What’s in a name

Karin Fuller Patton
3 min readJan 24, 2021

Over the years, I’ve been asked why I kept the surname Fuller, even though we weren’t married all that long and had no children together. To be honest, I kept it because my maiden name, Tauscher, is difficult for people to spell, much less pronounce. And the name game was aggravating enough being “Karin with an i.”

I’m hardly alone in feeling that particular pain.

My friend Aimee Neely Figgatt messaged recently asking if I had ever done a column on life with a non-traditionally spelled name. She and her friend Caryn Gresham had been talking about what life can be like when you have one of “those names.” The annoyances go beyond never being able to buy a name keychain at Myrtle Beach, since some people simply refuse to make any effort to correctly spell or pronounce your name as it was given.

Aimee, who once had to produce her birth certificate for a teacher to agree to spell her name correctly, said it’s maddening to receive an email where the person had to correctly spell out your name for the message to have made it to you, yet in the body of the message, they use some other spelling.

She said since I’m not a Karen, “literally or figuratively,” (bless you, Aimee, for that), she wondered about my take on the subject. I took the question to Facebook, where I was surprised by the multitude of responses.

My former Nitro High School art teacher and track coach Drema Watts had my favorite. “My first name is a regional name (i.e., only in West Virginia) but it is spelled with a missing ‘a.’ Drema rather than Dreama. So I regularly get mail addressed to Dr. Ema.”

Cloa Shamblin said her name is almost always spoken and written incorrectly. She gets called Clara, Cleo, Cola, Chloe, Clea, Chlo, Cloe.

“If you look at it, it’s four simple letters,” wrote Cloa. “I have even been asked if I am pronouncing or spelling it correctly!”

“Very few people pronounce my name correctly, so I have even inserted an accent mark in mine to help with the pronunciation,” wrote Cher’ley Grogg, who admits to having misspelled her own name a few times. “I ask parents to please not give their kids weird names or weird spellings of common names.”

Kasie Erlewine can commiserate. She said she gets called Cassie at least once a day, even by people who should know better. “My name is supposed to be Casey. Just spell your kids’ names correctly, people.”

I remember how careful I was about choosing my own daughter’s name, being mindful of the spelling, not deviating in the least from the standard for Celeste. Yet for some reason, even though folks see or hear her name, they change it to Chelsea. How do you get Chelsea from Celeste? I have no idea, yet it happened all the way through school and beyond.

I have compassion for all the Lynns with an e. The Sarahs with an h, or without. The Vickis with an i or ie or y.

My fellow Nitro High classmate Kathy Rhoads was double-doomed. Kathy with a K and Rhoads with no e. And another former classmate, Dayton Duvall, said, “I’ve been called Dallas, Detroit, Denver. Pick a city!”

And then there’s poor Bob Humphrey, who said people are forever spelling his name backward.

You might think close family would know better, but that’s seldom the case. Ann Brennan Wachter said her grandfather and his second wife were forever adding an e at the end of her first name.

“I learned to be philosophical about it when I was a kid,” wrote Ann. “But then my uncle married a woman named Anne, and I thought, ‘Well, at least they know how to spell her name.’ Wrong! Our first Christmas with their son’s new wife, I mistakenly opened all her presents because they had written ‘To: Ann’ on the tags.”

Unfortunately, some can be given a normal name, spelled in the standard form, and still suffer.

“My parents named me Jane because they didn’t want me to have a nickname,” wrote Jane Congdon. “But over the years, people have called me Joan, Jean, and June.”

As for me, I only occasionally bother to spell out my first name these days, if I give it at all. With all the Karen jokes going around, adding the nontraditional spelling might suggest prima donna.

But perhaps I should just embrace it.

“Spell it right,” I could warn. “Or I’m calling the manager.”



Karin Fuller Patton

Karin Fuller Patton is a newspaper columnist and short fiction writer who resides in Hinton, WV.