a rose by any other name may or may not smell as sweet

“I like my name pronounced by your lips in a grateful, happy accent.” ~ Charlotte Brontë

WHY I CHANGED MY NAME
by Phyllis Wax

My father-in-law calls me Lois,
his other son’s wife.

Mail comes addressed to
Phyllis R. or Phyllis M. Wax.
I don’t have a middle initial.

My daughters call me Mom,
my sons-in-law Mother.
To my grandchildren I’m Meme.

To the waitress at the diner
I’m Honey or Dear.

Some people confuse me
with my good friend. To them
I’m Helen.

Today the mailman brought 
some coupons for Yolanda Wax.  
I kind of like that.
Please call me Yolanda.

~ as posted at Your Daily Poem, October 2021

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Had a good laugh reading Phyllis’s Yolanda’s poem. Talk about being able to relate!

Who hasn’t been called all kinds of different names? Maybe we’ve been given special nicknames by family or friends (Auntie Ella called me “Jade,” Lindsay called me “Eloise,” Tanita calls me “jama-j”). Perhaps our significant others use pet names or terms of endearment (Len calls me “Lulu,” “Curly Top,” “Cutie,” or “Shirley” — I call him “Digby”).

Of course many names are shortened for ease or familiarity: “Bob/Bobby” for Robert, “Dick” for Richard, “Liz/Betty/Betsy” for Elizabeth, “Sam” for Samantha. I’ll never understand “Jack” for John or “Harry” for Henry, though. Why not name him Jack to begin with?

Those of us who are bookish types are also used to pen names, the oh-so-revered noms de plume: George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens), Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), Currer (Charlotte), Ellis (Emily), and Acton (Anne) Bell (Brontë). And don’t we love how Almanzo called Laura, “Beth,” Jo (Josephine) called Laurie (Theodore), “Teddy,” and how Capote’s Lulamae Barnes renamed herself “Holly Golightly”?

So many names, so little time.

Each of us contains multitudes.

Perfect strangers call us things like “Lady,” “Miss,” “Hey You,”or “Ma’am” (always makes me cringe). I must admit I liked being called “Hon” by a blue-eyed waitress in NYC, and Len likes to tell the story of being with friends in a Grand Junction, Colorado, coffee shop, where the waitress taking their order said, “Talk to me, Boys.”

Different names at different times for different reasons. Slips of the tongue, mistaken identity, momentary lapses of memory, like my mother calling me “Inez,” (her baby sister’s name), or “Newt-Jama,” (half my older brother’s name slipped out before she remembered mine). Dad (James) went by “Jimmy,” and he called Mom (Margaret), “Meg,” “Maggie,” or “Big Mac.” In my adult years, I called her “Margaret” (she didn’t mind at all). 🙂

What the poem doesn’t mention is mispronunciation or inventive misspellings. Having an unusual first name creates even more confusion. According to some enlightened individuals, any one of these is my actual name:

No need to convince them otherwise; they know best.

After all, “Jama” just can’t be a name. Better to change it and stick with the familiar. Truly, I’m a patient and tolerant person. If I were someone else encountering “Jama” for the first time, I would probably mispronounce it too.

Is that tricky first vowel like the “a” in apple or about? And what about the “J”? Since the entire name looks foreign, maybe the “J” is pronounced like an “H” or a “Y.” Yes, that must be it! Her name’s Yama (she lives in a yurt tearing apart wild animal flesh with her teeth) or Hama (Dalai Lama’s long lost twin sister). Or “Jama” could be a Spanish name — maybe she’s married to José.

All understandable. But after you’ve corrected someone several times and they still get it wrong, you know it’s hopeless. I’ve stopped trying. It doesn’t bother me anymore. In fact, I am shocked when anyone pronounces my name correctly.

“Jāma” is short for James-Margaret (my parents).

Looking at me, you’d never guess that in grade school I was “Jawmah the Jungle Girl,” and when Len and I first met, he actually called me “Jāba.” This is how you’d say my name if you had a bad cold with serious head congestion.

Like Phyllis, I’ve had interesting mail, too: many letters addressed to “Mr. Jama Kim/Rattigan,” an invitation to join Knights of Columbus (sorry, wrong faith, wrong gender), and just who is “Mama Rattigan”?

