14 Things Only a Person With a Tough Name Would Understand

1. I grew up with a tough name. Siobhan Adcock. Look at it. There’s almost no part of that name that’s not sort-of a pain in the ass.

2. People don’t tend to remember it, and when they do, they can’t pronounce it. Siobhan is an Irish name — it means Jane, or Joan, or Joanne, or if you’re feeling like a sparkly unicorn fairy, “sea foam blowing off the waves.” My father told me (incorrectly as it turns out) that it means “Queen of the Emerald Isles.” He and my mother had heard of it by way of Siobhan McKenna, the famous Irish stage actress who was in Dr. Zhivago. (But not the famously beautiful actress who was in Dr. Zhivago. And also not the second-most beautiful actress in Dr. Zhivago. The other one.)

3. My father’s name, by the way, was Dick. They don’t really name kids that anymore. Especially with a last name like Adcock. Dick Adcock, Jr. Because his father’s name was also Richard. So when my dad was growing up, there was Big Dick Adcock and Little Dick Adcock. No one, apparently, in the early 1950s, thought that was a problem.

4. When I was a kid there was this, um, spread? Like an oleo type of thing? , as in light and silky. Chiffon had probably one of the catchier two-word jingles of the ‘70s and early ’80s: “It’s…Chiffon!” Every time I got on the school bus, I had to be announced. By everyone. Often in five-point harmony. “It’s…Sio-ffan!”

5. Since my last name starts with an A, every year on the first day of school, I was inevitably the first name on the roll to be called. The fresh shiny new roll. Oh, my teachers. I pitied them. Here it was, the beginning of a new school year, the school year they wouldn’t fuck up or make embarrassing mistakes on the first day, and you could just see their fresh, young, expectant faces crumple and fall when they realized they weren’t even going to be able to get past the first name on the roll call without asking for help.

I’d usually let them suffer in silence for a second or two, squinting and frowning down at the list of names, and then mutter, “Here. I’m here. It’s me. Siobhan.”

Ultimately you have to make it easy on people.

6. When I go to a restaurant and leave my name for a table, I tell them I’m Suzanne. Or Sabrina. Or Soybean. All actual pronunciation attempts I have heard.

7. You can imagine what I tell baristas.

8. I long ago arrived at a formula for how to respond when I’m asked to spell my name, for a form or an order or any baffled clipboard holder:

“S-i-o. (Pause here.) B as in Boy. (Another pause.) h-a-n. Last name: A-d-c (Emphasize the c. Then a long, long pause here, almost long enough to make them think you’re done, before the finale.) o-c-k.”

About fifty percent of the time, I get: “A-d what?”



9. And then I went into digital publishing, primarily at women’s websites, and as such, I’ve had a lot of awesome email addresses:




All the places a cock could ostensibly be sad, I have worked at.

10. I imagine other people with “cock” in their last names also have this problem, but I’ve discovered that I actually can’t register for a new email address with my real name anymore, because it sets off a spam filter, and I’m asked to “choose another name.” (You choose another name, Yahoo!)

11. My sister, Gillian Adcock, has for many years been a teacher in hospital schools for teenagers whose zoned public schools are out of the question for them for a variety of really terrible, sad, personal reasons: behavioral problems, home environment problems, learning disabilities, flat-out poverty and often uniquely shitty combinations of all these things.

Anyway, as a teacher at this school she kept her last name a secret — she had to. For all these loveable fuckup teenagers, she was only ever “Miss A” for years, until she got married and then became Mrs. Fletcher. I mean, can you imagine? What a roomful of teenagers would do with something like “Miss Adcock”?

Actually, maybe she should have let them have at it. I don’t think they have much joy in that place.

12. When I got married, I had the opportunity, at last, to change my last name. I went to the marriage license place in downtown Brooklyn with my soon-to-be husband, whose last name is innocuous and contains no filthy words. I probably could have changed my first name too while I was at it, nobody in that office seems like they’re paying a whole lot of attention. But I didn’t. Looking down at the form I understood that I didn’t want to. My father died when I was in college, and we’re not in great touch with what’s left of his side of the family, and I didn’t want the Adcocks, our Adcocks, the Adcocks with the balls to name their children ridiculous things like “Dick” — twice — and then later “Siobhan” — to perish from this Earth. I kept my name.

