Posts Tagged ‘perfect attendance’

In the early 1980s my mother, then in her early twenties, was working as a secretary at Blue Cross & Blue Shield. While there she befriended a co-worker, an African-American woman named Bennye, whose husband and son shared the same name: Bobby. My mother got a kick out of it when Bennye would talk about her two Bobbys, big and little, in her thick southern accent. “BAH-bay,” she’d say, “an’ BAH-bay JUNE-ya.” So when my mom became pregnant with me in 1981, she decided I’d be a Bobby, too.

She had to sell my father on the name, which didn’t take much. “What about ‘Bobby Raymond’ for a boy?” my mother asked him, tacking on the middle name for her grandfather, who had recently passed away.

“Hmmm,” my dad pondered, “Bobby Ray…like Bobby Ray Murcer,” a popular outfielder on the Yankees at the time. “Yeah, that works.” I imagine him deciding this as casually as he might have decided between a hot dog or a hamburger at a barbecue.

When it came time to make it official on my zero-th birthday, my parents chose to put “Bobby,” not “Robert,” on my birth certificate. Like my namesake, an Okie whose legal name was actually Bobby Ray Murcer, I too, was just Bobby.

Years later I asked my mother whether she had ever considered that someday I’d be a full-grown man named Bobby—i.e. a full-grown man without the benefit of being able to switch back and forth between Bobby, among friends, and Robert, in professional situations or on legal documents.

“Back then my world was so small,” she told me. She hadn’t really thought about her life, or mine, that far in the future. I can’t fault her for that…right?

Yet when my brother was born four years later, my parents were four years older and ostensibly four years more mature. They put “Daniel Joseph” on his birth certificate. I guess there was no Yankee named “Danny Joe.”

“There’s nothing wrong with that name,” computer programmer Michael Bolton’s co-worker reassures him in the 1998 movie Office Space.

“There was nothing wrong with that name until I was about 12 years old and that no-talent [1990s adult contemporary singer Michael Bolton] got famous and started winning Grammys.”

Having a pop culture reference point for their name might be a good thing for some people, but it never did much for me growing up. I’d get “Bobby’s World” (the popular ‘90s cartoon show about a little boy named Bobby, voiced by Howie Mandel), or “Bobby Boucher” (Adam Sandler’s mush-mouthed lead in The Waterboy), but none was particularly original. Needless to say my peers never made the connection on their own that I was named for the Bobby Murcer.

More recently, though, the popularity of the TV adaptation of the Game of Thrones books ended up working to my advantage. As people became acquainted with the show’s most popular character, Daenerys Targaryen, a.k.a. Mother of Dragons, a.k.a. Khaleesi (wife of the king, or “Khal”)—which is coincidentally pronounced on the show exactly like my last name, ca-LEE-see—I no longer had to accept common mispronunciations like “ca-LEES,” or worse yet, “Carlisle.” I simply mentioned the show and they immediately got it.

In fact at an airport about a year ago, I walked up to a kiosk to pay for a shuttle bus back to my hotel. When the young woman working there asked for my last name, I gave it. She stopped writing and looked up, shyly. “Um…have you seen Game of Thrones?” I smiled knowingly and told her I had.

The GoT effect has extended to my wife, who changed her name after we got married and sent out a companywide email notifying her coworkers. “It’s pronounced like Game of Thrones,” she wrote in the note.

A few moments later she got an email back from someone at the company she had only spoken with a handful of times. “So, how many dragons do you have?”

When I was in grade school, being called Robert instead of Bobby made me furious—especially when it was over the loudspeaker to summon me to the main office. I’d angrily march down the linoleum halls and storm into the office.

Not bothering to ask why I’d been called to the office in the first place, I’d explain to anyone within earshot that MY NAME IS JUST BOBBY, NOT ROBERT. Usually the offending secretary would halfheartedly apologize, then go right ahead and call me Robert the next time.

