Monday, November 2, 2009

Song of Joan

My parents have a story they love to tell involving the day I was born. I am the third of five children, the first of us four being girls, then the glorious, highly-coveted boy finally came along for the grand finale. My father made no secret of the fact that he wanted a boy. Ironically, he was also the only boy amongst four girls in HIS family, and he took very seriously his role in carrying-on the Donnelly name. So you can imagine my father's supreme disappointment when my mother provided him with one, then two girls. They were convinced, however, that I would certainly be the "third times a charm" baby, finally arriving as the male heir. The year was 1964, way before both sonograms and fathers in delivery rooms, so my Dad was sitting hopefully in the waiting area when the doctor appeared with the "gender news." Here's the part of the story that my parents love: Apparently when the doctor informed him that it was, indeed, another girl, the look on my father's face portrayed such horror and disappointment that the medical professional made the following offer: "Well, I could put her BACK, if you'd like." Hysterical, isn't it? I can't tell you how many times my parents would regale me with that story involving the dissatisfaction of my arrival which was so great, an offer was made to get rid of me. They'd laugh and laugh, wiping the tears from their eyes, mimicking "I can put her BACK!" over and over again until their sides ached and they just couldn't take it anymore. Good times.

They named me Joan, they told me, after a nun in our extended family. I've always wondered, though, if Dad was just covering his bases. His name is John (even though everybody calls him Jack, just like the Kennedys), and his plan once his beloved son was born was to name him John (or Jack), Jr. I personally think Dad was getting a little nervous around that time that a boy might not happen, so they named ME the closest they could get-- Joan. When we were kids, I distinctly remember going to a card store and seeing a display showing several names, followed by a short description of each one's meaning. For instance, the name Heather meant "pure," Shirley meant "lover of soap," or something like that. Guess what the description under MY name read? "Female version of John." Hmm. I was onto them. Well, as luck would have it, my father DID get his precious son (we called him "Little Jack" until he was well into his twenties, poor kid!), so the pressure was off. He was so adorable that we girls loved him completely, despite the fact that he was obviously Dad's favorite.

Don't get me wrong, Joan is a delightful title. I share it with some lovely celebrities: Rivers, Crawford and Jett, to name a few. But I've always mourned a little over the fact that my name is so plain. One syllable. That's it. There's not even a way to twist it into another version, like you can with Margaret/Maggie, Rebecca/Becky, or Abigail/Abbey/Gail. And don't even get me started with the name Elizabeth. Talk about options: Beth/Lisa/Eliza/Liz/Lizzie, the list goes on and on!! But Joan was Joan, that was pretty much it. "It's so unpoetic," I'd lament.

Then one day very early in my freshman year of college, a few of my classmates and I were sitting outside of the dance studio waiting for our instructor to arrive when we got into a discussion about our names. I told the group about my unmusical, plain name and how "nobody's ever written a song about Joan, it only rhymes with bone and phone." As we continued our conversation, I didn't notice that one of the guys in our group had pulled out a pad and pencil and had begun scribbling furiously. Soon, our dance teacher arrived and we all piled into the studio. On the way in, that same boy ripped the paper from his pad and handed it to me. There, with complete accompaniment, was written a full eight-bar song. The title? "Song for Joan (Of Which She Thinks None Has Been Written)." Can you imagine? Seriously, can you? I squealed with amazement and delight and thanked him profusely. He shrugged and continued into class. I took the paper home at Christmas break and Kathy played it on the piano for me. I still remember every word, here's how it went:

"Joan, my own,
I call you on the phone.
Joan, I moan, and groan, and moan, and groan.
When I look in your eyes
I'm in the Twilight Zone.
Joan, Joan, Joan."

I have really, really awesome friends, don't I? That boy's name was Wayne Barker, and because we'd only know each other a few weeks, I had no idea that he was a musical genius with a fantastic sense of humor. He became a terrific friend. I still have that piece of original composition paper with "Song for Joan" on it, I bet it's worth MILLIONS today!

But all awesome song lyrics aside, I wish my parents had chosen my middle name to be my first--Bernadette. Talk about musical! Mom said she had been reading-up on St. Bernadette when she was pregnant with me, and thought the name would be nice, but worried people would call me "Bernie," so she decided against it. Sooooooo???
I can think of a LOT of really COOL Bernies (KOSAR, for one!). Bernadette. Three whole syllables, can you imagine? Plus the story of Bernadette of Lourdes was so mysterious and romantic. Have you heard it? Bernadette was the poor, sickly farm girl who lived in 1850's France. She's famous (and a saint) because apparently she saw a vision, whom she called "The Lady," in a cave near her home. (The Catholics immediately assumed the appearing vision was that of The Virgin Mary). "The Lady" instructed Bernadette to dig a hole from which water eventually sprang, and the legend goes that millions were healed by the cleansing waters of that same spring. When I was still very young (and also still Catholic), I saw the movie "The Song of Bernadette" on TV starring the beautiful Jennifer Jones. Jennifer, as Bernadette, represented everything I wanted to be at that age: beautiful, soft-spoken, and capable of performing miracles. I watched it with a bit of ownership, feeling this movie was much more directly special for me than my sisters. I bore the name on the title, after all, even if it WAS only my middle name. (Seriously, nobody called HER "Saint Bernie," did they now?)

