Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Name Blame

Last week, I went in for some blood tests. The venipuncturist looked at my order sheet, smiled, and said, "Be right with you, Laurence."

I ground my teeth. "Larry."

The young woman blinked. "Oh, you don't like Laurence?"

"One of my lesser gripes against my mother."


When I was a kid, I was unfortunate enough to have a name like Laurence to go with a head full of ringlets that my mother refused to let anyone cut off. The kids teased me endlessly. "Looooor-ince! lit...tle Loooooor-ince." Then, if they were big kids, they'd beat me up.

"Why did you have to name me Laurence?" I asked my mother.

"It's a beautiful name. It means 'crowned in laurel.' You're going to be a great success."

Maybe if I live long enough.

Then, when I was eight, I went to a summer camp run by a high school athletic coach named Henry Rumana. When "Hank" asked me my name, and I told him, he looked stricken. "Tell you what - we're going to call you Larry here."

The most amazing thing happened. I was the same kid, but the other campers treated me like a whole nother person. Like one of the guys. No teasing. I learned to swim, played baseball, hiked in the woods, put up pup tents. When I returned home, I announced that I was now to be addressed as Larry.

My mother's response was predictable. "Larry...ugh. Your name is Laurence, and that's what you're going to be called.

"If you call me that name, I won't answer," I said. And I didn't. No number of threats, smacks, or punishments loosened Big Larry's tongue.

Mother sicked my Aunt Bea on me. "Larry is the nickname for Lawrence with a w," Aunt Bea said. "You're Laurence with a u. If you want a nickname, it would be Laurie."

 "My name is Larry!" I howled. "Laurie is a girl's name." In those times, there were few things more uncool for an eight-year-old boy than having a girl's name. There was a male Marion in my school. Most days, his life was not worth living.


The venipuncturist pointed at her name tag: WINI. "Know what my real name is?


"Yes, and I hate it. Only my mother calls me Winifred." Her lips curled into a snarl.

"Try not answering to it," I said. "That works real well."


 Call me stubborn. Call me obstinate, or pigheaded. Or even contumacious. Just don't call me Laurence.

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