Saturday, September 8, 2012

Trouble with My Last Name: Oh, to Be One of the Joneses!

As if I didn't have enough problems.

It was already tough growing up chubby, black and with a funny West Indian accent in redneck country in the middle of Florida. Why did I have to be saddled with such a strange last name, too? Though I've since come to terms with it, learned to love it even, I wasn't always so thrilled with my surname. At one point, it was at the top of my list of things I'd change about myself given the opportunity. Doesn't Jeremy Jones have a nice ring? I often wondered. Alliteration rules!

Oh, how time changes everything. Now you'd have to kill me to pry my surname out of my tight grip. Jeremy Helligar. Doesn't that have a certain ring? Maybe it's because I've lived with it my entire life and have become so accustomed to it. Someone once told me that it sounds like the name of an important person. I don't know about that, nor do I know how I feel about the fact that my surname, which is Dutch, means "holy man." It's not like I've ever been one of those -- though I do come from a long line of preacher men.

Today my biggest problem with my last name is that people simply don't know how to say it or spell it. Surprisingly, they're more likely to get it in countries where English is not the native language. It rhymes with "bigger," not "cigar," and in Thailand, as in Argentina, far more people say it right the first time than in the United States.

But forget about spelling it! For months, the front desk at the Anantara Bangkok Sathorn, the hotel I call home, spelled it "Rodney." Actually, that's my middle name (unfortunately). Maybe they decided to go with Rodney because it's so much easier than Helligar. Last year I got a tattoo of my first name in Thai on my left forearm. Whenever Thai people ask me my name, I just hold out my arm and show it to them. I've thought about getting a matching one for my right forearm with my last name.

But what good would that do in English-speaking countries, where people really should know better than in Thailand and Argentina, especially magazine editors who are supposed to be so good with words? I still remember the first piece I ever wrote for Interview magazine -- a review of Monie Love's 1993 album In a Word or 2. I was so excited when the issue arrived in the mail -- until I actually saw the review. I didn't even notice what I'd written because I was so focused on what they'd written: HELIGAR. It still looks so strange. Didn't anyone even stop to consider that it looks so much better with two Ls?!

At least the editors of Tiger Tales, the Singapore-based in-flight magazine for Tiger Airways got that part right. I recently wrote my first Tiger Tales story for the September/October issue, a piece on the best running routes in Melbourne (click here to see it), and right there in the dek, under the headline, was a last name I had never seen before: Hellegar! HELLEGAR?!

Couldn't they have just hidden that egregious mistake in a small tagline at the end of the piece the way Interview did? Oh, well. At least they got it right on the Contributor's Page in the actual magazine, the editor told me. I'm not sure if that's better or worse.

It could be even worse, though. Yesterday I was talking to someone who one drunken night got his sister's name tattooed in Thai on his right forearm. She got his name tattooed on her body, too, which for some odd reason, makes it a little better. I just hope, for his sake, that whoever did it got the spelling right!

Carrie Underwood "Last Name"

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