Thursday, May 06, 1999

by no other name

It happened again the other day. I got a letter addressed to David Learned.

It was a letter from some company I had never heard of, even though they claimed to value my years as a customer. Some noodlehead somewhere in the corporate world typed my name into a database somewhere, and -- bless the noodlehead's heart -- typed it in wrong.

Maybe the noodlehead thought he was doing me a favor by "fixing" my name (a problem my brother Brian regularly has had with both his first and last names), or maybe the noodlehead simply knows someone named Learned, and unintentionally transposed the name onto mine. Worse gaffes than that happened at Ellis Island, I'm told.

I try to take these things philosophically. Learned is a common name, and the Learneds probably are related to the Learns somewhere back there.

Learned is one of the milder screw-ups I've seen of my name. In my time, I've seen my last name spelled Lern, Lear, Lean, Loorn, Leorn and once, even Warren. It does make it easier to tell which companies sell my name to mailing lists, but still ...

My name has been David Learn since 1970. It might not be much of a name, but it's mine. It's one of the few things I was born with, and it's one of the few things I'll have my whole life and take to the grave with me.

It's frustrating to see someone get your name wrong, and even after 28 years, it can still get my goat.

I could understand the confusion if my name were a fairly difficult one like "Beowulf Rosencrantz-Oppenheimer III," but how much simpler does a last name get than Learn? That was one of my spelling words in third grade.

Because I sometimes have to spell my name 50 times in one week, I try to make it as simple as possible. "It's David Learn," I say when people ask me my name. "L-E-A-R-N, like in school." Most people appreciate the extra effort, but I was tempted to give it up one day when someone returned my call and asked for "David School."

Beowulf Rosencrantz-Oppenheimer III looks better all the time.

At least I know I'm not alone in this mess. Everyone I know has some horror story about a named that was misspelled or mispronounced once, and how it irked them no end.

My wife's maiden name is Hanson. Back before we started dating, she told me people sometimes asked her if she was related to Jim Henson, the man who brought us Cookie Monster, Count von Count and the other Muppets.

I told her the proper response was to start crying and explain that her father had died a few years ago, and that, despite a will clearly stating the family business was to be split, her brother Brian had taken control of the entire Muppet empire and left her penniless.

While the Hanson-Henson issue no longer applies, Natasha still has name issues to contend with. People regularly misspell her name, and now she's fighting the never-ending battle to get her new surname spelled correctly.

"Learn!" she fairly shouts sometimes. "Like the verb."

It's just a matter of time until someone sends her a letter addressed to Natasha Henson Verb.

Copyright © 1999 by David Learn. Used with permission.

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