Loudspeaker snafus aside, I liked school. I liked it so much, in fact, that I had perfect attendance from first grade through my senior year of high school. It’s not that I was never sick, just never sick enough to miss school. (As my mom, a single parent by then, would say: “School for you guys was half education, half free babysitting.”)

None of my high school friends were particularly impressed with this feat. “You never missed a day of school?” they’d ask. “Why not?” Still, at the time I felt my Cal Ripken-like attendance streak was something unique and special about me. And as Woody Allen purportedly said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”

I looked forward to receiving my perfect attendance award in a ceremony at end of senior year. This achievement was supposedly verified by amalgamating my last high school’s attendance records with my new one’s, but I suspect they simply took my word for it. I clearly cared far more about getting the award more than they cared about fact-checking it.

When I went up to the stage to accept my honor, twelve years in the making, I stared down at the fake wood plaque with its fake gold plating. It read:

Perfect Attendance Award
Robert Calise

My brother—nee Daniel Joseph, but who, incidentally, mostly goes by “Danny”—taught English at a university in China for two years. He told me that on the first day of class, he had to assign “English names” to his college-age students:

If a student didn’t have an English name, I asked them to pick a letter from the English alphabet that they wanted their name to start with. They would choose one based on the sound of their Chinese names. Whatever letter they chose, I would give them a bunch of choices, which they usually hated, and then forced them to pick the one they hated the least.

The most popular names according to Danny included: Cherry, Sherry, Jason, Vicky, and Allen. Beyond those, the names were a little more unique, at least from an American point of view.

Kids would select names like Purple, or Poet, or Wood. Others might choose Dragon, or Hometown or Man. He had students named Fish, Dollars, Garlic, Money, Color, Nature, Echo, Short, and my personal favorite, Kidult (a combination of Kid and Adult, obviously).

I can’t help wonder what names I might have come up with for myself, but part of me is glad I didn’t get to choose my own name–especially when I was a kid. There’s a good chance Michael Jordan Calise or Knight Rider Calise would be writing this today.

While studying abroad in England during my junior year of college, I met a fellow American student named Dan, who came from a neighborhood just outside Boston. I introduced myself as Bobby, as I always did.

“Good to meet ya, Bawb,” he replied in his local dialect. I didn’t correct him—Um, actually, it’s Bob-by—preferring instead to imagine myself as a Boston street tough Dan knew from his neighborhood. Oh him? That’s Bawb. You don’t wanna mess with Bawb.

A few days after meeting Dan, he and I got together at a pub near campus. I went up to the bar and ordered a Newcastle and when I came back, Dan was talking to a group of American students he knew from orientation. He introduced me to everyone: “Hey guys, this is Bawb, from New Yauk.”

“Hi Bob!” said one of the girls in the group, a perky Floridian. I was happy to have this new group of friends served up on a silver platter for me—Bobby wasn’t so great at meeting new people—so I didn’t want to make waves by clearing up that small detail of what my name actually was.

Initially it was strange hearing these new people call me Bob, as if they were speaking to someone else. But it also wasn’t altogether unpleasant, the idea that I could take on a new identity among these new people in a new place.

But after a few weeks playing the role of Bob, I eventually confessed to two of the girls in the group that back home I went by exclusively by Bobby. They didn’t miss a beat. I seemed much more like a Bobby, they said.

Making the Bob/Bobby distinction ultimately made me feel more comfortable while in England, though it did cause some confusion among the natives. While checking my email in the college’s computer lab one day, I ran into an English guy I’d seen in one of my classes. We started talking.

“What’s your name, mate?” he asked.

“Bobby,” I replied.

“Like the doll?”

“Huh?” I said, confused. Then I realized what he meant. “Oh…no, not Barbie. It’s Bobby, B-O-B-B-Y.”

“Oh, BOE-by,” he said, drawing out the first syllable–basically explaining to me how to pronounce my own name for the English ear.

“Right,” I said. “BOE-by.” My English name.

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