The Trouble With Having an Even Vaguely Unusual Name

When I was growing up, I thought my name was fairly manageable and easy to pronounce. Lillian didn’t seem all that hard, and my last name, a good Irish surname, isn’t common — but it is phoenetic. It’s pretty straightforward, or so I thought. But, as it turns out, this assumption was completely untrue. Apparently my name is not unlike this train station in Wales!

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This has taken many hilarious forms over the years; when I was little, Lillian was a sufficiently old-school name that receptionists in doctor’s offices would routinely remark that they’d expected an old woman when they called the name Lillian, but look at me, I was just a child! (THE SHOCK.)

As I’ve gotten older, people have become less shocked by the fact that someone named Lillian could be younger than 90, and have instead been totally unable to wrap their minds around the name Lillian at all. I’ve been called Lorraine, Luann, Lauren…basically, if it involves an L at the beginning and an N somewhere near the end, people have thought it might just be my first name.

And, for some real fun, sometimes the L or the N don’t even make the cut. Behold the following examples:

IMG_0113          IMG_0023

Sillion and Nalin. There’s broad consensus among my friends and family that Sillion is the most apropos mangling imaginable, since I have been known to be silly. (But this has only happened, like, maybe twice in my life. I’m otherwise extremely serious. I don’t even like smiling!) Nalin, though? I don’t know what to do with that.

And if you think that’s bad, things get particularly gnarly when my last name is involved. When I was in undergrad, I was looking for off-campus housing and calling around to leasing companies near campus. I’d leave my name and number, as requested — and when people called back, there was usually a long pause in there message before they sputtered out some bastardized version of my name. My favorite, though, was thus:

“Hi, I’m calling for…um…Luann McFireman?”

Yes, friends: Luann McFireman. Because obviously there’s a whole batch of last names that involve the title of first responders, preceded by a “Mc” prefix. Did you know that I’m a distant relative of the McParamedics? And I definitely shouldn’t marry into the McPolice family, because we’re third cousins twice removed. SMH.

More recently, when I had a birthday party a few years ago at a restaurant in DC, I called a week in advance to make the reservation, since I knew it was going to be a fairly sizable group. The restaurant called me a few days before to confirm that it was still on, and I called the night before to make sure everything was still good.

So you can imagine my shock when, in a cab on my way to the restaurant, one of my friends called and said “Dude, they don’t have your reservation.”

Um, no. This was patently false. I’d spoken to them three times about my reservation. There was no way they didn’t have it. Sure enough, when I got there I looked through their reservation book for my phone number. I found it, and when I looked at the name next to it, I had to try exceedingly hard to contain my laughter: Gloria Necternan.

I mean, I can totally imagine misunderstanding my last name, even though I’d spelled it out for them — background noise can make it hard to hear well over the phone. But Gloria? Where did they even get that?

Gloria Necternan has become my go-to nickname among my friends in DC; occasionally I’ll roll up to meet people for dinner and be greeted by a rousing “Gloria Necternan! Good to see you!” The worst part is, Brandon once decided to see if his phone’s voice command function would do anything with this — and it worked. “Call Gloria Necternan,” he said into his phone while grinning like the Cheshire cat…and moments later, my phone started ringing. Sigh.

Clearly this is just something I have to live with, since the name confusion won’t likely be clearing up anytime soon. I can, however, go back to my old tactic of using a pseudonym whenever I’m getting carry-out or hitting up Starbucks: nobody messes up when I say that my name is Elizabeth.