I went to the dentist this afternoon.
She poked around my teeth briefly and said, “They’re looking pretty healthy. I’m quite impressed, given all the work I had to do on them initially,” then told me that one of my root fillings was chipped and needed to be repaired.
Not to worry, that was pretty quick and painless, and ten minutes later I was on my way back to the reception for The Extraction.
The Extraction, I hear you ask? Why do the receptionists do extractions when your teeth are healthy?
It’s actually the most painful bit of the lot. They may not extract anything from your mouth, but they certainly leave plenty gaps in your bank account. Forty-three pounds and sixty pence, to be precise. Ick. Seems dental fees have gone up a bit.
“Thank you, Mr Mac-EH,” said the receptionist, mis-pronouncing my name.
I don’t know why so many people insist on mis-pronouncing my surname. Listen up, folks, it’s pronounced Mac-EYE, not Mac-EH. Just think “iMac” with the syllables the wrong way round. If you’ve ever watched Porridge
or Stargate Atlantis you should be well aware of the fact. Unfortunately, however, most people haven’t watched Porridge for years, and only geeks watch Stargate Atlantis, let alone know that it has a character in it with the same surname as yours truly. So, I think it’s forgivable.
I made eye contact. “Actually, it’s Mac-EYE. Everyone gets that wrong,” I said to her with a little laugh.
Getting the laugh right is important, as is the eye contact. You can’t take this kind of thing too seriously, after all. After all, she herself probably has a name whose pronunciation or spelling is even more ambiguous, as is the case for about half the names in the phone book. However, while I can generally get away with casually mentioning it to a dental receptionist, if I had been talking to a group of ten year olds, it would have been nothing short of cataclysmic. After all, one key rule of working with children is: if something makes you cringe, never let the little blighters know it.
I know this because once upon a time I was one such little blighter myself, as one Mrs F.M. Imrie found out.
When I was ten years old, one of our teachers, Mr P.F. Mann, broke his leg or something and ended up having to take half a term of sick leave. This was something of a disappointment, because “Puff Mann”, as we used to call him, was one of the most popular teachers in the school. He had a quirky sense of humour and a gift for making the dullest subjects come to life — talents that are absolutely essential for any school teacher.
The supply teacher who took his place was a stern, middle aged woman with horn rimmed glasses, her hair in a bun, a handbag with the initials “FMI” on the front, and less sense of humour than Darth Vader on a bad day. The first thing she did on walking into the room was to turn and write on the board.
“Im/rie.” With a large, distinctive, slash between the two syllables.
She turned back to face us. “Two syllables,” she said sternly. “Not three.”
Of course, this temptation is just too much for your average ten year old mind to bear, and right from the start, she was firmly entrenched in our minds as Mrs Immery.
Now every lesson at this particular school would start with the same ritual. The teacher would walk in. The class would stand up. “Good morning, boys,” the teacher would say. “Good morning, Sir/Mrs <insert name of teacher here>,” we would reply. The lesson would generally be preceded by five minutes or so waiting for the teacher to arrive. Ample time for one particular boy, in a bout of mischief, to turn to the kid behind him and say, “Immery. Pass it on.”
“Immery. Pass it on.”
“Immery. Pass it on.”
By the time the door opened, and Mrs Imrie walked in, the message had worked its way right round the class.
“Good morning, boys.”
“Good morning, Mrs Imm-ER-ry,” chimed out twenty-five pre-adolescent voices in unison, making the interstitial syllable as deliberate and obvious as possible.
Her reaction was most satisfying.
“I heard you practising in the library,” she said, with a look of total indignation. “Just how would you like it if I mis-pronounced all your names?” She then proceeded to read through the register, deliberately, systematically and sulkily mis-pronouncing all our names. When my turn came, she called me “McKite.”
Lame, I thought, struggling to keep a straight face. How are you supposed to take a teacher seriously when she gets as petulant as that?
However, there is a twist in the tale. You see, the mischievous boy who started this whole escapade that day was, in fact, me. And while there may not have been any immediate repercussions, a few years later we moved to the south of England, where 99% of the population are living with the delusion that “McKay” is pronounced “Mac-EH.” Some of them even persist in this misguided belief after I have pointed out their mistake to them. Mind you, the main offenders there are telemarketers, and I gather that telemarketers have scripts that they have to stick to, and they get fired if they deviate from them, e.g. by pronouncing your name correctly.
So perhaps I’ve been reaping what I sowed all those years ago. However, I’ve learned to just laugh it off. After all, perhaps one day I could end up having to work with ten year olds who read my blog.
Sorry, Mrs Immery.