That Silent ‘e’ Speaks Volumes, by Carole Howard

The mailman came to the door to deliver the John Gnagy (NEGGy) “Learn to Draw” set I’d ordered. (You can Google him if you’re too young to know who he was.)  Looking at the mailing label, where Carole Goldsmith was written as clearly as could be, he nonetheless asked, “Does kuh-ROLL-ee Goldsmith live here?”  My visiting playmates overheard and forever mocked.

ATbpAb5T4That sealed the deal: I hated my name.  Why couldn’t my parents have named me Carol instead of Carole? They said it had something to do with Carole Lombard, whoever she was.  Certainly the mailman had never heard of her.  Neither had my friends.  So there I was, a short skinny kid carrying around a big, heavy mockable name.  No fair.

I can’t remember when that feeling changed, but somewhere along the way it certainly did.  I now AM Carole.  Not Carol (who’s she?) nor Caryl (my best friend in college), nor any of the other iterations I’ve seen.  Carole.  That’s me.  In fact, when people misspell me, as they often do, I’m compelled to correct them.  I know it doesn’t really matter if the woman on the phone who’s taking my order for double-size yellow flannel sheets writes my name as Carol instead of Carole.  What’s really important is the size and color of the sheets, right?  Still, I make sure she gets the name right, too.  If it’s Carol, it’s not me, even though it sounds the same.  I guess you could say that “e” is part of my identity.  An important part.

I married a man whose name is also spelled in an untraditional way, Geoffrey instead of Jeffrey.  He hated it when he was a kid, too.  Gee-off and Goofrey were his albatrosses. Only our really good friends get both of our names right.  And I like that.  It says something, if only that they’re paying attention.

You’d think two parents who’d suffered with untraditional names wouldn’t inflict the same burden on their daughter.  But we did, sort of.  Geoffrey wanted to name her Jordan, while I thought it would be a burden to give her a name that’s usually for boys, Jordan Baker notwithstanding.  We compromised on Jordan as her middle name and, predictably, she hated it for a long time.  I believe her name-hatred lasted even longer than mine had.  The story has the same ending, though:  Now she’s grown up and loves it.  It’s distinctive.  It’s her.

Do names, and their spelling, shape the perception of the thing being named? Would people react to me differently if I were Marion?  Would I, in fact, be different if I were Marion?  This is a Zen-like question because, in fact, I am Carole.  And I’m happy about it.  I couldn’t be anyone else.

“Carole” looks so much prettier, rounder, softer, and generally lovelier than “Carol,” with that rude straight line at the end. (My apologies to any Carols out there — I know I’m  not being objective.)  I can’t imagine being Carol.  Thank goodness my parents knew who I really was. And now I do, too.

How about you?  How do you feel about your name?  Do you think you’d be the same person if your name were different?


*     *     *

Carole Howard is the author of Deadly Adagio, a murder mystery set in West Africa, published by Indigo Sea Press.


Filed under writing

12 responses to “That Silent ‘e’ Speaks Volumes, by Carole Howard

  1. I love having an unusual first name but I think it’s hard on others. It usually takes people a long time to work up the courage to try pronouncing my name and they kind of don’t call me anything for a long time. If you have an unusual name, you know this. People think you don’t notice, but you do, and you understand. But, once people are comfortable with my name, they never forget it and it’s kind of cool to be able to sign things with just one name like Beyonce, Madonna, Oprah, Sting, Charo (no, not like Charo!).

    Of course, as with most names, kids teased me about mine. For a brief period at East Ridge Junior High (for it was junior high then, not middle school) I heard “Velya, I wanna feel ya,” “Veal Parmigiana,” and “Veal Chop.” We have a friend named Mark Yamnicky and he loves to hypothesize about how funny it would have been if I had married Bob Vila, the guy from “This Old House” who became the Sears spokesperson. I would have been Velya Vila.

    According to an online article I recently read, psychologists and sociologists have studied the unusual first name question for years and still cannot agree on the answer. “College women with uncommon first names score higher on scales of sociability and self-acceptance; they are also more likely to have a positive sense of individuality, which helps them to resist peer pressure. They can develop a positive, individual self-concept unhampered by the negative images that go along with names such as Adolf, Ethel, Myrtle, or Elmer.”

  2. schultzfam

    As a Sarah with an h, I love this post! I’ve always thought Sara sounded unfinished, incomplete, definitely not me. I, too, correct the Starbucks guy when he forgets my h, because yes, it does matter! However, my middle name is–or was–another story. Who names their kid Eldora?? Jeez. I hid it after my “h” into my late 20s, when a series of events made a name change appropriate, at which point, for a little while, I was Sarah Jane. I loved every minute of being her! Later I married and happily put Jane away and adopted my maiden name as my middle, but I loved the fluidity of names for awhile there!

