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January 12, 2009 / Maleesha Kovnesky

What’s in a Name?

I’ve been meaning to post this for a while, but until I read Romi’s post this morning I had neglected to. 

Names in Public Places

It took me a long time to like my name.  I mean, a LONG time.  As in, I think I like it now, but I’m still not sure.   For example, it’s pretty mortifying for me to go to a place like Starbucks or any other vendor that insists on calling out your name when your order is up.  The three types of experiences I have:

1.

(Cashier has marker against cup, at the ready) “And your name is?”

“Maleesha.”

(Cashier stops, looks at me, then looks back at cup) “How do you spell that?”  (She’s already written something wrong, like M-E or M-I)

“M-A-L…”

(Cashier scribbles out the name and starts over) “Sorry about that.”

“Oh, it’s fine.”

The line starts getting backed up as they read it back to me.  I really don’t care if it’s accurate or not…this is NOT going to stop me from knowing which latte is mine.

2.

(Cashier has marker against cup, at the ready) “And your name is?”

“Maleesha.”

(Cashier confidently writes my name on the cup) “M-E-L-I-S-H-A…is that right?”

“Close enough.”

3.

(Cashier has marker against cup, at the ready) “And your name is?”

“Ann.”

Names in School

The problems that I had with my name start in kindergarten (although I am told that my own mother called me Melissa for the first three weeks of my life…my dad named me).  Somehow my name was misprinted on the class roster; the teacher called out “Mareesha” and I raised my hand when no one else did.  I was a social nitwit then, having never been around other children, and I would have just as soon fall over dead than correct an adult.  I was Mareesha for the first part of kindergarten.  When parent teacher conferences came up, my mother came in to see how I was doing. 

“Mareesha is doing very well,” the teacher said.  I turned red as my mom asked the teacher “Mareesha?  It’s Maleesha.”  I dimly remember being asked by my mom why I didn’t correct the teacher, but that could easily be a false memory.  Either way, the roster was corrected and I was finally able to continue my public school education with the same name that was on my birth certificate.

Names as an adult

By the time I was a senior in high school, my name was growing on me.  It was different than what everyone else had.  I felt almost like a Cher, or a Madonna…I didn’t even need a last name because  as far as anyone around me knew, I was the only one possible.  This gave me a sort of confidence about it.  To this day when I introduce myself, sometimes I leave my last name off, because people seem to need time to digest the first name before I go in adding a last name.

When I got stationed at Camp Lejeune (which you will read about soon) I checked in to Company B, Second Radio Battalion.  The desk clerk was a southern kid with strangely diagonal posture.  I was signing papers when he casually said, “It’s always big news when a new female checks in here.  I figured you’d be black though.”

“What?”

“Oh I figured you’d be black…from your name.”

This was the first time I had heard this one, but certainly not the last.  It really doesn’t bother me, though I find it funny because some people are brave enough to confess this, while others just think it and I find out some other way that they imagined I would be black when they met me.  Some people seem disappointed, especially up here in the North where 99% of everyone is white.  If only I was black, some of them seem to think, that would be something interesting.  But it’s just me.

Racist Bastards

Okay, so I said that it didn’t bother me.  That was true, until early 2008 when we moved to Bozeman.  Having grown up in Montana, I would say that most people I run into are not racists by any means.  They don’t have the biases surrounding them that some people do in say, Alabama or Mississippi.  In fact, if you did run into a racist around here, they would probably be racist toward Native Americans, if anything. 

But Bozeman is quickly becoming one of those towns where few people are actually from Montana, they are all from other states and they saw a picture of Bozeman on the back of a magazine and said “Hey, I bet life is easier there.”  So we have all types of people. 

So why does my name bother me now?  I swear, I am getting to that point.  When we moved here we started looking for a rental.  Rather than go through a shady property agency, we looked at newspaper ads and Craigslist.  J and I saw a gorgeous house downtown renting for a reasonable price…it was a turn of the century home with five bedrooms, plaster walls, just old and beautiful and with giant maples surrounding it.  I called the phone number listed in the ad twice and left messages.  I left my name, phone number, and said that we would love to come down to check out the house. 

