Saturday, February 14, 2009

You just call out my name

Smile when you call me that

His name was Mark Merienne.* Perhaps it had a French origin. During the start of each semester, I always ask my students to correct my pronunciation if I mess up their names while taking roll. Fortunately, Mark seemed satisfied when I pronounced his name as mare-ee-EN. Soon, however, I had learned my students' names well enough that I stopped taking roll. I now called out their names only when I wanted to ask them questions or return their quizzes or exams.

I mostly stopped using their last names, too, except in the few instances where students shared a first name. Even then I sometimes preferred to call them things like “Ryan-sub-1” and “Ryan-sub-2.” If you can't get away with that in a math class, then where could you?

Mark Merienne was a scrawny boy with a shaggy haircut and a quiet demeanor. He seldom volunteered any answers in class, although he did all right when I called on him. He seemed skittish and uncomfortable most of the time, but lots of students tend to be unhappy in math class. I didn't worry about it too much. He seemed to be in stride with his classmates, somewhere in the middle of the pack.

Then the incident occurred.

I was returning a stack of quizzes. I started calling out names and handing out the papers as students took turns coming forward. I had an old quiz that a student hadn't picked up before because she had been skipping class, but today I saw that Mary Ann Jepperson was present. Therefore I called a name I hadn't called in a couple of class sessions.

Mary Ann!

Ms. Jepperson looked up uncertainly and hesitated in her seat. Then she saw that Mark had gotten up. He thought I had called him? I quickly pulled his quiz from the stack of papers. He approached my desk with a slight hunch to his shoulders and a sullen expression on his face. He took his quiz from me and sat back down, his lips pressed tightly together in a thin line of resentment.

I knew that Mark had thought I had called his last name, but then I realized the rest of the story, and the reason he was so dismayed with me.

Mark Merienne had probably gone through all the years of high school with the half-wit bullies delighting in calling him “Mary Ann.” Here he was in college now, and some jerk of a math teacher was apparently making the same old joke and mocking his last name. He had had a secondary school flashback. I was sure of it. Poor bastard.


I had to make it good without making too big a production of it, which would only have embarrassed him further. The opportunity soon arose. It was a couple of days later. I had another stack of graded papers to return. I started calling names. I was looking in Mark's direction when I got to Mary Ann's paper.

“Mary Ann!” Mark's head snapped toward me. He noticed I was looking at him and his eyes widened. “Jepperson,” I said. Mark's mouth fell open and I saw a spark of recognition in his eye. He got it.

A few seconds later: “Mark! Mare-ee-EN.”

Mark came forward, a slightly sheepish half-smile on his lips. He muttered “Thank you” when he took the paper from my hand, but I don't think he was talking about getting his quiz back.

*It wasn't, of course. The names in this post have been carefully changed to preserve the point of the story while protecting the anonymity of my students.


Interrobang said...

My boyfriend went to high school with a fellow named Christopher Peacock, whose parents referred to him by the shortened form of his first name. You can pretty much guess what he wound up being called...

Anonymous said...

I know that it's a classic joke on lists of names, but I really did go to high school one year behind a guy named Michael Hunt.


The Ridger, FCD said...

My brother had a friend in high school named Harry (not Henry, not Harold, Harry) Savage.

You don't even have to mess with that one! (Though it's not sexual, I admit)

Anonymous said...

There's (what I believe to be) an apocryphal story about a little boy named Ian in Chicago, crying over having a girl's name...

(Ann = ? Ian) (that'd be some serious second city accent)


The Ridger, FCD said...

On the other hand, once when I was looking for an Ian and Sylvia album, I ran into a store clerk who didn't know them and asked if they were a girl group.

Chem Teacher said...

I went to school with a Shay King, a Joe King and a Queen King.

I swear I'm not lying!

Porlock Hussein Junior said...

I'm not surprised at the Ian business, though it's not necessarily Second City. Some years ago my wife was in Boston, learning to deal with the local language, and asked in some shop about buying an article of clothing. The clerk helpfully noted that she could go up the street a couple of blocks, where there was Ian Teela. She went there, not sure what that name would look like, and definitely not expecting an Ann Taylor.

BTW I once encountered a real-life Helen Hunt, as in, "Wallet found. If you want your property, you can go to Helen Hunt for it."

The Ridger, FCD said...

Ann as a two-syllable name (Ay-ann) is pretty common, really.

João said...

Could anyone explain what's the thing with the "Helen Hunt" or "Michael Hunt"? My English is not enough. Really. Thanks.

Zeno said...

Well, João, in the case of Helen Hunt, we can write Porlock's remark in convenient homonyms:

"If you want your property, you can go to hell and hunt for it."

That's the joke.

As for Michael Hunt, the thing to do is consider how "Mike Hunt" would sound. It would resemble Sen. McCain's remark about his wife.

Did that help?

Anonymous said...

As for Michael, there's an overtone in the fact that his father had the same name, and so must have known precisely what his son was in for.

João said...

Yes, Zeno, it helped. When I read Mike Hunt, I realized what you were talking about. And McCain's story is wonderful, too.
Thank you for the explanation.
I was going to write about my own experience because my father's family name is a bit embarrassing but after these comments it doesn't seem that bad.

Chris A said...

I thought being an atheist named Christian was bad enough. My father used to say, "I didn't name you Heathen!" when I misbehaved. Until I pointed out that it would have been more accurate :)