I’ve legally changed my name one time. When I married my first husband, I took his last name, and it has stuck through a divorce and a second marriage. Turpin is unusual enough, but my first name is the one that strikes fear in the heart of coffee shop baristas and medical office receptionists.
“Is that with an ‘I’ or a ‘Y’? they ask.
“Just spell it like a normal person would and then add a crazy ‘e’ on the end.”
I’ve heard them try to pronounce my name as two separate words — ’Ter’ and ‘Rye’, like the disembodied electronic voice that calls out directions on my phone. After I correct their spelling or pronunciation, the person asking will remark something like, “Oh! How did you come up with that?”
“You can blame my mother,” I’ll reply.
She’s the one who tagged me with that name, and it never occurred to me I could change it.
Besides confusing grocery store cashiers, fast food clerks, and telemarketers, my name kept me from purchasing a variety of mass-produced personalized mugs, pens, pencils, bracelets, and plastic souvenir license plates. They mocked me with every alternative spelling of my name — there were Terri’s and Terry’s galore, but not a single one ever spelled my name like my mother had. If every parent had been like her, a whole generation of Chinese factory workers would have been out of work, with no one to buy all the cheap plastic goods emblazoned with names that ended without unnecessary letters.
I was in junior high school when I asked my mom how she came up with the spelling. She got a smug look on her face as she explained.
“Back before you were born, I told your Aunt Judy I would name you Terrye, and she told me that was a boy’s name. But I spelled your name with an ‘e’ on the end, and that’s a girl’s name.”
I pointed out to my mother there were four others in my school, three girls and a boy, with my name. None of them ended with ‘e’, two of the girls ended their name with an ‘I’ and the boy and one girl were Terrys.
“Exactly,” my mother answered as though I’d proven her point. “Then when Judy had her youngest boy, she named your cousin Terry without the ‘e’!”
“Wait, who are you talking about?”
Until that moment I hadn’t known my cousin and I shared the same name. My cousin Bun had the misfortune to have two older sisters, who spoiled their baby brother and awarded him the nickname Honey Bun. They shortened that to Bun before his second birthday. No one in our family called him anything else. He even went through the Marine Corps as Bun.
The day I finalized my divorce I decided to pick up a copy of my birth certificate while I was at the courthouse. I wanted a passport, in case I might need to flee the country or take a cruise. I filled out the form to request the copy and handed it to the clerk behind the counter. She glanced at me over the top of her gold framed bifocals and asked if I had identification. I handed her my driver’s license, and she glanced up at me and said, “Oh, that’s an unusual spelling, how do you say your name?”
“It’s just Terrye,” I answered. She turned and tapped on her computer keyboard, then turned with a frown.
“I found a birth certificate with your parents’ names, and on your birth date, but the child’s name is different.”
Did I have a twin somewhere that I didn’t know about? Had they switched me at birth with some other child?
“Do you still want the birth certificate?” The clerk waited for my answer.
“What name is on it?” I found my voice to ask.
The clerk paused as she squinted at her computer screen. “The name is the same as yours, but there’s no ‘e’ on the end.”
I stood there dazed as I handed the clerk my payment and waited while she printed out an official copy of the birth certificate for this unknown person, this girl child who had not been burdened with an extra ‘e’. Visions of long lines of personalized gadgets and doodads marched through my vision when she placed the document in my hands. There, on the first line — my name, Terry, with no ‘e’. Where had it gone? Had some misguided or careless clerk dropped it? I looked further on the form, and there was the missing ‘e’, stuck on the end of my middle name! Renee with two ‘e’s!
I haven’t finished the passport application. I’m afraid to show up with a birth certificate with my name misspelled. They’ll shuffle me off to some bare room to be questioned by a branch of the secret service dedicated to grilling people who misuse the alphabet. I picture men in suits with square, solid names like Mark and Fred who would glare down at me and ask how I wound up with someone else’s birth certificate.
“Blame my mother!” I will cry out in vain while I hope they don’t notice the extra ‘e’ on the end of my middle name.