True story: Years ago, I randomly called a caterer I’d found in the yellow pages.

**ring ring**

Avec Panache, Jayma Wooditch speaking.

Did you just say Jama?

Yes, I did.

But my name’s Jama and up until this second I thought I was the only person in the whole world with that name!

*laughter*

Me too! I can’t believe it! How do you spell your name?

J-A-M-A. How about you?

I spell mine with a “y”: J-A-Y-M-A.

I don’t suppose anyone ever mispronounces it, right?

On a rare occasion, someone might get it wrong. But not usually.

You’re so lucky! That “y” makes all the difference.

Anyway, I ended up hiring Jayma for my Christmas Teddy Bear Tea. She even carved a beautiful bear out of butter. Sad to say that while writing this post I googled her and discovered she had passed away several years ago. I’m so glad we crossed paths. I mean, what are the chances?

Since then, I’ve heard of others with my name. A car salesman perked up when he heard it. “Hey, I know a girl named ‘Dreama’ with a sister named ‘Jama.’ She even spells it the same way.” And then there was that time Regis Philbin announced Jama (Somebody) as the winner of their daily drawing on network TV. He looked right into the camera and said, “Congratulations, Jama!” Totally surreal.

So there you have it. Once, I thought I had a one-of-a-kind name. Now, it’s as common as dirt . . . almost.

I take solace in the fact that I can go to places where, like in “Cheers,” everybody knows my name. My hairdresser of 20+ years usually says my name correctly. This wasn’t always the case, though. After correcting her several times, I told her not to worry, because if “Jama” was too tricky, she could always call me “Your Highness” or “Your Majesty.” Perfectly acceptable. We had a big laugh over that and she’s never pronounced my name wrong since. Now if I could just get the receptionist to stop calling me, “Jamma-lamma-ding-dong.” 😀

ETA: Believe it or not, just as I was putting the finishing touches on this post, I received an out-of-the-blue email via my website from a “Jama F.!” She was curious to know how I got my name (her dad’s name is also James, but her mom wasn’t keen on the name Jamie, so they went with Jama). She pronounces her name just like I do, and we both feel really weird addressing another person as “Jama.” The timing is just too uncanny . . . 😳

Nothing left to do but groove on this oldie:

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Do you like your given name? What are some of the names you’ve been called over the years? Any funny stories to share?

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The lovely and talented Carol Varsalona is hosting the Roundup at Beyond LiteracyLink. Pop over there to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up around the blogosphere this week. Happy Weekend and Happy Thanksgiving!

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“A name pronounced is the recognition of the individual to whom it belongs. He who can pronounce my name aright, he can call me, and is entitled to my love and service.” ~ Henry David Thoreau


*Copyright © 2021 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

54 thoughts on “a rose by any other name may or may not smell as sweet

  1. Claire – usually called “Clara” by older women, although not so often now that I’m an “older woman.” 😮 Kids called me “Clarabel” after that goofy clown on “Howdy Doody.” [Clown was male-presenting, so no feminine “le” on his name, I guess.] Only my Dad was allowed to call me “Clarabelle.” 😍 My brother married a “Clare” which makes for lots if confusion and merriment!
    Ritterhoff – Big fuel oil co. in Balto with lots of trucks on the road means we’re often called “Rittenhouse.” Favorite variations? Riptoff and Wetherhaw. At my first special needs teaching assignment some students thought my name was “Miss Ripoff”! I, too am amazed when someone gets it right. Especially if I see them struggle a little, I compliment them. Healthcare worker: I just thought of John Ritter and David Hasselhoff! [In reading instruction, this is called decoding by analogy.] A+!
    Fun post, Jama!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Wow, thanks for sharing all these interesting variations of your first and last names. I like the John Ritter/David Hasselhoff thing. I remember Clarabelle. I can see Ripoff and Riptoff, but can’t imagine how anyone came up with “Weatherhaw”!

