Friday, February 1, 2013


My simple five letter name, M-A-R-L-A, was never misspoken or misspelled during the first 17½ years of my life. That's what it's like growing up in a tiny farming community.  If people didn't know me, they knew Dad because he ran the feed store. The elementary and high school, I attended, educated the kids from eight small towns. Pretty much the same kids attended school with me all the way from kindergarten through graduation. Our grade usually numbered somewhere around thirty students, give or take a few. My classmates knew me well enough that whenever scissors were passed out, I was given a pair of left handed scissors. I would then have to go to the front and exchange the lefties for a pair of right handed scissors because, although I'm a lefty, I use my right hand for scissor cutting. That was the closest I came to having an identity crisis as a child.

I had a second tiny crisis as I approached the age of twelve.  The family who owned and ran the movie theater knew about how old I was because their grandson/son was a grade ahead of me.  I was tall for my age so as I got close to eleven, the person selling tickets began to ask me if I was twelve yet. It was with relief that I turned twelve and purchased an adult ticket for 75¢ instead of a child's ticket for 25¢.  This little bump in the road was more irritant than crisis.

Besides the increase in cost of a movie ticket, turning twelve meant that I would soon be a lowly 7th grader trudging the halls of the high school along side the mighty seniors.  Each year there would be a few new teachers move in to fill the vacancies of those who moved on or retired, but still my name was always correctly spelled and spoken year after year.

Each fall I watched as the halls of the high school were graced by the presence of the quintessential slick salesman who came selling class rings to the junior class and graduation announcements, name cards, caps and gowns, etc to the senior class. A Hollywood casting director couldn't have cast anyone better to play the part.  After watching this man's performance from afar, it was at last my turn, as a junior, to purchase my class ring. That purchase was but a preparation for all the purchases required my senior year. Our senior class orders were placed and we waited for the goods to be delivered.

At last all the paraphernalia was personally delivered to the school via Mr. Salesman.  We were told to look things over and make sure that everything looked right.  If there was a problem, we were to meet with Mr. Salesman in the tiny bookstore.  My graduation announcements looked great as did the other stuff: except, when I checked my name card there it was, "M-A-R-I-A".  For the first time in my life someone had misspelled my name.  Oh joy, I was going to have to have a one on one with Mr. Salesman.  I approached him and explained that my name cards said Maria instead of Marla.  Rather than saying he was sorry for the error and they would correct the mistake, he began to sing, "Maria, I just met a girl named Maria*" from West Side Story**.  Now, thanks to Mr. Salesman, all these many years later, whenever I hear that beautiful song, I find myself seated next to Mr. Salesman in the small bookstore being sung to and yes, I still cringe.

So when you are involved in Family History or life in general:
1. Double check the name.  There may be only a one letter difference between MARLA and MARIA, but the differences are huge.  If your doing family history, misreading one letter can lead you barking down the wrong family tree.

2. In everyday life, people appreciate it if you get their names it's always courteous to double check a name.  Does the last name end in sen or son? Is that the letter "l" or an "i?" And on it goes.

3. If the inevitable happens and you do misspell someones name, no matter what the circumstances or how good  a singer you think you may be; do not, under any circumstance, serenade them. You are already on shaky ground and you might just ruin a beautiful song for them for the rest of their life.

*Song Maria Music by Leonard Bernstein, Lyrics by Stephen Soundheim published in 1956
** Westside Story was a Broadway Play and Movie.  The play was first produced in 1957 Music by Leonard Bernstein, Lyrics by Stephen Soundheim.  The movie was a 1961 adaptation of the musical directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Roberts released through United Artists.

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