Saturday, February 4, 2012

Name Game

I once worked as a secretary in a Head Start program in Florida. The hours were . . . tolerable. The children were . . . in another noisy building. My boss was . . . well, never mind. The teachers were incredible. I loved and admired every one of them. But most of all, I delighted in my friendship with the program’s social worker, Judy.

Judy was from New York. But she was as transplanted a Floridian as I’ve ever met. She could've been the poster child for New England Ex-Patriots. As much as her olive skin loved the generous rays of the Gulf Coast, her heart loved them even more. Free spirited as a tropical breeze, she blew into the room every morning with a bright “Hello!”, grabbed a cup of serious coffee and perched comfortably on the corner of her desk—an invitation to step into her office and talk a while. I never turned down the offer.

She had a million stories. Prior to being a social worker, she’d been employed for a while by the Department of Motor Vehicles, which gave her constant exposure to a dizzying list of driver names. Creative monikers. Like, “Bill Board”, “Barbie Doll”, and “Adah Roach”. That one made me spew my coffee. She knew dozens of them—sad examples of foresight failure.

My favorite name, though, didn’t come from the DMV. After graduating with her Master’s Degree, the Department of Social Services assigned Judy to an unwed teenager who was in her third trimester of pregnancy. Since the girl had no transportation, Judy drove Tashika to and from the appointments. She attended LaMaze classes with her just in case she’d need a coach. She also took Tashika to nutrition classes, counseled her on finances, and encouraged her to use better birth control.

When her water broke, it was Judy who took Tashika to the hospital where she delivered a healthy baby girl.

But when the nurses asked what the baby’s name would be, Tashika had no answer. Despite all the suggestions of friends and family, she was stumped. Fortunately, she and the baby wouldn’t be released from the hospital for a few days, so she had a little time. Each of the next two mornings, a nurse came to Tashika’s room, intent on completing the baby girl’s birth certificate. And every morning the nurse left empty handed, reminding Tashika she needed to come up with something before she and her daughter were discharged.

The third day after the baby was born, Judy arrived at the hospital to drive mother and child home. She was greeted by a jubilant, beaming Tashika, who couldn’t wait to tell her the good news.

“Miss Judy!” she exclaimed, as my friend walked into the room. “They did it! They did it for me! The nurses thought of a beautiful name for my baby!”

Judy was thrilled for her, as well as for the hospital staff who could finally file the completed birth certificate.

“See, right here?” she continued breathlessly. “On this paper? The nurses named her Femolly. It’s beautiful,” she sighed.

“How . . . unusual,” Judy began, as she took the paperwork from her client. “And lovely!” she finished, looking up with a twinkle in her eye.

“Well, it was a unique name,” I interjected into Judy’s story, as I sat listening to the ending.

“Yes, it was,” Judy said, a chuckle escaping her broad smile. She took another sip of her coffee, lost in the memory of the comical experience. Then she explained.

In the blank where the baby’s first name was supposed to go, the exasperated hospital staff had typed: Female.

Pronunciation. It's all in the eye of the beholder.


  1. Still laughing from when you showed this to me Thursday. Great story!

  2. Thanks, Liz! You would have loved knowing Judy, and I'm sure she'd have felt the same about you!