Friday, December 16, 2005

What's in a Name?

As a child, I always felt my name, Veronica, was too old for me. My family called me by my nickname, Roni, which in my mind was no better. There was a boy who lived down the street named Ronnie Carr. Regardless of the spelling, Roni was a boy's name to me. But my parent's misjudgment went beyond my first name. For some bizarre reason, they thought it was a good idea to give me the middle name, Sue. Let me take a step back.

I am the youngest of seven children. (Five of us were accidents. Oops.) Before I came along, my parents had a three boys and three girls -- how nice. If they had to have a seventh, they would have liked another boy. So with great hope, they chose the name David Joel for their unborn seventh bundle of joy. When I popped out, another girl, they were completely unprepared. So my oldest sister who was 19 years oldat the time named me Veronica Sue. I should add that she also dropped me on my head sixth months later.

My parents were both born in Pennsylvania, well above the Mason-Dixon line. But in black American families like mine who moved north from southern roots, some southern vestiges remain. The nickname "Roni Sue" was one of those vestiges. My parents were kind enough to refrain from calling me by that awful name, as to call me that would amount to child abuse. But I had relatives. Lots of them. My cousin Gerry was my first cousin, but only a few years younger than my mother. She always, always called me Roni Sue. Sometimes she'd make a rhyme. "Roni Sue, how are you?" It was excrutiating to say the least.

As I grew older, I grew into the name Veronica. I learned to love it, in fact. And now that I'm reaching middle age (I'll never admit to having actually reached it), I am coming out of the closet about this Roni Sue thing. By the time I'm 80, I think I'll love being called Roni Sue. At the moment, however, it's sort of a joke name only suitable for blogs and e-mail.

I actually had more profound things to say today (of course) and ended up on this tangent. So I'll go with it.

Last night was my office holiday party. We went to Mary Ann's on the Upper West Side, Broadway and 91st. I don't remember much about the food . . . ahem. But the margaritas were excellent. Mary Ann's is definitely worth a try. We had the obligatory gift exchange, and this is what got me thinking about my name, Roni Sue. I made the mistake of disclosing this little factoid about me to a co-worker with a sense of humor. This certain co-worker was emcee for the gift exchange, so when he pulled my name, he called out for all the world to hear, "Roni Sue! This next gift is for you!" Fortunately, I was drunk so I had a good laugh. But anyway. I digress yet again. I want to talk about this gift exchange phenomenon.

What the flip is up with gift exchanges? Every damn year I hear horror stories about gift exchanges. Personally, I don't care for them at all. I always end up with some crappy gift that I have to throw away or if ridiculous enough, place on my "What Were They Thinking" shelf. Typically, there is an absurd $10 spending limit which guarantees that I'll receive something totally useless. These gift exchanges remind me of some not-so-happy parts of my childhood. Being the youngest of seven, and being the daughter of a low-wage earning father in a single-income family, Christmas was never as jolly as I hoped. My older brothers and sisters always got new toys or clothes. My parents would gift wrap hand-me-down toys and clothes and put them under the tree for me. These office gift exchanges remind me of the disappointments of my childhood Christmases.

Right. Disappointment. Note to self. Find therapist.

My office actually put fun twist on the gift exchange this year, making it more than bearable for me. We drew names and buy a toy or book we think that person would have liked as a child. We opened them at the holiday party last night. Now, we donating the gifts to charity. I'm not sure anyone other than a little girl at the next table who couldn't take her eyes off us (or, rather, our gifts) really cared about the contents of the brightly wrapped packages. The fun was in the buying and in the ripping open. I drew the name of a man who is a community organizer and cares a good deal about equality and fairness in society. (I work at a civil rights law firm. No surprise there.) I bought him my favorite Dr. Suess book, The Sneeches. It's about a society of . . . sneeches, some with stars on their bellies and some with plain bellies. The star-bellied sneeches don't want to associate with the the plain-bellied sneeches, whom they perceive to be a lesser species. You get the picture, right? I received what looked like a little black (African American) troll dressed in couture. It was supposed to be a compliment, I think. Some child who might otherwise get a wrapped hand-me-down will love it. Nice!

My friend Helen, unfortunately, was subjected to the worst sort of gift exchange. The Yankee Swap. I swear, this symbolizes the worst traits of our capitalistic society. Basically, someone gets an oven mit, and someone gets a video iPod. Two years ago when my husband was living in Basel, Switzerland, he was part of a Yankee Swap. He bought Michael Moore's "Dude Where's My Country," a gift he would have really liked to have himself. He went home with a 20-pound bag of rice. True story. To this day, he is emotionally pained when he cooks rice.

The way Yankee Swap works is you buy and wrap a gift for someone whose identity is unknown to you. You bring it to the party, and at the party you take a number. The first person takes any gift from the pile. The person who draws number two can take from the pile or *steal* the first person's gift. And so on and so on. Once your gift is stolen, you can take another gift from the pile or steal from someone else. And so on, and so on. A Yankee Swap ALWAYS results in someone getting screwed and someone getting over.

Now my friend Helen is nobody's fool. Plus, she had just watched the American version of the TV show The Office where the oven mit/video iPod example originated. (I prefer the UK version of the show, but the American version has grown on me.) In Helen's office, there were 16 numbers. Helen drew 15. She was actually able to calculate in her head what would have to happen in order for her to go home with what was tantamount to the video iPod. And she did. And, of course, for all yin there is yang. The oven mit person was very upset, disappointed, and hurt by the person who took the gift they wanted.

Here's hoping that if you get the oven mit, it's the gift you really want. And most importantly, let's not forget the people who don't even get an oven mit. Give generously to your favorite charity.

At the end of my office party, we gave a gift to the little girl at the next table. We also gave one to her little brother. The rest of the toys and books will put smiles on the faces of three dozen children in Haiti.


Anonymous said...

Hi! My name is Veronica and my mother named me after Muhammad Ali's wife (spelling?). I've always loved my name and when other's have it I get jealous. My nickname was Ronnie Rew. I love my name so much I have it on a necklace that I wear everyday.

Anonymous said...

:) I googled my name.. "Roni Sue", and came across your blog. I found myself laughing, and just had to let you know that I enjoyed it :)