What’s in a name?
The brown desk was so high I could just barley see over the top as I sat there. A name shouldn’t be this much trouble. The principal sits across from me, probably looking over some new school law I think. Probably trying to discover a harsher punishment for my crime. My heart is beating so fast that I dare not look to my left at my teacher’s face probably still red with anger. I guess I’m getting ahead of my self though; I should start at the beginning.
It was the first day of kindergarten our unbroken souls stood in the school room, nervously watching the teacher call out our names and assigning us a seat. A few parents stood near the windows of the classroom, waiting to see if the teacher would notice how well they taught their child to sit. “Bob Gonzales,” she called and a boy small boy took his seat in the center of the room, happy he wasn’t in the first row. “Laurel Smith,” the teacher called and the pretty girl took her seat in front happily. Then a pause and a confused look, one I would get to know very well for the rest of my life. “Herrybeetoe” she said confused. She tried it again, louder, hoping volume would make it clearer. “HERRYBEETOOOOE” I remember thinking to myself “bee toe,” and images of bees poking toes filled my thoughts. The teacher looked around the room when no one replied; slowly scanning the name tags on our chest. She walked to me. “Harry?”
I didn’t answer. I figured there was a monkey-like boy behind me and I started thinking about bees stinging his hairy boys toes. Then a voice broke though the image like lightning. “Pay attention.” I looked up; there was no doubt my new teacher was speaking to me.
“Yes?” I squeaked, shy and terrified with the room looking at me. Parents were shaking their heads, no doubt proud that I wasn’t their child.
“Why didn’t you answer me when I called your name?”
“I didn’t hear you call my name.” I said softly.
“Well. Try to pay more attention! Take your seat.” I sat there terrified the rest of the day, and I paid attention like no kindergartner had before me. A few weeks passed and everyday would start out the same. The teacher would take roll, get to my name, and make eye contact with me to say she saw me. She would make just about every effort not to say that long confusing name. It wasn’t just role, she wouldn’t call on me at all, she wouldn’t pick me to help, or ask me how my day was. Don’t get me wrong, I was quite happy with the situation. You can’t really blame her. The name sounds like a reject from a Mary Poppins movie, but it did start to affect my grades. F’s, how I knew them well. It turned out that in that class, that if you didn’t put your name on top of your paper you would lose the points for that paper. If it was not on top of a test or art project you would Lose more points. Let’s not even get into how the name wouldn’t fit on the top of the standardized test bubble box, throwing the whole machine off. So one day, I’m sitting in a corner of the playground shy and as quiet as ever, happy just to be watching everyone else play when Bob walked up to me. Bob was good-looking, fit boy, taller then the rest of us, but not tall enough to make him awkward looking. He had wavy black hair and if there was ever a poster boy for what a biker’s kid should look like, he was it. “My name’s Bob. What’s yours?” I took a deep breath, hoping I could roll the R and not spit on him. “Heriberto,” I said, in grand accomplishment. His eyes blinked and he looked at me trying to take the sound in. “That…isn’t a good name.” he said. I never thought of my name as being good or bad. It just was. “I’m calling you Eddie.” He added. In retrospect when your do say my name the first part does sound like Eddie but I didn’t understand where he had pulled the name from at first. But I didn’t have time to agree or disagree. Soon, Bob was over at the dodge ball courts with other guys yelling my new name for me to go join. And with that I became Eddie.
By now you must be wondering what all this has to do with the principal’s office. Two weeks had passed and I had grown attached to my new name at school. I was doing better in school; kids were able to call me something other then hey you. The teacher even started to call me Eddie. One day, however, she called me into the classroom and told me she had a meeting with my parents. She had told them I wasn’t keeping up with my homework and that I would be losing recess for a week. Now believe me I assured her that I was doing my work that I did it every night, and I turned it in every morning like we were supposed to. Okay, so it was more of a whiney sound that came from my lips and it wasn’t very elegant. I was five! Cut me a little slack! This was a week’s worth of recess we were talking about! Well, I guess just to stop my whining she started fumbling through the papers and it suddenly hit her I had been signing my homework Eddie. In a fit of embarrassment, she waves the papers at me.
“Why weren’t you signing your real name?” she asked, irritated she hadn’t noticed it before.
“Cause this one’s easier!” I said. “You have to call my parents and tell them I did my work!” I pleaded. “I am going to!’ She said. “But you are still getting a week with no recess.”
“But why!” I said, “You found my work.”
“Because you didn’t sign your name too your homework” she scolded.
“That’s just not fair!” I stood up looking at her eyes giving her the five year old death stare. “Keep it up and I’ll make it two!” she threatened.
“You’re being a witch!” I said.
Now let me explain I really did say witch; but she didn’t hear that, she heard something worse. Something so terrible… well lets just say she grabbed me by the arm and dragged me across the floor, my feet struggling to keep footing.
So there I was with the principle his hand on the phone ready to call my parents.
“Why did you call your teacher a bad word?” the principal asked me finally breaking the silence.
“We had just learned about witches.” I said softly “It just came out.”
“Your teacher said you called her something else.” His eyes narrowed, as if they were able to shoot laser beam at lying children. I shook my head with a feverous no, wondering all the time if a few of the glorious words some of the guys had taught me had slipped out with out my knowing.
“Why hadn’t you written your name on your homework?” He said moving on.
“Because, everyone calls me Eddie, even the teacher. It’s just easier.” I responded, wondering how long it would take before he sent the kid-killing dogs after me.
“You should be proud of your real name your parents gave you that name for a reason.” He said in as important a tone as he could muster.
“My mom said my dad accidentally put his name in the wrong box and now two of us are cursed.
The principal laughed despite himself. “Okay, well I don’t see why we should involve your parents, but I want you to apologize to your teacher. Calling her any name is wrong”
I remember turning and saying I’m sorry and leaving the office not looking at my teacher. I remember her yelling at the principle about letting me get off to easily as the door shut. As an adult now however, I wonder if I should have also received an apology. We carry our name it defines us in a ways tells people were we come from and who we are. Mine has always been something I shy away from. A thing I don’t tell many people or share openly. I get people to call me Eddie whenever I can the other name used so infrequently that it’s strange for me to even hear. I just wonder if I would have loved my name my father gave me if that teacher has spent a second trying to learn it. I wonder if it would have given me the confidence to tell the boy at school “no Eddie is not my name.” I wonder if I would have the same pride in it, as I’m my father did when as he confessed to me years later purposely placed his name in the birth certificate box instead the one my mom and chosen.