The Name Game

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In Dale Carnegie’s famous book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” he wrote that you should use a person’s name when you’re talking to them because “…a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

I’m not here to argue with Dale Carnegie because five million books sold can’t be wrong. But I do wonder if the sound of your own name is always as appealing as he says it is.

The other day I sat across from a woman at the orthodontist’s office who was running my credit card so I could pay for our son’s braces. She glanced at the name on my card and said, “Oh, that’s a nice name. I really like it. It’s not a name you hear very often.”

I thanked her for the compliment. But what she doesn’t know is that a name like Gwen rhymes with way too many common words used in normal conversations – words like “when” and “then” and “in” and “pen” and the list goes on. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spun around to answer someone who wasn’t even talking to me and just happened to be within earshot. For example:

Stranger 1: “Hey, did I tell you I’m going to Hawaii?”

Stranger 2: “Oh my gosh! WHEN?”

Me (turning around to face them): “Yes?”

Strangers 1 and 2 (who are confused and assume I must be a weirdo): “What?”

Me: “Oh, I thought you said my name.”

Stranger 2: “Um, no.”

So I say “Oh, sorry” and then I act like I’m in a big hurry to get somewhere important, which is true because I’m in a huge hurry to be anywhere but there, dealing with my mistaken name shame. This has happened more times than I care to admit.

So my new policy is to ignore it when I think I hear my name because there’s a good chance I’m wrong. And if the person really is calling my name, he or she will probably repeat it a few times or just give up and send me a text, which is the more practical way to go anyway.

My mother once told me that she had planned to name me “Gwendolyn Jane,” but my father didn’t like it and made fun of it so often while she was pregnant that she shortened it to “Gwen Ann.” My maiden name, Rule, was also very short so the whole thing together was three stupid syllables. Drove me nuts.

jennifer keychainI wanted a sophisticated, multi-syllable name like Elizabeth, Jennifer, Kimberly or Christina – the kinds of names you could always find on key chains at the Six Flags gift shop. (I never once found a key chain with the name Gwen on it, but my best friend Jennifer had key chains out the wazoo. Not that I’m bitter.)

Names are also great tools for teasing attacks on the elementary school playground. One day in second grade, this jerky little boy came up to me and called out “Gwen, Gwen, the big fat hen!” which was ironic because I was the kind of kid who was so awkwardly skinny that you could count my ribs anytime I inhaled deeply. And even though it’s ancient history, I can still sometimes hear that sing-song chant in my head. (Do you think people named Jessica or Jonathan ever have these issues? I wonder.)

But the good news is that the years have taught me to appreciate my short, not-too-common but rhymes-with-everything name. It’s simple and unassuming, and so am I. And as fate would have it, I married a man with a two-syllable last name which made me feel downright fancy.

Who needs your lousy personalized key chain? My last name has not three, not four, but eight whole letters and rhymes with almost nothing! Life is good.

Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

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