Barry Smith: We feel your pain, Berry
August 21, 2002
At one point during our phone conversation, my friend Carrie said: “I really hate it when people spell my name with a ‘K’.”
Now, I like to think that I’m skilled in the art of conversation. I’m an active listener, I don’t interrupt, I am genuinely interested in what the other person is saying and am able to ask engaging, well-phrased questions. While on the phone I make the conversation my top priority and am careful not to engage in “busy work.” This opens the door for real connectedness and intellectual exchange.
“I really hate it when people spell my name with a ‘K’.”
My reply to Carrie: “Oh, BOO HOO!”
OK, so my criteria for intellectual exchange may be different from yours.
Why the reactionary bitterness? Why the snippy condescension? Why the unwarranted anger? Why not have a seat – I’m about to explain.
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A few weeks back I ordered an instruction manual from a company in Wyoming. It took several calls to get clear on what I was looking for, and each time I spoke with Mary. We had some pleasant chats (see phone conversation skills, above) and eventually she was able to find what I needed. Mary took down my name and address and within a few days my package arrived.
It was addressed to: Berry Smith.
Berry? Berry!? BERRY!!!
Hey, Barry is hardly the most exotic or interesting first name that one could have. In fact, it borders on the generic. So how is it that I could say my name is “Barry” and someone would think “Berry?”
I’m back in kindergarten now, because that is where my trauma began. Valentine’s Day, 1971. I like to think of it as the St. Valentine’s Day Misspelling Massacre. Everyone has little bags taped to the front of their little desks, and all the kiddies drop their generic Valentine’s cards in them. Remember those days? Everyone gets a card, which is no big deal because you could buy a pack of 30 for about two dollars.
I brought home my booty, dumped it on the floor and there, to my horror, were lots and lots of cards addressed to – and I know you can see this one coming – “Berry.” Even at age five I knew to allow for the mistakes of my pre-literate classmates, but many of these had clearly been written by parents. AND there had been a list of names sent home the week before in preparation for this glorious exchange of bulk sentiment. These parents read “Barry,” yet wrote “Berry!” Huh?
I’m in high school now, junior year. It’s my birthday and my friend Vivian got me one of those giant birthday cookies. I would have been touched, except that on top of the cookie, spelled out in artificially colored, red icing was – no surprises here – “Happy Birthday Berry!”
I’d been friends with this girl for two years. She was part of that little group that I stood around with between classes. Other members of said group saw the cookie before I did. Didn’t anyone notice that the name on it wasn’t actually mine? Clearly there were no Future Proofreaders of America members in my little clique.
Or, and this is where it started to sink in, they actually thought my name was “Berry.” Like my real name was Strawberry and Berry was just a nickname.
I’m taking my car in for new tires. The guy with the order form asks for my name and then writes “Berry” on the form. I have learned by now to watch for these things. I correct him.
“That’s ‘Barry,’ with an ‘a’,” I tell him, tapping forcefully on his work order, thirty years of frustration evident in my voice. He gives me a blank look and writes an “a” over the offending “e.” An hour later he calls out: “Berry, your car’s all done.” I know he said “Berry,” I know he did. And he did it on purpose.
I’m explaining all this to Carrie on the phone, you see.
“Carrie, Karri, ‘C,’ ‘K,’ whatever. It doesn’t exactly change the connotation now does it? It isn’t like one spelling is that of a person named Carrie and the other is of, I don’t know, an embarrassing skin condition, now is it?”
Carrie doesn’t reply. Which is fine. I’m not actually done yet.
“But from ‘Barry’ to ‘Berry’ is a world of difference. See my point? I’m conversing with people and every time they say my name they are thinking straw, blue, boisen or, in rare instances, dingle. Why would anyone who isn’t a porn star have a first name of ‘Berry?’ Oh, sure, for a while I pretended that they DID think I was a porn star, for all the obvious reasons, but eventually came to grips with the fact that they are thinking ‘tiny fruit.’ I introduce myself as ‘Barry’ and they think ‘tiny fruit.’ Even today I still get birthday cards from people … friends … ADULTS! … that are addressed to ‘Berry.’ I am not a tiny fruit! What do I have to do to convince the world that I am not a tiny fruit?!”
“Hello! Carrie with a ‘C’!” I yell into the phone. “I said, what do I have to do to convince the world that I am not a tiny fruit?”
“I’m thinking,” Carrie eventually says. “I may have to get back to you on that one.”
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