My last name isn’t very long, and it’s not super unusual. But it’s not exactly “Smith” or “Brown:” it’s an “ethnic” family name. So, when asked for my name, I always spell it with phonetic references – as in, “McAdams, that’s M like mom, C like cat, A like apple…” (Last name changed to protect the not-so-innocent.) Given the many companies I call regularly, spelling my name has become a very common occurrence. I do it without thinking now, when I phone in a restaurant reservation or call my credit card company or check in somewhere. Often, people will read back the spelling to me, or ask me to repeat a letter (e.g. “Did you say B like Bob or V like victory?”) But when I went through my schpiel in Jerusalem, it went differently.
I had signed us up for a tour of the Western Wall underground tunnels. I did it online, in advance, to ensure that they wouldn’t sell out. When I got to the ticket pick-up window, the man up there asked what name the tickets were under. So, I started my usual recitation: “McAdams, that’s M like mom…” But that’s as far as I got, because the man politely and firmly interrupted me, and said, “I know how to spell McAdams.” I was completely flummoxed by this, because I had never had this happen before.
It took me a few seconds more to realize that, in Israel, my last name is very common. So common, in fact, that the man had no need to hear me spell it!
It might not seem like a big deal, but it felt pretty amazing to me. Everywhere I go, I have to spell both of my names, and even then, people are confused. In some ways, it feels like I’ll forever be on the outside, from where I have to explain myself. I don’t wish for a different name, and I chose not to take one – on both occasions on which I could have. But it doesn’t change the feeling. Here was someone who 100% understood who I was. To him, my name was like “Smith!” I was one of the common ones!
Thank you, underground tunnel man for making me feel like I belong. Sometimes, it just takes one sentence, one change of context to make your day.