No one called me back.

So then Wasband decided to call a third time.  He left a message.  Within half an hour, the lady returned his phone call. 

Then this same scenario happened again with a second house.  They would return Wasband’s phone calls, but not mine.  I can only assume it’s because of my name. 

That stings a lot.  It’s like I am feeling racism via phone message, or the lack thereof.  And I am white. I must be, because I dance just like Elaine.

Middle Names

To make matters worse, when I was issued a middle name by my parents, I was issued a letter.  My middle name is “L.”  That’s it.  It doesn’t stand for anything.  I swear.  It is on my birth certificate that way.  People never seem to believe this.  Because they think “I’m just not telling” they assume it must be something really bad like Leonardette or Lupusina, there is the problem of filling out paperwork.  I can’t count the number of times that my paperwork…be it housing contracts, government work stuff, driver’s license, military crap…has been kicked back for me to re-do because “I didn’t fill out my middle name.”

So when I married J, I had an opportunity to lose the “L.”  I took my maiden name as my middle name instead.  Now that darn L is finally gone.  On paper, anyway. 

I still feel the L, every now and then.

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18 Comments

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  1. Taoist Biker / Jan 22 2009 2:07 pm

    I’m in the Jennifer Generation myself – as my mom tells me, if I’d been a girl, I’d have been part of the problem. There was actually a comic strip in the college paper in which the main characters were a clique of girls named Jen, Jenn, Jennifer, Jenny, and Jen.

    (Uh, I’m a little ashamed to admit this but to be perfectly honest, I might have assumed you were black, too – where I grew up most of the more creative names were black names. But I swear I would have called you back about the house.)

  2. pamajama / Jan 19 2009 11:49 pm

    It’s such a beautiful name!

  3. bluesuit12 / Jan 14 2009 6:41 pm

    I like your name! For some reason when I was in the second grade I decided I didn’t like my first name (Natalie)and went by my middle name (Ellen)for the rest of the year. I like my name now. There are just enough Natalie’s but not too many. Oh and your Elaine dance reference reminds me of how I used to mimic that dance for my co-workers for a laugh. Good times.

  4. Romi / Jan 13 2009 5:39 pm

    I’m so glad you had a chance to let this out! I’ve always thought your name was cool, but the point is, however cool or crappy or whatever connotation a name has…it shouldn’t! Seriously, I cannot believe about the rental…ridiculous!

    And can I quote Shakespeare too if no one hasn’t yet?

    “A rose by any other name, would smell just as sweet” (maybe not the exact quote, haha, but you get my point…names are just labels to identify people, not judge them!)

  5. Tookshire / Jan 13 2009 8:49 am

    ………..groan……..

    Having just posted, I see that what I’m reading: “see, you could have a worse name” reads a LOT different than what I meant to say. Reading it back seems to give the impression that I throw the name of Maleesha into a “bad names to have” category. I was simply laughing at the name Leonardette. Forgive me, please.

  6. Tookshire / Jan 13 2009 8:46 am

    Leonardette….see, you could have a worse name!

    So I have to ask…how was the name Maleesha decided upon by your father? As you mentioned above, I’m not likely to know another Maleesha to ask about the background of the name itself.

  7. megan / Jan 13 2009 1:08 am

    Actually, “Esmeralda” isn’t so far out there for me. My name, according to my grandmother, is actually Esmeralda P. Snicklefoot. It’s kind of a running joke from when she was pregnant with my dad. Her nephew asked what she was going to name the baby, and she replied, “Orville P. Snicklefoot.” Coming from very southern stock on that side, we are all very lucky she decided on Jeffrey.

    Anyway, she thought it was only fitting that her granddaughter carry on the Snicklefoot name. Since then, she’s called me by every other female name in the family – my mom, both aunts, my cousin, my great-aunts, etc. – but I don’t think she’s ever gotten my real name down. But somehow we both know I’ll respond to Esmeralda.

