A Joe By Any Other Name …


I Googled "Joe." She's actually an actress from "GI Joe," but OK ....

GI Joe. Cup of Joe. Joe Cool. Joe Schmoe. Joe Biden (or Lieberman). Mickey Rooney (Yes, his real name was “Joe,” not as spicy as “Mickey,” I guess).

Lately, I’ve noticed two of my daughters have found a Facebook application that rates parent’s naming ability. For one daughter, we got a B, for another, an F. The F name was a “flunk” primarily due to the name being very popular the year we picked it. Personally, however, I think Amanda still suites her and I hope she thinks so, too.

So, what is in a name?

In the book “Freakonomics,” if I remember their conclusion correctly, not much. An “original” or “black” sounding name may make an initial response to a resume a bit different, but in the long run seems a poor predictor of life path or success. Even for all the Joes of the world, education, ambition, talent and good looks (yeah, I know, I don’t exactly have all of those qualities in abundance) still counts. There’s hope still for both me and Moon Unit Zappa.

I have a slightly complicated relationship with my name. I was apparently named after my grandfather Joseph O’Mahoney, but I have no memory of him (I don’t remember my grandparents at all, my parents married a bit late in adulthood and that generation was passing on). One of my mother’s brothers was also a Joseph.

My name is responsible for one of my most embarrassing moments in school. For most of the years in elementary school, I was a fairly marginal student. I had horrible handwriting, and was easily bored and daydreamed a lot.

That’s right. My early Ds were all Dr. Huckalaley’s fault.

Anyway, I was one of those kids who didn’t relish reading aloud, particularly in early elementary grades. In second grade, we were going through some story book (it was probably not far from the Dick and Jane series so I’m sure it was deathly dull, which is another reason I probably didn’t focus well), taking turns reading aloud.

If it has been "Pleasure With Joseph and Stephanie," I would have done better in second grade.

When it came to my turn, I stumbled through a few words and them came to one that had me completely stumped. I could not sound it out, and got nervous and red—and, of course, lost all trace of literacy—while the class clearly enjoyed my discomfort. Kids are jerks.

The troublesome word? J-O-S-E-P-H.

Several points in my defense. Although Joseph is technically my name, I was used to spelling it “Joe.” And if you look at “Joseph” through the eyes of a second grader, you can see it is the kind of word that English is loaded with—a word whose pronunciation is a bit iffy. After all, why is the second vowel sounded? And if it is silent, as it looks like it ought to be, how do you pronounce the “sph” sound? I was also not yet sophisticated enough to recognize ph as a pointless English alternative to “F,” just like the “gh” in “enough.”

Aw, English. I have some hope of improving my Spanish for Jon’s wedding through some self-study, since I can sound out words pretty well in Spanish. But English? Mercy me. Glad I was born speaking it, because I don’t think I would otherwise ever grasp it.

In second grade, the written tongue was quite a mystery. Thank goodness I didn’t have a rather cranky nun as a teacher and a large cohort of 30 or so willing teaser peers.

Oh, wait. I did.

Sorry, Sister Stephanie, you and I never really got along. Clearly, I blame you. After all, one of us was 7.

Anyway, despite my ritual “Joseph” hazing in Second Grade, I’ve never been too troubled by my moniker. I feel comfortable as a “Joe,” and, once I decoded it, I didn’t mind occasionally writing “Joseph” either. My full name, Joseph Michael Sheller, has a nice Irish Catholic poetry to it (wouldn’t guess that I’m just as Hungarian as am I Irish from the name, would you?).

The grade for my parents in picking names? I would rate them fairly well, but probably a D or F according to Facebook. Who cares?

Not Joe.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “A Joe By Any Other Name …

  1. Pat

    Hmm. I have a few memories of predecessor Joes. Apparently when I was very young, I called our grandfather “Joe” and our grandmother “Grandpa” to his amusement and her irritation. I can remember being about 4 or 5 years old and waking a visiting grandfather by bouncing on his stomach. (Fortunately at that time I was much smaller than I am now.)

    Uncle Joe I remember as a big smiling man with dark hair, smoking a pipe.

  2. Cate

    Every time I’ve tried the facebook application, it’s crashed on me. Apparently “Cate” is out of this world; they’d probably get an A+++ for that one, if only it could figure that out.

    And oh, Joe. Be careful about the pictures you post on your blog. You may give your gay sister a heart attack.

  3. crgardenjoe

    I didn’t know “Pleasure with Joseph and Stephanie” would be such a provocative picture …

  4. Cate

    Well, it does sort of sound like educational porn.

  5. crgardenjoe

    Yeah, not as bad as “Seduce the Masseuse by Irma La Loose” … remember that title from our “Calumet” days?

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