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  2. Thanks for these hints, having never met in person your name is said like the last part of pa-jama in my mind. Now I know better!
    As a pre-9/11 person, my parents named me Jennifer Ashley and called me Ashley. An unusual name for girls in 1956. I have met some men of my age named Ashley, especially in the southeast.
    My pet name is Bobcat, derived from my spirit name Oakley Bobcat, and I call my honey Owl.
    To create your own spirit name think of a synonym, or antonym of each part of your name. Hence Ashley, a tree name, becomes Oakley and Wolff, a forest carnivore, becomes Bobcat.

    Voila!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So interesting!! Never knew Ashley was your middle name. Love hearing about Bobcat too. I think of Ashley mostly as a female name, but of course there’s also Ashley Wilkes in Gone With the Wind. 🙂

      Like

  3. You’ve made a name for yourself with this post, Jama! First of all, so cool that you are named after BOTH your parents! My middle name is Lina – the female version of my dad’s name, Linus.
    And when my parents wanted to get my attention they’d have to go through the beginning sound of all 9 of my siblings before landing on me. My childhood nickname at school was Bridget the Midget – didn’t help that I was the shortest kid in the class from K – 8 grade.
    Don’t even get me started on the name Bridget in the German speaking part of Switzerland. They want to call me Birgit or randomly decide that my last name, Magee, is “Maggie” and just ignore Bridget all together.
    You definitely deserve the moniker, Your Majesty, because this post is royally awesome. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m loving finding out all these things about people! Poor you, Bridget the Midget (I wouldn’t like being called that at all). Is “Lina” pronounced with a long or short “I” ? Since Linus is long “I”, it would make sense for Lina to be long “I” too. But at first glance, I would say Lina with a short “I”, rhyming with Tina.

      It’s amazing how much trouble people have pronouncing or remembering names, isn’t it? And in a foreign country there would be other issues too, as you mentioned.

      Like

  4. Love it all, JAMA! I have a few stories. My maiden name is Jones, so with the married name Baie, it was at first annoying that no-one could pronounce, or spell, Baie. I got so used to saying Linda Baie, B as in Boy, a i e that my children knew how to spell it before they could even read. I receive lots of junk with Linda BATE, BALE, BAIER, etc. A long ago signing for a new Sears card, long gone, started me off as Brenda Baie. I had them change it, but that mysterious Brenda lingers in the mail. I think you’ve probably started everyone off with stories this week! Oh, and I love that Waxy poem! She knew what to do! PS – the girls sometimes call me Graham Cracker! Happy Thanksgiving!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I LOVE the name Graham Cracker!! How did they come up with that?

      I’m sensing I may be pronouncing Baie wrong all this time. In my head, I’m saying “BAY.” Is that right? Funny about Brenda Baie — if she’s in line to inherit a fortune, maybe you should change your name. 😀 Growing up with a name like Linda Jones, though, you probably didn’t run into people mispronouncing either of your names.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ingrid thought up “Graham Cracker”, starting with “Gram” then it just happened! Ha! As for Baie – it is BI (long I) – also it’s French for “bay” – family from the Alsace-Lorraine region, thus if you want to get really correct, it’s “bi-ee” but quick. I had students research their names, so much fun & stories from their families, too. Happy Thanksgiving!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks Jama, I had so many chuckles over today’s blog! Of course I knew where your name came from and thought Margaret and Dad were really creative and unique when they told me your name. I guess my name is pretty straight forward, no interesting stories but when I cooked for Madonna she came up to me and said, ” hiya toots! I had a good laugh over that one!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You cooked for Madonna?! I didn’t know that! Add her to your list of amazing clients: Gilda Radner/Gene Wilder, Alan/Arlene Alda, Barbra Streisand, Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks/Anne Bancroft, Ralph Bellamy, James Cagney, Dom Deluise, Harry Morgan, et. al. (how’s that for name dropping?). “Hiya Toots!” Love it!

      Though J&M thought they were being very creative making up my name, I don’t think they realized it would be mispronounced my entire life.

      Like

  6. Thanks Jama. Yes, a very fun post. My birth name is Rosemarie, all one word, no middle name. Over the years it was shortened to Rosemary, then Rosey, (I refuse to go to Rose) and Rosey it has been for 50 years. Since it’s not my real name, I generally don’t mind if people spell it differently, but for those I write signed letters and emails to regularly, I find it amusing that they refuse after all these years to pay attention to how I spell Rosey – I get Rosi, Rosie, Rosy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Love the names Rosemarie and Rosey. It’s odd that those who actually know you still spell it wrong. It would be different if these were people you only talk to in person, but since you’re writing emails and letters they’ve actually seen your first name in print!

