two people from the end of the alphabet, looks like a Dutch/Czechoslavakian nightmare, something hurled, drunkenly, as a curse.

Perhaps with a tasty hand gesture thrown in, just for color.

This post, by the way, has no redeeming social, spiritual, or economic value. But does it have to? I mean, I’m so relevant most of the time…


Why is it necessary that I bring up the fact that my last name is a consonant freak-out?

I don’t know where you’re from, but every public school I went to had a fascination, it seems, with making us sit in class alphabetically. Hence, with a surname starting with “Z”, I sat in the far corner of the room, sometimes the very last seat, with the Ws and Vs and Ys.

And you know how strange those people are.

Or is it only in the U.S. that the end of the alphabet seems out of place? Throw a “v” or a “z” in a word and suddenly the unwashed amongst us get flustered.

“Where you from?”


“No, I mean before that.”


“No, I mean where do your people come from?”

Ah. Now I see what you’re driving at. In a land full of Carlsons and Petersons, you want to know where I got a name that starts with a “Z”. Because it’s funny or something. Ha ha.

Two jobs ago, I supervised a receptionist, a simple girl from a rural town just outside a rather rural suburb of Minneapolis. When we had visitors to the office, it was her job to put the little white letters on the big black “welcome” board. You know:  The People’s Credit Union and Coin-Operated Laundry Welcomes So-and-So.

One day, she let me know that she could not fill in the “welcome board” for the next day’s visitor because “it would be obscene”.


“His name is obscene.”

She wouldn't say it, this 18-year-old Puritan, so she finally wrote it down for me.

His name?

Leo Fuchs.

I explained to her that people’s names are not obscene, they are their names.

She said, and I quote, “Well, if I get in trouble I’ll tell them it was your idea.”

Yeah. You do that.

You know, I will sneak a French fry off your plate, I will take a 90-minute lunch and call it an hour, and I will dance with your husband if he asks; but of all the things I may do, I will never make fun of your name, no matter what it is.

Then again, if we play Scrabble and proper names are allowed, I will take no prisoners.


mybabyjohn/Delores said...

I worked in insurance for 20 years and came across some doozies....ie, Mr and Mrs Wood named their daughter Holly and Mr an Mrs Manella named their son Sam. What's in a name? A good laugh sometimes.

Shelly said...

My first year of teaching I had a kid with the last name of Fuchs. Shiny new and nervous teacher that I was, I did not even think of the implications of pronouncing it. I was just trying to get through roll call the first day, and I pronounced it with the short u sound. The thug element looked startled and started snickering and it was then I realized how it sounded. I was willing to soldier on until a boy raised his hand and said his last name was pronounced like "fox".

Cindi said...

I was married for a short time (which was too long actually) to a man of Hungarian descent.

Every time someone asked me how to pronounce my new last name, I said "think of commode, put in a load... Komlodi"

The marriage was doomed from the start.

Glen said...

seriously we had someone come to our work called - and thei is 100% true - Cock Bras.

Now you tell me that isn't funny!

Sausage Fingers said...

Ha... I know your name it aint that bad-ish.
I had a pal in high school with a hyphenated name Jeff Laid-Downs.
I think he took Prozac.

Silliyak said...

My last name originated in Switzerland but the immigrants who came over were illiterate German speaking Swiss, and perhaps the immigration has auditory challenges, and/or the accents were REALLY thick. In any case what came out the other end of the immigration terminal neither looks nor sounds like the original name, but it's catchy.

terlee said...

I wouldn't win in the Scrabble game, but I bet I could win the "how many jokes can be made with this last name" contest.

In college I was briefly attached to a guy who's moniker was Stickrod. Seriously.

Austan said...

My maiden name was Swedish. Amid the 7 consonants were 2 vowels. Nobody could ever pronounce it. I was glad to marry and lose it. And I feel your pain.

Pearl said...

This day has a headache attached to it, but the comments here are always uplifting. :-)

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

We have Fuchs around here, too. And some Dicks.

Linda Sue said...

Getting stuck in the corner with the end of the alphabet kids- that is a shame! I was right in the middle with all of the other Norwegians, everything ending in "son"...then I married...getting my new driver's license the clerk looked at the name change and sincerely whispered to me "are you SURE you want to do this?"
I do not even hesitate anymore - before hearing, "could you please spell that"- I just spell it out automatically.

jenny_o said...

