Written October 10, 2010
Be brave little bunnies and do not recoil from the words you are about to read. For this is a tale of brutal honesty told in love and friendship.
I was born Carolina Luevanos. Nothing more, nothing less. But as luck would have it, I was named after my father’s older sister who died as a child. I don’t know much more than that about her. I do know that being the first born myself that perhaps my name was meant to impose upon me, unwittingly of course, a certain level of expectation and even obligation.
Forget that my parents are the epitome of work ethic and that my mom is the poster child for Si Se Puede for girls and honestly believes that boys are meant to be coddled… That’s ok, because it just made me work harder to beat the boys at their own game. But as usual, I digress.
So I was named Carolina.
Now here is the part where all my friends from high school have to gird their loins. (Look it up Cary. It doesn’t mean what you and Tim will say it means.)
As soon as I entered school I lost my name. I became Carol. HATED IT! Remember what was happening in the media at that time? Let me remind you. Carol Merrill was showcasing and pointing gracefully to what was behind door number 2 on the television show, Let’s Make a Deal (1963-1977). Now as far as names go, WHAT WERE HER PARENTS THINKING?
In 1967 Carol Burnett started her own show after have guest spots with a number of notable comedians; Buddy Hackett, Bob Newhart, Neil Simon, Woody Allen, Jack Parr. Burnett’s show was and to this day remains one of the funniest shows on television. But she was a clown who would go to any length to get a laugh. A child of alcoholics, it was likely her ability to look at things a little cockeyed that pulled her through.
So can you imagine what life was like for me in our little no stop light town? I was really skinny and had knobby knees. But I was smart and could make people laugh. Ok, maybe I wasn’t actually funny, but I had quick come backs to the words people threw at me. I guess in looking back, I had to be quick with the words because I wasn’t a good fighter and I usually couldn’t outrun kids. One day I will tell you about Tim McBride and the cricket.
So eventually I ended up in high school and my name issues continued. You see, no matter how much I insisted, my teachers would not call me Carolina (Spanish pronunciation: [kah-ro-lee-nah].
Now here is the excuse I have been offered all of my life as to why someone wont pronounce my name properly. “My tongue can’t roll Rs.” For those who have used this excuse, please know that if you have ever fed me, even a handful of sun flower seeds, you are forgiven.
But seriously, people still tell me this to this day. What is hilarious about this is that you don’t need to roll your Rs to say my name properly.
I even recall one teacher tell me, “In this classroom you are Carol. You may call yourself whatever you like at home.”
So when I went off to college it was my opportunity at redefining myself. Wait. I knew who I was. It was my opportunity to define who I would be to others. I changed my name. I figured that I could force people to stop calling me South Carolina (pronounced with a twang), or Carol. I believed that if I removed the association from the shows (time had done that) and or removed the temptation for people to shorten my name by shortening it myself, that they would say my name correctly. It worked.
All my college friends learned to call me Caro. I taught them as best I could to pronounce it correctly.
When I started working for the State after college I had to go back to my full professional name and the battle started anew. So many of you who are my work friends will recall my method. When introduced to a new person in my life who said, “my tongue wont work that way” I would stubbornly teach them. I would say, “Oh sure you can. Can you say AVOCADO?”
Invariably, they could. I would then say, “Take off the AVO. Say CADO.” They would and like a good shampoo bottle directs, I would remind them to Rinse and Repeat. Cado. Cado. Then I would say, “add Leena.” And they would. To a person, each one who learned my name in this manner would for weeks later call me Avocadolina. Yeah well, its better than Carol.
I never really got upset or angry with people for mispronouncing my name. Except on two very impactful occasions. I already told you about one of my high school teachers. The other was purportedly a very powerful and important man.
As a volunteer for a professional organization I was asked to take tickets at the door for a dinner fund raiser. For some reason, at that time department dignitaries were given complimentary tickets. One such person, N. A. Chaderjian, Secretary in the Youth and Adult Correctional Agency and Chair of the Board of Prisons, appeared in line. He was very, very tall and had some weight on him. He was an imposing man. He asked me my name and I said Carolina. He said, “When you are in Mexico you can pronounce it that way. Here you are Carolina [kar-uh-lahy-nuh].”
I stepped out of his way and he went in to enjoy his free meal from the Mexican American Correctional Association. He died In 1988 of a heart attack on a flight back from San Diego at the age of 60. Soon after a correctional facility in Stockton was named after him.
Children work hard to understand who they are. We should work as hard. Names matter and words hurt as much as sticks and stones.
So all this to say that my name is Carolina and if you are my good friend, you may call me Caro (or Carbuki). But that’s another story.
Thanks for being my friends.