      Like

    2. I’ve had the same problem with my first and last name. I have a friend who always writes Joann even though I put the e on Anne, and I get Conti instead of Conte from friend who should know better!

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      1. Sooo many ways to spell your name. One word or two? Hyphen? Space? Anne with an “e” like Anne of Green Gables? Nice name, though!

        Like

  7. It happens to most of us, doesn’t it? I just found an old letter from a politician to “Labatlia,” which is unique. My father-in-law referred to me as “Samantha” for a while when we first met. People sang the “Tab cola” jingle to me for years.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Labatlia??!!! That isn’t even close to Tabatha! What drug was that politician on? Samantha and Tabatha kind of sound similar so I can see why your FIL made that mistake.

      Like

  8. I have more issues with my last name since it’s a long Italian one. One common one I get is Maria Gina (middle name) Ferrari ;). or Jean Ferrari, sometimes John Ferrari too.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. It’s a long A in Jama? Now I’ve got it! I’m Kathryn, but I’ve been Kate since I was young, Well, first it was Katie—when I turned 12 my dad suggested I go by Kate. My parents were trying to think of a nickname when I was a baby, and when they came home from a night out, they heard the babysitter singing an old song: “K-K-K-Katie, beautiful Katie! You’re the only g-g-g-girl that I adore. When the m-moon shines over the cowshed, I’ll be waiting at the k-k-k-kitchen door.” And that was that!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I know that song — never knew you were Katie before. Cute!! Kathryn is a lovely name; I only found out recently your actual name is Kathryn. Assumed all along you were simply “Kate.”

      Like

  10. Well let’s start with my birth name Joanna. I love it, but my mom took me home and called me Joanne. So, in school, I never wanted to answer when called on as Joanna, especially when the Irish sister pronounced my name “Jewanna”! I was also called Giovanna by my aunt who was born in Italy. I’ve also been called Joan. In addition, my maiden surname was Isabella, and I was always asked if that was my first name! In fact my husband of almost 47 years still calls me Izzy! However my favorite name is Grandma with the cat!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s quite a story. Jewanna? Did the sister have an accent of some sort? Giovanna is also pretty. I hadn’t heard of anyone with Isabella as a surname. Joanna Isabella. Two first names – this means you were extra important. 🙂

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  11. I always say that when we have kids we become “[KID’S NAME]’s dad” or “[KID’s NAME]’s mom”. No longer Tim. I am just an extension of my kids. Honestly, I enjoy that. Its nice to not be me sometimes 🙂

    Thank you for sharing this poem and this post. I really enjoyed it and it made me think about how I address others.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nice to hear you enjoy your role as Dad and being called as such. That’s something I didn’t address in this post — all the roles we play in life — as parents, siblings, teachers, etc. We are just so many things — somebody’s brother, neighbor, boss, friend, enemy, mentor, etc.

      Like

  12. I like my name. People usually say, “That’s my mom’s name,” or “That’s my grandma’s name.” I rarely meet people of my own age or younger who have my name. It has been mispronounced a lot in my life because of living among people who don’t use the name or who don’t have the r sound or the th sound. Here in Haiti my students call me “Miss!!!!” and some others call me by my husband’s name. Like you, I don’t mind too much. Ruth, thereisnosuchthingasagodforsakentown.blogspot.com

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s interesting that few people in your age group are named Ruth. Just goes to show how certain names trend/are popular at certain times. I remember being disappointed that my name wasn’t included in Name Your Baby books, esp. those that explained what the names meant/where they originated.

