“‘No, it’s ‘M-A-R-R-T-O-N’: Reflections on a name” OR “Thanks, a lot, Mom”

I used to hate my first name, because it made me stand out in school. I envied classmates with names like “Mike” or “Chris” or “Dave,” because they were recognizable and easy to read and pronounce. Honestly, my life would have been a lot easier if my parents had just spelled my name “M-A-R-T-I-N.” I lived in the tension between the embarrassment of a thousand taunts from those who remembered the unusual spelling of my name — “Oh, hi, Mar-ar-ar-ar-ar-ty, ha, ha, ha” — and the frustration of roll-call misreadings by new or substitute teachers, “Marrion? Marrion? Is she here today?”

The thing is, despite my history with my given name, I have lately come to appreciate it. Now I (almost) think it’s cool. Sometimes people ask me if it’s a family name or if it originated with a particular ethnic group, and while the answer to both of those questions is “no,” my name does have a story to go along with it.

Chapter 1 — My Mom, you see, is a huge fan of what most of us would all “Old Movies.” She calls them “Classics.” One of her favorites is John Ford’s The Long Gray Line, starring Maureen O’Hara and Tyrone Power, which is based on the life of Martin “Marty” Maher, a tough Irish immigrant who carved out an unlikely career at the U.S. Military Academy.

Chapter 2 — My oldest brother had a very polite and respectful neighborhood friend named Martin, whom both of my parents liked.

Chapter 3 — My older siblings had a nickname with two identical consecutive letters (e.g. “C-H-E-L-L-Y”).

Chapter 4 — My older brothers had given names that ended in “-O-N.”

Chapter 5 — Martin became “M-A-R-R-T-O-N.”

The end.

Except that’s not the end.

Epilogue — My parents agreed on a name for a boy. They did not, however, agree on a name for a girl. My Mom had another favorite movie she hadn’t seen in forever, The Gift of Love, starring Robert Stack and Lauren Bacall. In the film, the character of an orphan, in particular, stood out in her memory: a girl named Mehitabel, aka “Hitty.” I didn’t know my dad as a praying man, but according to family lore, when my mom went into labor, my dad prayed all the way to the hospital and through my delivery that I would be a boy.

I guess, a little perspective is a helpful thing. In fact, by way of owning my story, and finding a more or less useful outlet for my resentment toward those who do orthographic violence to my name (especially those who have unusual spellings themselves), here are my Top 10 “favorite” name-related anecdotes:

10. An elementary school classmate of mine, who likely is now a music critic, turned my name into a music group called “Martley Crew.” I wasn’t allowed to listen to “devil music” back then, so I didn’t get the joke until later.

9. I spent a summer in Hungary after my sophomore year of college, and, to my surprise, I learned that Hungarians spell “Martin” as “M-A-R-T-O-N.”

8. My new friend Lauren, a pastor in Denver, said my name makes it sound like I’m the protagonist of a spy movie.

7. To their credit, some people remember that my name has two identical consecutive letters, but they choose the wrong letter to duplicate. There’s the Dutch way (“M-A-A-R-T-I-N”/”M-A-A-R-T-O-N”),

6. The homage-to-explosives way (“M-A-R-T-T-I-N”/”M-A-R-T-T-O-N”),

5. The cartoon way (“M-A-R-T-O-O-N”), and,

4. The I’m-not-sure-how-the-hell-to-spell-this-but-I’ll-just-tack-on-an-extra-letter-at-the-end way (“M-A-R-T-I-N-N”/”M-A-R-T-O-N-N”), and,

3. The-oh-so-close-but-oh-so-far-California-surfer-jungle way (“M-A-R-R-T-A-N”).

2. I’ve also had a number of exotic non-duplicated-letter spellings:

I’m a serial killer? (“M-A-N-T-O-N”),

I’m a contemplative monk and activist (“M-E-R-T-O-N”),

I don’t like finger holes/I’m from Michigan (“M-I-T-T-E-N”)

1. My all-time favorite places me in the four-legged animal kingdom (M-A-R-T-E-N). I am a weasel-y sort of person, sometimes, so yeah. Thanks, Mom!

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