    REALLY?! Wow. Here I was thinking NO ONE is named Esmerelda outside of books. Snicklefoot…what a good name. Thats a great story. 🙂

  8. Christine / Jan 12 2009 6:21 pm

    The FedEx guy at my work calls me “Frances”

    My rather easy to sound out last name is NEVER pronounced right. My brother got so sick of it he started making up mispronunciations, and now he actually gets mail for that wrong last name. heh heh

    I never even thought twice about Maleesha…but I do love the idea of having a single letter for a name. 😀

    That is why I think of you a C. 🙂

    Frances. Sheesh.

  9. MamaPeg is Watching Out for You / Jan 12 2009 5:09 pm

    Oh and then there’s this:
    Maleesha Rent A Car is a Bigest Rent a car Company in Sri Lanka. … Warmest greetings from Maleesha Trading.. We would like to take this opportunity to …

  10. MamaPeg is Watching Out for You / Jan 12 2009 5:09 pm

    I think your name is beautiful.
    Go to yahoo and search for maleesha – guess what comes up? Binary Trash! I love it!
    There’s a whole lot of other great stuff you wrote as well. I can’t wait to read it.

    The hidden racism stuff really stinks – it just stinks period because it shouldn’t even exist. It does. It stinks.

    Thanks for the name compliment. 🙂 I google myself now and then in a vain attempt to count how many results I get. I think I am up to 2 or 3 🙂 There is also a boat in the Maldives named after me, did you know?

  11. morethananelectrician / Jan 12 2009 3:07 pm

    Mom and Dad didn’t do you any favors, but I guess your name is ALMOST unforgettable. If I visit Starbucks (I am not a fan of actually speaking with strangers…even ordering food/drink), I might use your name instead of mine…why not. I give false address and phone numbers at the stores that want to know where I live “for their records.”

    Oh sure, you can use my name. But not my address. Unless they are sending out coupons. I do the same thing “for their records.” In fact when I was younger and less, uh, nice, I used to give out the name and address of someone who was low on my Happy List. Exes and what not. Ladies…do try that at home.

  12. teeni / Jan 12 2009 2:06 pm

    Wow. It is amazing about the discrimination about your name. I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise to me though. I guess I just always hope for better behavior on the part of my fellow human beings. I’m constantly disappointed in that department though. I actually thought you were black in the beginning too and you initially had a darker photograph for your avatar. LOL. I guess that other than for Alicia, most names that ended in the sound “eesha” belonged to black people in my life so I did associate the two in my mind. But I got over it quick when I saw newer photos of you. All along to me, regardless of what race I thought you were, you were still just a nice blogger who graced my blog with your presence. 🙂 Great post. I’m stumbling it. Hope ya don’t mind. 😉

    Be my guest. 🙂

    I wish for better behavior too…but one only needs to view the cleanliness of a public restroom at a truck stop to get over that.

  13. Mike Goad / Jan 12 2009 12:32 pm

    My experience growing up was kinda the opposite. There were 5 mikes in my kindergarten class. I went through grade school answering to Mike G.

    With my grandson, it was a similar situation. Apparently when he was born, Ethan was a popular name. When he got to kindergarten there were four or five Ethans and he was asked if he would like to use his middle name instead. So now, Ethan is Utah.

    That took a while to get used to. In fact, he kinda got mad at me once when I continued to call him Ethan. But, now he’s Utah, even to me.


    I LOVE the name Utah. That is a great name, very different. There are a lot of Ethans out there.

    After all the flak about my name, do you know what? My brother is a “Mike.”

  14. Shannon Jashinsky / Jan 12 2009 8:57 am

    Hey Maleesha,

    I also have issues with my name. Shannon, an Irish name and I don’t think I’m even enough Irish to even say that I am at all. When I was in school the majority of Shannon’s were boys, so I always thought I had a boys name. The middle name thing was also an issue for me because my brother and I both don’t have one. People think I just say I don’t have one because I don’t like the name.
    My brother’s name, Walter was also a problem. My dad named him after our Grandpa that past away when my dad was 8. My mom didn’t like his name at first, so for the first three months of his life she just called him “baby”!