That being said, I'll never understand people with long, flowing names who shorten them. My sisters are a perfect example. My oldest sister's full first name is Kathleen, yet she always begins her phone messages to me the following way, "Hi Joan, It's Kath." My younger sister, Jennifer, goes by "Jen." I'm miffed. "Why would you willfully shorten your name?" I asked. "It's quicker to say," they answer with a shrug. My cousin's name is Diana, and she says it drives her crazy when everyone always calls her Diane, leaving off the "a" on the end. She said she's convinced it's because people are lazy and can't manage the effort it takes to speak all three syllables of her name. Wow, America, has it really come to this? Have we honestly become so lethargic that it's too much effort to pronounce an additional "a?" Say it ain't so!

I've actually found evidence to the contrary. Because even though I whine about the shortness and lack of musicality regarding my name, I still get a little peeved when someone gets it wrong. Here's an example:

I eat at Panera Bread Restaurant all the time. It's a wonderful, fast, healthy alternative to what I really want, which is a Big Mac. Anyway, when you place your order at Panera, they immediately ask you for your name, so that they can announce it over the intercom when your meal is ready. Because I know what will inevitably happen, I always respond exactly this way: "Joan. J-O-A-N. Joan." I watch them type-in the four letters. Then I wait for the inevitable announcement: "JOANNE, your order is ready." EVERY time!!! Now, Joanne is a lovely name. I have a dear friend named Joanne whom I love very much. But it's NOT MY NAME!! You may as well call-out "MARY," or "WANDA," these are also NOT my name! When I try to cheerfully correct them, "Actually, it's Joan." I always get this response: "Oh...Whatever." GEEEEEZ!

Here's the weird part, I'm pretty sure people have been calling me Joanne for my entire forty-five years, but it's only been recently that I started noticing it. Now that I've brought it to my own attention, the mispronunciation drives me CRAZY! Has that ever happened to you? Suddenly, once you're aware of a minor annoyance, it takes on a whole new, enormous, intolerable shape of it's own and you can't stand the thought of it one second more? Is it just me?

Doctor's offices are by far the very worst. A few years back, when we were trying unsuccessfully to diagnose my lymphoma, I was forced to see a different specialist at least once a week. This went on for several months, and I saw a LOT of doctors. Here's what happened in EVERY SINGLE one of their offices: Alan and I would be sitting in the crowded waiting room when the nurse would walk out holding my chart. She'd glance down and silently read my name, typed-out in plain, large, black letters. She'd raise her head and open her mouth to speak. "Don't say Joanne, Don't say Joanne," I'd internally chant, focusing all my energy at her tiny, tiny brain.

"JOANNE?" Sigh.
"It's Joan."

I really hate doctor's offices!!

So, I guess the moral of my long, narcissistic rant today is this: Embrace your name! Whether it's short and unmusical or twelve syllables long and the subject of several love songs, it's YOURS!!! Cherish it, own it, and most importantly, tirelessly correct all of those idiots out there until they get it RIGHT, for crying out loud!!

Thanks for reading!!!


CentFla said...

Funny thing is that I can not imagine you being anything BUT Joan now! Want me to call you Candy or something?

Just that girl said...

Family stories are so strange - I always thought that "put her back" story happened at Jennifer's birth! I came close once to changing my "call" name to Kathleen instead of Kathy, but it just feels like it fits me now. I'll stick with it. :) What would you have named your girls if you had had four like mom????

Laura S. said...

You know, I thought the "put her back story" was about Jennifer too. But I wouldn't put it past that hilarious doc to have done it twice, right? I've always liked my name, but for the opposite reason -- I love that you can't change "Laura." Although "Laurie" threatened for a short time. If I ever had a daughter I wanted to name her Clara -- after the (as we would say back then) cripple girl in Heidi. She was pretty!

Anything Fits A Naked Man said...

Actually, it's more likely that our parents couldn't remember WHICH one of us the comment was about, so they attached it to both! Ah, memories.

SheilaClark said...

If it makes you feel any betterJoan, I always fondly referred to you as Saint Joan in High school because you were so sweet, pretty, talented, and well.....stinking perfect. I just never said to your face!lol

Laura S. said...

True story. Today I received an e-mail at work from someone named (and spelled) JoeAnn.

Erin said...

HA! Okay Joan, I have wanted to blog for days with no inspiration and you have given it to me! I have many stories about my name and have always hated it. Alright - gotta get to writing! :) (sorry I'm copying your subject!)

Jen Taft said...

I think the story tended to go back and forth between Joan and I. By the way, Mary Foley started calling me Jen in about 2nd grade. It made me feel special as an affectionate nickname that she chose for me. I guess that's why I liked it. When I was about 10 years old you couldn't swing a dead cat without swatting at least 3 other Jennifers, so I liked the individuality. Remember my Freshmen year on Drill Team? Three Donnellys and two Jennifers. Talk about an identity crisis! I really felt ripped off when JLo, Anniston, Love-Hewitt and Garner all started to be referred to as Jen. It was mine way before theirs.

Anonymous said...

Shasta (a real favorite)
Tracy (WTF?)

Great googley-moogley. Why won't the damn doctors office folks just ASK how it's pronounced?!

At Pinera Bread? I just tell 'em my name is Joan.


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