I am also lazy and didn’t want to deal with a lot of paperwork.

Adcock it is, then. Forever.

13. I always thought that when I finally had a kid I’d name her Jane, or Kate, or Mary. But I didn’t. We gave out daughter a name that combined our grandmothers’ names. It’s phonetic, at least, but it’s not super-recognizable or common. You don’t actually want a common name, I’ve found. After 40-plus years as Siobhan Adcock (God, when you say it out loud, there’s even the suggestion of “nads” in there — it really might be the second filthiest name ever, after Big Dick Adcock), I now know that an uncommon name gives you something to live up to, and that’s both a challenge and a stroke of luck. So we gave her a name that people will ask her annoying questions about all her life.

14. When I was in college, I worked at the library. And one day, this guy came in. And he checked out some books. And when he left, I kept the screen open on his record and just stared at it for a while, feeling like some previously unknown, oddly comforting corner of the universe had arrived before me, and called out its name:

Anil Dikshit.

(Graphic: Helen Jane Hearn/TueNight.com)

Tell Us in the Comments

What do you think?

9 Responses

  1. Monica Dennis
    Monica Dennis (@jigsawverbiage)

    🙂 I read your story first because I watch Orphan Black, but season two was the first time I ever saw the character Siobhan’s name spelled out. Pretty sure it’s spelled just like yours. It always sounded like Shavon to me. I loved seeing it for the first time. I think it’s a really pretty name.

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  3. Gillian Molesworth

    When I was walking across the playground, they sang Gilligan’s Island. No one else was named Gillian in Colorado. Well, there was this one girl, but she pronounced it with a hard G. That’s the worst part – we Gillians can’t even club together, because half of us are soft Gs and half hard. It’s a great shame when you’re pitted against your own kind in the weird name world.

  4. chandrakant

    In Maharashtra (= my State in India), calling a female child by nickname ‘Baby’ was a common practice, some years ago. However, the nickname adhered to that girl even when she grew up.
    No wonder, I do have a ‘Baby Aaji’ (= Baby Grandmother) who is around 85 years old!

  5. djsg

    LOVE THIS. Just wrote a piece about how I both ditched and kept my unusual last name too. Though you’ve got me hands-down on potential for teasing and weird word assns. Most of the comments about my name were in the ignorant vein. http://www.refinery29.com/changing-your-name-after-marriage

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  7. Charity

    ” (But not the famously beautiful actress who was in Dr. Zhivago. And also not the second-most beautiful actress in Dr. Zhivago. The other one.)”

    Nearly spit out my coffee laughing. What a great read to start the day. And I’m not just saying that because my name is Charity Curley.

  8. Siobhan salzman

    OH I feel your pain!!! Growing up,in a world filled with Jessica’s, Megan’s, and Christine’s, and always being called by my last name! I dreaded roll call, but at least my last name was Dillon growing up, but hated being miss Dillon! And I too would. Remain quiet waiting to see if they could pronounce my name. It was torture, soybean, chevron, and that kw for bringing back the lovely- it’s not butter it’s chiffon– I thought that was gone from. My memory! Now I sometimes on’t bother to correct anyone– Cheryl? Sure, Yvonne, yup? bob, why not it’s easy to spell!

    Growing up I hated my name, once I hit high school it became cool to have a different name, college it was down right awesome. It’s always a great conversation starter, and I love the astonished look on peoples faces when they see it spelled for the first time and the forget how to pronounce it– sha- Vaughn is the easiest way to get it across!

    I had a big irish family, and I am the only one with a Gaelic name, I was named after my grandmother, who was ” right off the boat” from Ireland Johanna ( Josephine)! Now I love having a different name and wouldn’t change it for anything!!

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