“Four little words just to get me along. . . .”
That’s the first line of a song called “That’s Not My Name” sung by British craze duo ‘The Ting Tings.’
“That’s Not My Name” is a fun, upbeat tune that drives me to grab my pseudo-microphone hairbrush and karaoke my way back and forth across my kitchen floor—pretending to be a pop star.
“They call me Stacey, Mary, Jo, Lisa. They call me Her, they call me Jane, always the same.
“That’s not my name. That’s not my name. That’s not my name,” I croon.
The dogs, which are my ever-adoring and only audience, shudder and shuffle off to hide under my bed.
I’ve heard myself referred to as “she” on more than one occasion in passing conversations. If my grandson, Adam, is talking to someone else about me and refers to me as “she,” instead of “Granny,” I am quick to remind him, “That’s not my name.”
It’s a throwback to something I was taught in childhood by my mother, who’d also grown up learning to acknowledge people in conversation by their names and not by “he” or “she.”
It makes perfect sense.
Pay attention to conversations and see how many times it happens to you and to the people you are talking about. You’d be surprised how many of us lose our identities in “he” and “she.”
I also can think of a handful of other times in my life when “That’s not my name” was central to a conversation, including when I tried to use it in a last-ditch effort to avoid punishment from my school principal, the late great Ernie Buchan, when I was in fourth grade at Sixth Street School.
Mr. Buchan figured out it was me who had made several alterations to the daily attendance sheet in my classroom.
While waiting for the school bus after school, I had started rubbing out the “P-for-Present” beside every other student’s name but my own, and pencilled all of them in as “A-for-Absent.”
This went on for a few days, at least. How smart was that?
At the moment when I realized I was “toast,” and as Mr. Buchan addressed me as “Beth,” I wanted to stand on the teacher’s desk and profess, “That’s not my name.”
Thankfully, the reprimand amounted to nothing more than a stern warning and reminder about right and wrong, and yet for a few years after that, I was convinced that the reason I was short in stature was the result of being mortified by the whole affair.
And then there was life in Grade Seven at Robert Moore School when school pictures were taken. I’d worn a purple T-shirt, had flecks of budding acne on my face, and a wispy scruffy haircut.
We all had our allotted bunch of photos to trade out to our friends. Remember how a measure of your “coolness” was how many copies of “you” you had left over?
I always had leftovers. Oh well, that’s another story.
Anyway, the father of one of my friends to whom I’d given a photo of myself took one look at my school picture and determined I was a boy.
That’s not my name.
After that, I started to stuff my training bra, bleach my upper lip hair, and pluck my eyebrows.
In public school, I also carried the nickname “Cuds”—awarded to me, I suppose, because I lived beside a farm.
I couldn’t have had a regular nickname like “Shorty” or “Bitsy” that reflected the fact that I was shorter than everyone else in my class. Nope.
Instead, I got nicknamed after the contents in one of four digestive compartments of the ruminant animal better known as the cow.
And although I’m still stunned by the fact that the cow’s rumen can hold 50 gallons of partly-digested food or “cud,” I echo: “That is not my name.”
Another misnomer incident wherein I again thought about denying my true identity was in 1980 when I was working as a course counsellor for a driving school in Thunder Bay. I was in the office listening to a psychic on the radio profess his abilities and who was encouraging listeners to call in, give their name, and wait to hear a future prediction.
I called in (on company time) and was lucky—or so I thought—to get in line for a one-on-one with “Mr. Clairvoyant.”
“What’s your name?” he asked (now remember, folks, this is live radio.)
“Beth,” I said, anxiously awaiting his prediction that would see me running out and buying my lucky million-dollar lottery ticket.
“Well, first of all, I’d tie a big rock around your name Beth and throw it into Lake Superior. It will always bring you bad luck,” he said rather matter-of-fact.
“Oops, silly me,” I wanted to shout out to the doofus forecaster.
“What was I thinking? That’s not my name, it belongs to a friend of mine.”
Instead I mumbled, “Okay then. Thanks,” and hung up.
And while there were stories from my youth that indicated my parents had considered calling me Helen (with all due respect to the Helens of the world), thankfully that’s not my name, either.
On the other hand, a beautiful little soul named Sam once mistook me for “Oprah.”
That was my 15 minutes of fame.
And in 1985, a very, very good friend of mine, the late Norrie Godin, who was ill and in hospital shortly before he passed away, mistook me for his first love “Victoria.”
That’s not my name, either, but it was one of the warmest mistaken identities I’ve ever had the pleasure of being.
We all work hard in life to build ourselves, and being recognized for who we are—or are not—is part of the journey.
The new website “Wolfram Alpha” predicts that one in 8000 women are named Beth, and that there are roughly 144,142 women named Beth who are alive today. With a world population of some 6.53 billion people, it does make sense that one wouldn’t hear or see the name very often.
I guess I’ll just have to shout it out a bit more often.
And while I don’t mind being mistaken for a talk show host once in a while, about a month ago the tipping point came when I suddenly aged about 25 years and was renamed “Marie.”
While I, too, remain on this side of 60, might I remind you—that’s not my name.
“Four little words just to get me along. . . .”