“Camille Saint-Saens was wracked with pains
When people referred to him as Saint SANES.
He held the human race to blame
Because it could not pronounce his name.”
That’s Ogden Nash. He wrote some verses to accompany Carnival of the Animals by Saint-Sains, and starts his romp through the zoo with these few lines that have recently been speaking louder and louder to me.
Saint-Saens isn’t the only one who has had a lifetime of people mispronouncing and misspelling and mis-writing his name. I’m right there with him, and after sixty-nine years of name abuse, I’m as fed up as Nash says that Camille was. Only today at Von’s, the checkout person in an effort to be friendly, said, “Thank you, Mr. HAYLMAN. Have a nice day. I’ve become inured to these kinds of attempts at my name because I sympathize with the speaker. Although it’s only seven letters long, it’s a toughie.
I didn’t start out life as Robert Heylmun, by the way. My mother had me a few years before she got married to Paul Heylmun, who adopted me, and during the earliest days of my life, I had her last name, Allison. Recent discoveries have revealed that Allison ought to be my name through biological parentage anyway, but after the adoption went through (I must have been nearly six when it was final), I was saddled with a name that everyone looks at as if it were some sort of word puzzle, designed to test their intelligence in some devious way.
Things only got worse once I entered into adulthood and had to navigate government bureaucrats, bank tellers, the IRS, the US Navy, and a host of other organizations, all of whom were baffled by my last name. Even today, when I spell it over the phone, I say it slowly and in groups of three letters, a single letter, and then three more letters. “That’s H-E-Y… L…M-U-N”. That usually works, but not every time.
I’m sure that Saint-Saens had no intention of changing his name, but the thought has crossed my mind more than once, and recently I’ve considered what such a change might entail. The bureaucrats named above would present a nightmare, and the thought of the IRS getting in on the act was more than daunting; I for one, don’t like to draw their attention in any way. Not that I’ve done anything illegal, but it’s better not to have them wonder why at this late date, I’d be changing my name. So I let the idea drop.
Then someone suggested, “Why don’t you change your name, just among your friends? Nothing official, mind you. But soon everyone would know you as Robert Allison once again.”
That idea made some sense until I remembered another, much slighter name change that I effected back in the 1970s. I went to work as a teacher in the English Department of San Clemente High School and discovered that there were at least three people named Bob also working there. I’d been Bob for many years and never cared for the nickname (always sounded like an unpleasant verb, something that floats when you don’t want it to). So I decided to make everyone call me Robert. It took quite a while to get that into everyone’s consciousness, and there are still people from that era who haven’t imprinted ‘Robert’ instead of ‘Bob’ on their brain. Eventually though, I became Robert, and that gives me some encouragement to become Robert Allison.
I’m putting this up for a vote. Please weigh in as to whether or not you think I should change my name. I’ll be interested in the reason for your opinion as well as your vote.
By the way, if you want some other reasons why I have no qualms about abandoning Heylmun, I’ll tell you. Real family gossip.
Robert Heylmun, nee Allison 24 April 2012