Every year, I study my new class rosters and practice saying the names aloud so I don’t sound like a total dork on the first day.
One year, I was feeling pretty good until I came to one particular name.
I didn’t know what to do with it.
I mean, I wasn’t sure how to pronounce it. I tried a lot of different combinations.
Tee-ah? Tee-ay? Tah? Tay?
I had no idea. I figured the best thing to do would be to just admit defeat and ask the student to pronounce his or her name in class.
The first day of class came.
New students filed in and gravitated to the seats they liked the best. Some near the front, others farther back.
I introduced myself and began taking attendance, reading down the list, changing “James” to “Jim” and “Richard” to “Rick.” I even had the foresight to ask the student whose last name was Montague what he liked to be called. A good-looking chap in a baseball cap smiled at me and said, “Adam.” His name had appeared as “Bartholomew” on the roster. I didn’t want to embarrass him because his parents had made a bad choice 19 years earlier. Turns out, he went by his middle name.
Finally, I hit the dreaded name.
“Okay,” I said, “I am not sure how to properly pronounce this name, so I’m wondering if there is a person with the last name of Dinkens here today.”
The room was silent.
“Nobody here with the last name of Dinkens?” I repeated.
Someone clucked her tongue. “That’s me,” said a girl with her chin tilted up at a hard angle.
“I wasn’t sure how to pronounce your name, so I thought you could help me out,” I said.
“Why don’tchu try it?” L’il Miss Attitude asked, crossing her arms across her black and white striped tee shirt.
“Okay,” I said, “Is it Tee-ah?”
The girl made a sound like she had been annoyed with me since the moment I was born.
“Lord,” she said, “Don’t you know the dash ain’t silent? It’s TaDASHa.”
Silence swirled around me noisily. It was the first day of class. I had to set the tone, properly. I wasn’t mad at this girl, but I could not allow her to disrespect me, not right out of the gate. Seventeen billion thoughts on how to handle the situation occurred to me simultaneously ranging in severity.
While I was leaning toward a good old-fashioned paddling, I chose a stern voice.
“Are you a first year student here, Tadasha?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Tadasha said, chewing on her thumbnail.
“And is this your very first class on campus today?”
“And do you have a full-time schedule?”
“And how many other classes do you have today?”
“Three,” Tadasha snipped.
“And you are telling me no one has ever mispronounced or struggled with the pronunciation of your name in your entire life?”
“Bitch, where I live people know me.”
I thought my head was going to blow off my shoulders. Did I hear wrong or did a student in my classroom just call me a bitch? I felt like I was on some kind of bad reality TV show, you know the type where someone eventually jumps out as things escalate and tells the unsuspecting victim that he’s been punked? Except the clock kept ticking and no one seemed to be coming to my rescue, and I didn’t see any cameras. I had to do something.
Everyone was staring at me.
“Okay Tadasha,” I started, while moving to sit on top of my large iron desk. “Here are a few things for you to consider as you move through the rest of your day. First, I predict that this exact interaction is going to happen to you three more times today. And when you address the person who mispronounces your name — because it will be mispronounced — it would be wise for you to not address that person with profanity.” I looked my student in the eye: “Calling someone a ‘bitch’ is rarely the appropriate way to address another person whether in a classroom on a college campus or in life.”
Tadasha was silent.
Everyone turned to look at her.
Suddenly I realized I was playing a weird verbal tennis match, and I had obviously smacked the ball over to her side of the net.
Everyone was waiting to see if she was going to make a mad dash to return it.
She didn’t, so I kept going.
Full. Court. Press.
“Also, just so you know, you have an unusual name. The hyphen — or dash — as you called it, is generally silent. We don’t usually pronounce it. People may know you in the part of the world where you have lived for the last 18 or so years, but no one knows you on this campus, so if you want to have positive interactions today I recommend that you be kind. Try to have a sense of humor. No one wants to hurt you. On the first day, your teachers are just trying to figure out who is who. That’s all I was trying to do.”
Tadasha was glaring at me.
“Last, we have not started off well today, so I would suggest that you head down to the Registrar right now and get yourself enrolled in another section of Comp-101.”
Tadasha gathered her purse and her books and walked out of the class with her head held high.
She never came back, and I never saw her again.
I often wonder if Tadasha made it through the day. The week. The semester. If she graduated at all. I wonder about her hard edges. About how she had made it so far yet knew so little about how to interact with other people. Was she just scared? Did I blow it? Did I do her a favor? Or did I ruin her?
Who do you wonder about from your past? What do you imagine that person is doing now?
*names have been changed for obvious reasons