My daughter was part of a big event at her middle school tonight. Big like, this huge group of 6th and 7th graders big. I’m not sure where the 8th graders go, or what they do, when they receive some sort of honor from the school, or the school board, or whoever it is exactly. They weren’t there tonight. Just the 6th and 7th graders, and there were plenty of them. Like we all got busy, you know, about 12 years ago, and bang! now they’re in the 6th grade.
When I was in the 6th grade, no one had ever said in English, “I know, RIGHT?” I haven’t consulted with the staff of the OED on this, so I only have it on the authority of my own experience which was… hang on… 45 years ago. Yes. I was 11, 45 years ago. And it’s possible that my memory is getting foggy (although I do remember Marian M- quite well, oh yes indeed, rather well), although that’s possible, I swear the phrase was not in my daily experience, and not on Get Smart, and not on Leave it to Beaver, and not on Gilligan’s Island. I know, RIGHT? No, thank you, I don’t know. Wrong.
So this event. The big one. I have a semi-pronounceable last name. On a scale of one to ten, it’s roughly a four. I used to work as a broadcast buyer at an advertising agency, and I spoke daily with TV stations all over the US, and I would get my phone contacts to take a whack at spelling my name, when I left a message. And then I would take the spelling, and put it up on the doorway of my cubicle, with the call letters of the station. As I remember, my hapless spellers created upwards of 20 new spellings for my collection.
So the event. My daughter got this honor thing. She’s doing really well. She and I have made jokes in the past about my last name. How unpronounceable and unspellable it is. How everyone gets it WAY wrong. And at this honor thing tonight, with a list of dozens of honored kids, including lots of names I knew they were just butchering, they pronounced hers – mine – right. She got two honors. They pronounced her name right, twice. Twice.
I made a joke about it afterward, with a few moms and dads in the immediate vicinity. And then I waited outside the cafeteria, where the kids had been deposited, and she came out looking like the most breathtakingly beautiful creature that had ever been put on earth (she was wearing some very dark colors - this brings out certain tones in her hair and eyes, I noticed this when she was just six months old), and I said “Hey! They pronounced your name right! Twice!”
And she broke into an astonishing smile and said, “I know, RIGHT?”
And it took my breath away. This exquisite 11-year-old, who may have secrets to keep, and lives in her very own, inscrutable interior world, shares a name with me, and has learned the prickly annoyance of its being unpronounceable, and is learning to let it roll off her back, as her father began to learn, nearly half a century ago. The joke is ours, this is our common experience, the name that I gave to her that will drive her crazy to the end of her days. We laugh off this silly thing together, she owns this name, that is mine, that is hers. Whatever may come, this small thing will always set us apart from the world, just a little bit, just enough.