    • Oooh, name-fluidity, what a concept. It sounds like it would be fun to try. I have two Sara(h)s in my life. There’s you and there’s my niece, spelled with no “h” as her name was designed to be a combination of her two grandmothers, Sadie and Clara. I just realized, on reading your comment, that I don’t think of you two as having the same name!

  3. How interesting, Velya. (And, by the way, thanks for telling me how to pronounce your name when we first “met” on line — or I’d have had no clue.) I think you had a tougher time with your name than I did, as mine was unusual only in the spelling, while yours was just….. unusual. How did your parents think of it, I wonder?

  4. Hi Carole! I just had to comment because I can identify with everything you wrote. My legal name is Mary Elizabeth Shanley, the same as my mother. When I was born, Mary, my mom decided to combine Mary Elizabeth to create Mary Beth; but, as she discussed the name with a nun, that nun suggested that she spell it as one name with an i vs the y…thus, Maribeth. I am also very particular about my name and its spelling. I’m proud of it! Mary is so plane and, well, for me sounds boring. Mary Beth often gets the Beth dropped off. Maribeth, on the other hand, is unique, stands on its own and makes me sound and feel like a rich, interesting person. I never thought about all the ramifications of my name until your article. Now, I realize, it is one of the elements that helped me become the warrior I have become. I am one of six children, the oldest girl and the second oldest of the six. Because my dad was left behind after my mom died, he controlled the narrative about what he did to me, especially how I was dealing with it after my mother died. He essentially turned four of my siblings against me. They view me as stuck in the past, which, I…Maribeth, the warrior…know is totally inaccurate and incorrect. I do believe now that my name helped saved me from the life they perceive because I have always gone after what I’ve wanted and, more importantly, I’ve ALWAYS achieved what I sought. Oh, yea, my accomplishments have given rise to a new misconception on their part…that I’m stuck up and full of myself. Too bad they’ve never taken the time to get to know their oldest sister because anyone, including the two sisters who have taken the time, know this is the farthest from the truth. I’m a warrior who knows what she wants and never, ever gives up until she gets it; yet, I’m also a humble warrior who never forgets to be amazed at my accomplishments and thankful of the opportunities that have come my way, which in large part are due to my warrior identity. I am Maribeth, as you are Carole. We are warriors together living life as we create it! Thanks for writing this, Carole!

  5. You’ve given me a lot to think about, Maribeth, with your compelling family story. So you’re a warrior in large part because of your name. Or maybe your name helped you become the warrior you are. I’ve got some self-examination to do!

  6. Interesting. Being English I would have said Jeffrey was untraditional, though definitely easier to spell. And Sarah without an h was just plain wrong in school. I always used the ei in Sheila as my excuse for being totally unable to spell (you know – i before e except in exceptions, so I was a guaranteed exception). Then I got married, and that second e in my surname became invaluable. (Drunken late-night phone-callers still assume it’s an a once in a while. Perhaps we read what we expect to see – is that a lesson for writing too?)

  7. Funny how “usual” and “unusual” are culturally specific. Thanks for the comment, Sheila.

  8. Well Carole, my birth name was Gail, but the only time I ever heard it was when I was in trouble. Ha! So, I was grateful when neighborhood kids named me Coco, after a TV character, because I looked like that Coco. Coco has been an easy name for people to remember, especially after they meet me. It really seems to fit. so…

  9. How lucky you are, Coco, that the name picked for you by the neighborhood kids is one that actually fits now that you’re an adult. And how lucky I am that CaROLLee didn’t stick! Thanks for the comment.

  10. Eileen

    I heard that my father chose my name. I am the fourth of seven siblings. Eileen spelled my way is me. In high school I had a PE teacher that gave me a new name every class. I tried correcting her on occasion but it was a losing battle. She not only butchered my first name but also my last name at the time. I was Elaine, Irene, Ellen, Allene but very seldom Eileen. I hated my name for that reason. Besides, my siblings had names that could be shortened to a one syllable nickname. Mine sounded incomplete with one syllable. it was only after I did some research about the meaning and origin of my name that I came to accept it. My name and the way it is spelled is an Irish form of Helen. I don’t think my dad knew it at the time he named me because we are not even Irish. My maternal grandmother’s name was Helen. I had a very close bond with my grandmother. I still end up correcting the spelling and pronunciation of my name but I am Eileen. Phonetically: I – Lean. Now when I introduce myself to people, I make a little curtsy and dip to one side. It makes them laugh and makes them remember me.

  11. I’m sorry I didn’t see this post until now, Eileen, but I love your story. Thanks for telling it, and I’ll always visual you leaning.

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