You have no idea how badly we (those of us who like to respect people by pronouncing their names correctly) feel when we mess up, and I would like to apologize for that on behalf of the group :)

Camille said...

Oh Pearl, ask me how much I love your writing style - go ahead...just ask me.

I too had an awkward maiden name that stuck me smack in the middle of a classroom. It also further lent itself on occasion to having slurs lobbed in my direction - somewhat along the lines of my ancestors having killed Jesus. I longed for the anonymity of the corner seats. I'm with you...make fun of anyone's name? *pfffft* Never!

Bodacious Boomer said...

I knew a girl in whose last name was Outhouse.

Still not as bad as a philanthropist in Houston who had a twisted sense of humor or just didn't want his daughter.

There last name was Hogg.

They named her Ima.

Sad, but true story.

Douglas said...

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Or so they say. My last name is often mispronounced and misspelled. But it has vowels. I have a friend whose last name has no vowels at all unless you accept the "and sometimes Y" that's tacked on to the list of vowels. We have no control over our last names (women excepted) because it is a birth label. All children know that any name is fair game for teasing.

Then there was the joke about a guy named "Sam Shitz" who, when he came of age, petitioned a court for a name change. The judge was quite sympathetic and told him it would be no problem. Then asked him what name he would like. Sam said "Bill."

Cassi Renee said...

I went to school with a boy named Cava Lear. His sister's name was Crystal Chanda. Really, people like that shouldn't even be allowed to name pets.

I gave up taking attendance in my classes years ago, so I wouldn't have to pronounce any last names :-)

Thanks for stopping by my blog.

Crack You Whip said...

Sometimes when people name their children, it is cute, but those children have to wear that name in school and face bullying and constantly have to explain their name. I have heard some really horrible ones that sound so awkward with the last name.

Really, what are people thinking?

Great post!

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

I has always annoyed me that so many people just give up when a name looks unfamiliar to them. Doesn't happen to me, though. As a Scandinavian in Minnesota the only question I get is "s-o-n or s-e-n?"

Leenie said...

See, Pearl, you're not alone. I think a Proper Names Only Scrabble would be much more interesting than the All Vulgar Words Scrabble.

vanilla said...

Stories? Got a million of them. Met a guy named "Peter Rabbett." Parents had a sense of humor, I said. You don't know the half of it, he said. I have a brother named "Jack" and a sister named "Bunny."

Macy said...

My surname is scottish - but will any english bod even try to pronounce it properly?

Joanne said...

My first thought was about the young girl who couldn't even be bothered to see if she was missing something. Then I remembered my own far too innocent upgringing. My husband had a friend, last name Glasscock. They called him Brittledick. I could never remember which was his real last name. One time my mother-in-law invited us for dinner. I responded we can't, we're going to Brittledick's. She glared at my husband. My father-in-law howled.

SherilinR said...

i'm one of those scandenavian V corner people too! viking ancestors left me with a tricky last name too, but marriage gave me a much easier one.

esbboston said...

At age 47 I legally added a second middle name, but the state of Texas ruined my name due to the length of what is capable of being printed by their system. So it has my last name first, first name second, second name (the new middle name) in third, and finally my original middle name in the final fourth position. BUT they 'bent' my name by chopping off final letters of last name, so my drivers license ends with 'Bent' instead of my real complete second middle name, which I know fit in their system because the little lady at the DMV used all the spaces available plus a hyphen because their system wouldn't allow a space in a name and their siLLy system only allowed for three names.

Happy Frog and I said...

Very interesting post Pearl. I have a very ordinary surname but a lot of my family members have very unusual ones. I think I'd prefer something a bit different if I had the choice.

ThreeOldKeys said...

Where i grew up, if a name started with a string of consonants, (Przy? Tzsch?) there was a good chance of getting it right by saying "sh".

Pretty much everyone else was named Schultz.

Gigi said...

I would have been sitting in the back with you, Pearl! Oh the fun we could have had!

Though my maiden name was very vanilla. I ended up marrying an Italian and ended up getting a new last name that is about five letters longer than the original name. It took me at least 6 months just to learn how to spell it.

Sioux said...

I am married to a Pollock, and will answer to anything with "ski" on the end...Even bitchski.

Michelle said...

Can you tell us about SINME RONDH?
It's all explosives with RICE- JAGGER- MITT- QUEEN?
This made your " DREAMS COME TRUE"- Pearl...

