Wednesday, March 25, 2020

A Tongue-in-Cheek Naming Game

If there were a Lexicon Tribunal, this is the kind of missive it would produce.

It has come to the attention of the Lexicon Tribunal that there is a growing confusion in the land over which individuals have entered into the official partnership known as "marriage." After careful study, the Tribunal has determined that the cause of this consternation is the relatively recent decision of many women to defy the time-honored tradition of adopting the man's family name.

There seems to be no logical reason for this rash practice. The Tribunal foresees untold problems if this convention is permitted to continue. Will telephone directories, already bloated by the addition of second phone lines for fax machines, double in size yet again?  

Will mothers-in-law be forced to learn their daughters-in-laws' names, rather than simply putting the prefix "Mrs." before their sons' names? How will nosy neighbors be able to tell the difference between married couples who have two distinct names and two people simply living in sin?

After holding extensive hearings, at which Tribunal members were repeatedly insulted for daring to raise the topic, we have developed criteria for determining which of the prospective partners' names should become the family name under which the marriage contract can be consummated. 
  • If there is a difference of more than three letters in the length of the name, the shorter name will be used. However, both parties can agree to use the longer name if three sets of witnesses attest that this decision was reached without bloodshed.
  •  If there is a difference of three letters or fewer, three criteria are suggested:
  •  The name that is the most Waspish will prevail.
  •  If both names are ethnic in character, the one that is the butt of the fewest jokes will be selected.  (If there is difficulty determining this, both parties will stand near the playground for a classroom of fourth graders, preferably boys, and keep track of the nationalities most insulted. As in golf, the lowest score wins.)
  •  If one name is or rhymes with "fairy," "duck," or "rick," the other will be employed. This is in consideration of possible offspring of the partnership.
Couples may not avoid the decision by combining family names and creating a hyphenated alternative. There is the obvious issue of length of names for succeeding generations.  It would not be long before mailboxes would have to be elongated, check sizes would be extended, and return address labels would be longer than the envelopes. 

There is, of course, the delicacy issue. The Tribunal greatly appreciated the many suggestions of inappropriate name combinations that members of the public offered. For instance:
  • If Holly Hunt married Max Roach, her name would be Holly Hunt-Roach.
  • If Jane Fonda married Jon Peters, her name would be Jane Fonda-Peters. 
  • If Dan Coffey married Peter Sellars, his name would be Dan Coffey-Sellars.
 The full text of these examples is available in the reference section of the library.  Parental approval is required for individuals under age 18. The Tribunal respectfully requests that citizens stop submitting examples for its review.
                             *                        *                          *                           *                         *
For some of Elaine's more traditional writing, visit In the comments section here, you are welcome to post additional examples of hyphenated names. I took a humor writing class from Dan Coffey at the University of Iowa Summer Writing Festival. To see more of his wit, check out his travel blog, Geezers Abroad.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Calling Vivid Images to Mind

As a three-year old, my parents took me to a co-op nursery school in Garrett Park, Maryland, which was in walking distance of our house. Moms (I don't remember dads) helped the professional child care workers staff the one-room school.

I remember the pineapple/orange juice combo and graham crackers, and my mother standing at the edge of the room. She wore a pair of red plaid capris -- except they were called petal pushers back then.

The only other conscious memory is Danny F. crawling with a box on his head so he could knock down piles of blocks (a.k.a. castles) other children had built. We later went to the same high school, and I reminded him of his feats. He grinned, but had no other comment.

Lately I've been making a list of indelible memories. It occurred to me that something that rattled around in my brain for decades had to have stayed there for a purpose. In other words, can I use one of those memories in a book? No identifying block busters or others, of course.

A few other recollections are:
  • Encouraging a younger brother to ride down the stairs from the second floor to the first in a box. And earning one of the rare spankings my mother provided.
  • Siting with my dad when he came home from work, trying to convince him that he would rather have a new friend than one million dollars. He said it would be a tough decision.
  • Thinking about a fifth-grade teacher who noted that some girls who attended Mass at the beach (probably Ocean City, MD) wore raincoats because under the coat they had on shorts. The scandalized teacher reported this to the parish priest at the beach. One could say the teacher had 1950s standards, but when I relayed the story to my mother, her take was that God was happy to have the girls in church.
  • Picking up a dead fish from a creek, and crying when my dad washed my hands with some beer, because we had finished the iced tea my parents had also brought. (Though I was about four, to this day, I hate the smell of beer.)
  • Getting tears in my eyes after answering a question wrong in third grade -- I was usually right. (Note to self: could be a topic for a therapist.)
  • Being in stores with my mom and younger sister and having strangers tell Mom how beautiful my blue-eyed, curly haired sister was. And feeling pride rather than jealousy, because she was, and she was ours.
The list is much longer. I would encourage other writers to dig deep for similar memories. If you kept a journal from childhood, you probably have the ideas recorded. I didn't start until my late 20s, and I've been sporadic,
Is this important? No, but it does keep you writing when you're stalled.
          *          *          *          *          *
Check Elaine's website at or sign up for her newsletter.