What’s in my name?

December 16, 2013

Once upon a time, two newspaper people decided to give their newborn daughter a name coined from the letters of their last name, thinking that it might someday “make a good byline.”

Whereupon everybody almost immediately started calling her by assorted nicknames, so the cleverly concocted name was rarely used.

People – especially me – have always had trouble with my name. This mystified my mother.

“Your name is so short and simple,” she would tell me. “I never thought anybody would give you a nickname.”

(This, from one who routinely referred to me as Pooh Bear.)

The only place I’ve ever been where my name did not cause consternation was Brazil, where I was born. Brazilians love to make up names, so for them there’s nothing weird about “Dery” (pronounced DeDEE in Portuguese).

For most others, there’s a lot weird about “Dery.”

Some people, upon hearing my name for the first time, react with offended suspicion and demand to know what it’s “short for.” The implication is that I obviously must be in possession of a real name that I have selfishly chosen to withhold from them. I have actually found myself apologizing for not being able to supply them with such a name.

Over the years I’ve developed a way to preemptively ease the bewilderment when people (English-speakers, anyway) first hear my name, by helpfully adding: “As in cow.” Instead of wrinkled brows, I am greeted with relieved chuckles: “Ah! DAIRY!”

Of course, this may be one reason why those who learn how to pronounce “Dery” have such a hard time spelling it. Even folks who have known me for years have no doubt whatsoever that I am in fact Deri, Derry, Derrie, Dary, Daryl, Derryl, Dairie, Dearie, or worse. Sometimes the same person will write my name differently at different times, even though he or she would never capriciously misspell a name like “Karen” or “Carlos.” It seems that the usual rules don’t apply when it comes to strange names, so creativity is permitted (see below.) 

My friends started renaming me even before grade school, where I was variously known as Drippy Dryer, Dirty Diapers, Dery Diarrhea and Derriere. In high school I became Dyer and Dearest Dear.  In college I was mostly Der (pronounced Dare) and Dery-Berry.

Imagine my angst when I learned that Derry and Derryberry are actual surnames! What if, in the days when it was customary for women to take their husbands’ last names, I’d married somebody with a last name as peculiar as my first name?

“He’s not in right now. Would you like to leave a message?”

“Sure. Tell him Dery Derryberry called.”

I get the vapors just thinking about it.

But having a name the world believes it can improve on isn’t all bad. For instance, you develop flexibility and humility when you have to answer to a multitude of alternatives. I respond when called, among uncountable other monikers, D, DJ (my middle name is Jill), Deej, Derricita, Erny, Doctora Diet, Oyer and Pookey. (Erny was what Costa Rica’s daily La Nación decided my name should be in a photo caption; a guard taking a phone message identified me as Doctora Diet; the airline AeroPerú rechristened me Oyer. Of course, my friends and family gleefully added these to their long list of “Dery” alternatives.) 

Another advantage to having a name like mine is that it’s genderless. In a macho world where the default mode is male, this has come in handy. 

Plus, always being aka somebody else has given me a wealth of aliases and new identities from which to choose, supplied by myriad versions of my name on envelopes and press releases. My huge collection of this inventive outpouring once covered most of the wall behind my desk.

And they keep coming! Incredibly, even though my (correct) name is in my email address, the digital era has not limited the possibilities.

Judging from my collection, it appears that some writers are able to master either “Dery” or “Dyer,” but their eyes glaze over when it comes to both. Others simply plunge giddily onward, allowing nothing but poetic license to guide them. Just a few examples:

Sr. Drery Dier.  Señor Dery Dodger. Terry Derby. Dely Dyer. Berry Dyer. Danny Dyer. Sra. Ery Dyer. Sr. Derie Dyer.  Sr. Terry Tyerr.  Señor Dary Dier. Señor Deri Dayer.  Señora Tery Dryer. Dery Pier. Debbie Byer.  Sr. Jerry Dery.  Señores Dedy Dyer.  Berry Tyeer. Dery Yer. Dery Tayer. Sra. Dary Daller.  Dairy Dyer.  Dirney Dyer. Tery Tyer. Terry Dier.  Deryk Dyers.  Sra. Drery Dei.  Señor David Teryter.

Eat your heart out, Jane Doe!

(All of the abovementioned folks – and more! – edited The Tico Times for many years.) 

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