    What were our Dad’s on when they named us anyway?!

    Baby! How funny. Poor Walt. I like that name, you don’t hear that one much. Shannon is nice too. We did have a lot of boy Shannons in my very Irish hometown. I didn’t know you didn’t have a middle name…oh my! I bet that would have caused some disbelief. I’ve heard the same thing…”just tell me”…I want to say I WOULD IF I HAD ONE!

    I think I know what our dads were on…at least mine 🙂

  15. Kari / Jan 12 2009 8:48 am

    Maleesha! You have a beautiful, interesting and totally unforgetable name. I guess in these circumstances you just adapt and roll with it.

    My name is common now, but when you add the “Marguerite” and completely odd last name, I had issues too.

    Best story, though: 4th grade, science fair. Won 2nd place, at awards ceremony in MT Tech auditorium. “And 2nd place goes to KarL mxbthsgf” said the MC. With growing embarrassment, I realized he had announced me as a male, and all the other kids realized too and snickered and laughed. I was mortified, but soon learned that be it Karl, Car-ree, Kacey, Karly, Katie…I pretty much answer to anything these days.

    KARL!!! That is a great story! And how traumatic for a fourth grader!

    I usually take the same approach…just call me Hey You.

  16. crisitunity / Jan 12 2009 8:35 am

    Ah, name issues. I actually like your name a lot, but I consider it sort of intuitive to say when you see it, and don’t know how you could mispronounce it.

    My first name is common but spelled unusually, and my last name is very uncommon. My last name seems simple enough to me, but apparently not to anyone else in the entire freaking world. This is why I usually only give my first name when people ask for it in businessish environments, and I have stopped caring whether people spell it correctly. It used to infuriate me when I was younger, but life is too short for that.

    BF’s last name is so simple and common and I’m dying to take it over. I’m glad you found a solution to your middle-name problem when you married J. BTW, Harry Truman only had an initial for a middle name. I’m surprised you’ve gotten so much flak for it.

    Thanks. 🙂 I’ve always thought it was TOTALLY OBVIOUS…you just sound it out. But I guess it depends on how your brain is wired. Good point about Harry Truman. I feel slightly better now. Hey, are you going to be a Smith, then?

  17. megan / Jan 12 2009 7:44 am

    My parents wanted to give me a name that was unique, but not TOO unique, if you know what I mean. They settled on Megan, rather than the extremes, like Sarah or Moon Unit. I’m glad I fell somewhere in the middle. Sarah happened to be one of the most popular baby names the year I was born. In fact, there were so many little girls named Sarah in my preschool that I thought the word for “girl” was “Sarah.”

    When I was a kid, I was the only Megan in the entire school. That is, until I reached eighth grade, when there was another Megan in my class. She even spelled it the same way. When I reached high school, there were even more of them, and they spelled their names strangely (Meghan, Meagan, etc.). So much for being unique.

    These days, I still like my name, but I take the opportunity to pretend to be someone else when it presents itself. Leaving my name with cashiers is the perfect opportunity. I’ve used everything from Jane to Matilda to Esmeralda. The only trouble comes when you run into a repeat cashier, who looks at you as if they know you’re not using the same name that you did last time.

    We had a big run on Jennifers in my school…there were tons of them. Everywhere. Jennifers coming out of the crayon boxes. I like the name Megan. I have a cousin Megan. What I really love though is your idea to use “Esmerelda.” Now that would be a hoot.

  18. david / Jan 12 2009 7:10 am

    Wow – quite an adventure! On the other side of the coin, we have me: David. One of the most common names you will ever encounter.

    When I go to Starbucks or Fuddruckers (etc), I just tell them my name is “Homer,” because when they call DAVID, several people usually step up.

    Now THAT is funny. I guess we all have our name issues.

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