Michelle said...

One more thing..when you speak of SERIAL MEDICAL KILLERS like MARY PAT, it's prudent to speak of DOMPER..you know...like in KIDDOMP ?
This is the BRATEOPH- PTY LTD- LOUISIANA- after all!
Give MP3 - MP4 credit with REDCRAZE and PRATT QUARRIES!

R. Jacob said...

I thought I might challenge you, but the hyphen ended that thought.

Al Penwasser said...

One day, when I was a substitute teacher (aka "Lion Tamer"), I was reading the roll. One girl's last name was "Koch." This is how you can pronounce "Koch":
1. Cook
2. Kotch
3. Cock
Just guess which pronunciation I chose. For a girl. At a middle school. Yep. I'm an idiot that way.
On ANOTHER occasion at the SAME school, I was once more reading the roll. I go to a girl whose last name was "Hough." Once more, there were choices how to pronounce this name:
1. Huff
2. How
3. Ho
Yep, that would be #3. For a GIRL. At a middle school. Yessir, stayed an idiot.
On a related note, it's probably safe to say your last name isn't "Zounds."
Too bad. Because I probably couldn't screw that name up.

bill lisleman said...

My family has the ongoing problem of surname pronunciation. There are people who know both my brother and me but don't know we are brothers.

Hey queen of the dialog stop by check out one I just created.

NotesFromAbroad said...

Well, We all know what a girl named Candice (Candy ) hears from the day she starts first grade ...

Belle said...

My maiden name is Machan. Every time I said it people would say, "What?" I got so sick of that.

Jo-Anne's Rambling said...

We have no say over what our surname is but really some people have sawdust for brains when it comes to nameing their children...........

Cloudia said...

lucky the visitors name wasn't Lipshitz!

Aloha from Honolulu
Comfort Spiral

>< } } ( ° >

HermanTurnip said...

People who don't have problems with last names: Cher, Madonna, Sade, Beyonce, Bono, Flea, Fabio, Morrissey, Pink, Prince, Sting, Tiffany.

The Elephant's Child said...

In another life I dealt with a divorced woman who insisted on being called Mrs Fanny Bogs. I have no doubt that she smelt as sweet as a rose though.

PS: What has happened to receive follow up comments by email option?

Tempo said...

I've seen your last name Pearl... wondered where it was from but since there was no chance of me ever being able to pronounce it properly I just gave up and moved on..
Australia has people from all over and you regularly come across names that dont seem to have originated here on Earth..no biggy!

River said...

@Three Old Keys; my maiden name began with "Przy" and it was indeed pronounced "Sh'. But could I convince the teachers and kids at primary school? Not a chance. They insisted on trying to pronounce it according to spelling.

the walking man said...

I'd love to watch my wife kick you all over that Scrabble board Pearl. Try being pure Italian with a 9 letter French surname.

IndigoWrath said...

Dear Ms. Zervelkumquat, I accept your challenge! I may have little worth over a point in my surname (and so few of them), but man, do I know what to do with them. Roth x

jabblog said...

I had a very simple maiden name and now have an even simpler married name and still people spell and pronounce it incorrectly.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

Back when I was a pharmacy tech, in a very diverse area, the newest person had to be the one to announce, "Phuch Yu, your prescription is ready."

My last name has 5 vowels and 4 consonants and only a native-French speaker can pronounce it.

Jocelyn said...

You know my surname. Only in Northern MN (or the heart of Finland) would I constantly be told I'm mispronouncing my own name (we have Americanized the pronunciation and don't turn the "j" into a "y" sound, etc)...and would I be asked DAILY if I'm related to any of the eight other folks in town who share this same fairly-unique last name.

So, um, yea, you'd still crush me in Surname Scrabble.

Pixel Peeper said...

I used to live in a small town in Western New York where half the phone book was made up of Andersons and Swansons. This town, to this day, has a Swedish consulate.

Then I moved to Buffalo, which is heavily Polish, and had a co-worker with a last name without any vowels (it did have a "y" or two in it).

My maiden name could be spelled two different ways. The way it was spelled would tell a person if you were Catholic or Lutheran.

Funny things, those names.

Susan in the Boonies said...


I tremble before the awesome power of your consonant weight.

Please don't let your name beat up my name!!!

I surrender: go easy on me!