Apparently, It’s Me
“So are you?” the clerk asked as she looked at my check.
“Am I what?” I answered.
“A parent,” she said as if I should have known.
“Yes, I am,” I replied. “And I have been all of my life.”
Inwardly, I sighed. People have been having fun with my surname all of my life. In school, whenever the teacher asked for parent volunteers, everyone nominated me. This became especially common when teachers asked for chaperones during my peak hormone years. I was reminded of the punny nature of my name by the recent story of a Denver Bronco drafted player who is the butt of many jokes due to the unfortunate nature of his last name. Last names are more of a problem than first names which I wrote about in a previous essay. One can always use a nickname or a middle name if your first name is embarrassing. But changing surnames requires governmental intervention and an exchange of money.
The jokes wouldn’t bother me so much if someone came up with something original. My high school choir teacher saw me walking into class one day and announced that, “Apparently Mr. Parent is here.” It’s not terribly original, but it’s better than most people’s attempts. The students who volunteered me for adult jobs always thought they were terribly clever. The store clerk thought she was as well. So as a tip to future comedians, if the joke about a name is really obvious, you aren’t the first to make it. Be original.
I’ve learned to live with the problem but my poor wife got the short end of the “bride takes her husband’s name” deal. She thought that trading in her Syrian maiden name would be great. No one could pronounce or spell her Syrian name. Everybody can spell and pronounce “parent”, right? Ahh the innocence of youth! It turns out that nobody believes that our last name is so simple to say and spell. I’d like to attribute this to people’s knowledge of French as the reason they struggle with it, but I know better. Yes, the French way of saying my name isn’t the same as the English word for mother and father. The French are impossible when it comes to pronunciation. Exhibit A is how does one get “Wah” out of Patrick Roy’s name? But I know that most people have not taken French and wouldn’t know that “parent” isn’t the same in French and English. If people were that smart, Trump wouldn’t be president.
One day, Kim was trying to book reservations at a hotel for an upcoming trip. When the reservation clerk asked for our name, the fun began.
“Parent,” Kim said.
“Perrins?” the clerk said.
“No, parent,” Kim said in a raised voice.
“Perry,” the clerk said.
“No, P-A-R-E-N-T!” Kim spelled.
“Parrot?” the clerk asked.
No,” Kim said as she gritted her teeth. “Parent . . . like your mother and father.”
There was a short enough silence that Kim thought she had finally gotten through to the clerk.
“But my mom and dad’s name is Jefferson,” said the clerk with a puzzled voice.
Kim hung up.
I swear to you this really happened. Kim ended up making reservations at a different hotel. Of course, you can argue that the clerk was especially dense, but if that is true, she is not alone. I always have to spell my name for people over the phone and they often make me do it two or three times. They are always incredulous that it is so easy. I realize it’s an unusual name. But it’s not an uncommon word. It’s like Glass or Waters as last names. You should be able to hear it and spell it.
As far as humor goes, Parent is not in the same category as Bottoms, Weiner, or Hyman (all legitimate surnames I’ve seen in my teaching career.) All these names are funny in themselves, but when paired with some creativity or lack thereof by parents (no relation to me), the jokes write themselves. Dick Weiner, Harry Bottoms, and Roger Hyman get a lot more grief about their names than I do. And for that I am thankful. I am convinced there should be a law that prevents mothers and fathers from giving their children such bad joke names. Life is hard enough without the burden of a joke name. And for those of a Libertarian/Conservative bent who think the government shouldn’t be involved in naming children, I have just two words: Seymour Cox.