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Sometimes the name’s to blame


What’s in a name?

In the case of a Hawaiian woman, it’s 35 letters.

Janice “Lokelani” Keihanaikukauakahihuliheekahaunaele made news the other day when a television report aired about her last name being so long it wouldn’t fit on her driver’s license. That caused all sorts of problems when she was required to provide identification. Not to mention the angst it probably caused for the television reporter who had to pronounce Keihanaikukauakahihuliheekahaunaele.

County officials urged her to shorten her name, but Keihanaikukauakahihuliheekahaunaele declined, explaining that it’s the name of her late husband.

“You see, to some people in the world, your name is everything,” she told KHON2 News. “If I say my name to an elder Hawaiian, they know everything about my husband’s family going back many generations … just from the name.”

No matter what their length, though, last names can be problematic. Just ask Anthony Weiner. There’s no telling how much torment has been caused for how many children growing up with names such as Butts, Hogg or Fink. “You have no idea what’s it’s like being referred to as ‘Arm,’ ” said a friend whose last name is Pitts.

I sort of do, though.

Because I was born with the surname Jermann (pronounced “German”), which I grew to hate. In elementary school, several classmates felt it was the height of juvenile wit to call me “Germ.” Even worse, World War II had been over for less than a decade and a few took delight in calling me “Nazi.” Conversely, some teachers apparently wanted to avoid the Germanic connotation altogether, so they pronounced the name “Jerr-MON,” when they took roll call.

And, of course, “Jermann” rhymed with “vermin.”

So the second marriage of my mother to a man whose last name was Stewart came as a great relief to me. When I was 12 years old I dragged them both down to city hall to have my surname legally changed to one that couldn’t be connected to disease, rodents or war criminals.

But even a name as mainstream and innocuous as Stewart can have its problems.

Occasionally people will take the liberty of calling me “Stew,” which I really don’t care for, although it’s a lot better than “Germ.”

When you tell people your name is Stewart, most people assume it’s spelled “Stuart.” Or “Steward.” Or, even, “Steuart.” On a visit to China, the name got totally lost in translation and I was introduced to an audience as “Mr. D.L. Stupid” — much to the amusement of the Americans with whom I was traveling.

But, all things considered, Stewart’s not such a bad name.

At least it fits on my driver’s license.


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