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      1. Before the internet, baby name books were very popular in my middle school classroom library, Fortunately, no actual need to name a baby.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Fun post JAMA, loved the poem and the 50% off coupon for Yolanda! I’ve been called many different names, especially as a child. I don’t know why so many wanted to shorten my name to Mickey, Shelley–which I absolutely didn’t like. I also received Michael a lot, an occasional Mish or Mich, didn’t like either of these either. And my last name that I still have was changed quite a bit too… There are many Michelle’s out there so we are probably share this name mish-mosh together. Oh I do like “Your Highness” and “Your Majesty,” Have a lovely Thanksgiving, thanks for this fun jaunt, and star filled music too! 😉

    Like

  14. Dear Yayma in Yer Yurt,
    This post spoke to me. My name’s origin is from my mispronunciation of Bethie when I was 2. Apparently (or so the story goes) one of my toddler pals’ mom asked my mother if she knew my name was now Buffy, and so it has been ever since. EXCEPT in third grade, when Miss Pair went around the room the first day of school asking us if we had a nickname we preferred. The alphabetically-inclined Miss Pair (or maybe it was Pear? I think Pair) asked Elizabeth/Buffy Parker her preference before she got to me, and then decided that we couldn’t have two Buffys in class when it was my turn. Would she have said the same for two Johns? Or two Jamas? In any case, I was Beth in third grade, but never again, although I’m sure I was in class with Buffy (maybe Buffie?) Parker other years. I intended to retry on Beth when I went to England for my junior year, but the name got stuck in my throat and Buffy came out. My mother often called me Berdie-Buffy, mashing my name with her older sister, Bernice aka Berdie.
    Thanks for the fun post, Jama.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Teachers should not change kids’ names! I never did. One of my teachers refused to spell “Qismet,” an Egyptian student’s name correctly, because “I can’t have a “Q” without a “u.” So disrespectful!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I know I’ve told you before how much I love the name Buffy. Thanks for providing the backstory about your name. It’s weird that your third grade teacher felt there couldn’t be two Buffys in the same class. You were destined to be Buffy!!

      Like

    1. Sorry about losing your comment. I don’t have comment moderation turned on, so I don’t know what happened. Glad you stopped by to read and enjoyed the post!

      Like

  15. Jama, thanks for the very interesting blog post. My story is simple. My mother decided to call me Carol when I was born on Thanksgiving, close to Christmas. I was her Christmas carol. When I was in college, my friends called me Carol Marie, my middle name added on. Now, I am back to just Carol. As an educator, I am acutely aware of the importance of names and the correct pronunciation. Finding the right name for my children was important to me and has been the same for my daughter. Enjoy Thanksgiving with your family.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Oh, Jama…I love this post! It’s a reflection, revelation and prompt all in one. Your name badges throughout had me giggling. Until today, I’ve probably not said your name aloud…but in my head it was always Jah-mah. Now, I know that “y” sound DOES make all the difference and I can prounounce it correctly when someday, I truly hope to meet you in person. You are an inspiration by any name Jama Rattigan. Thanks for this post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Isn’t it funny how we all say names (and words) in our heads according to how we think they’re pronounced until we may or may not learn the correct pronunciation? I think this comes from reading more than actual talking (at least in my case). Not too long ago, I learned I was saying “dour” wrong all along.

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  17. “(Auntie Ella called me ‘Jade,’ Lindsay called me ‘Eloise,’ Tanita calls me ‘jama-j’).”
    And I call you Queen! 😀

    You just kept making me laugh, Jama (“…when Len and I first met, he actually called me ‘Jāba.’ This is how you’d say my name if you had a bad cold with serious head congestion.”) And then I teared up a little when I read about Jayma passing away. And how weird, fun, and serendipitous about the out-of-the-blue call from another Jama. 🙂 The internet brings about so many connections. My family used to think that our name (my maiden name) was extremely rare, but I’ve seen quite a few online.

    All hail her majesty, Queen Jama!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If not for the internet, I’d probably still be thinking my first name was rare. Glad this post made you laugh, Karen. You are a good subject. Love, HRH Queen Jama xo

      Like

  18. Thought of you Sunday when my friend told me the origin of her name. “My Dad is Dennis, and my mother is Maria,” she explained, “So my name is pronounced Den-ee-ah, like the final syllable in Maria.”

    Deneia, like Jama, is one of those names that comes with a love story, and I will always think of you – Jama-j – and the lovely James and Margaret – when I hear a name like that. Who cares that none of us with relative-portmanteau names can find keychains at Disneyland with our names on them?? 😉 I’ll bet PHYLLIS can.

    Like

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