“Mary!” the woman called out from the food-truck window.
“You know, I get that all the time,” I said, smiling as I walked up to claim my sandwich. “My name’s Marv, which can look a lot like Mary. But I think you’re holding my order.”
“Mary!” she called out even louder, looking over my shoulder and scanning the sparse crowd along the sidewalk beside her truck. She must’ve been searching for a woman who looked like Mary.
Really, I get that all the time. Since I share a name with my dad, Marvin, I’ve always gone by Marv. Except when people call me Mary and, less frequently, Mark. And then there was the time, at a high-school track meet, when an apparently near-sighted announcer called me Maru.
When you’ve got a weird name…
When you’ve got a weird name, you just get used to being called even weirder names, I guess.
“Mary!” the food-truck woman hollered. I wondered what she wrote on my ticket 10 minutes earlier, when I gave my order, and she asked my name, and I said: “Marv. M-A-R-V,” and she said, “OK, Marv.”
But by now, I could tell she was getting annoyed at some slacker named Mary, who must’ve wondered off and would come back and want her sandwich re-heated.
Still apparently invisible to the woman holding my dinner, I turned to the only other person who had ordered food from the truck since the time I walked up. I studied the waiting patron quickly but carefully, and I felt even more certain the sandwich in the food-truck window was mine. She looked to be about 16 or 17, and I don’t know many teenagers named Mary.
“Excuse me,” I said, getting the girl’s attention. “Is your name Mary?” Watching out of the corner of my eye, I could tell the food-truck woman heard me ask that vital question.
“Uh, no,” the girl replied.
‘My name’s Marv’
Turning back to the window, I started over, almost from the beginning: “My name’s Marv. I know it sometimes looks like Mary. But I’m pretty sure that’s my sandwich. It’s a Cuban, with extra-hot mustard, and if you like I can … .”
Suddenly, I realized what I was about to say wasn’t true. I paid cash, and the food-truck woman didn’t mess around, so I definitely did not possess a receipt to validate my order.
But I must’ve said the magic word, which would be “Cuban.” She studied the carbon-copy of my order and abruptly shoved the sandwich across the window with a curt, “Here.”
I stepped quickly and lunged a bit, catching my hot sandwich before it fell to the ground. Looking up, I started to say, “Thank you.” (Mother and Daddy gave me an unusual name, but they taught me manners.) But before I could push the words across my lips, she turned on her cook: “Whatchu say that sandwich was for ‘Mary’?”
One of the blessings of possessing a strange name is a lifelong appreciation for names, as well as a desire to get names right.
Of course, if you tilt toward obsessive-compulsive behavior, that can be a problem, too. I fear calling people by the wrong name. Drives me a little bit nuts. Sometimes, I hold off on speaking someone’s name, even when I know it, and I know I know it. Then, about the time I get over my phobia, I’ll call someone by the wrong name, and I’m like a name-shamed turtle. Back in my shell.
A Christian virtue
Still, calling people by name is a Christian virtue, as well as an act of blessing.
The God who created us knows us by name. Better yet, God knows our identity—a level of knowing and loving that transcends even the most familiar word that always turns our head when someone speaks it.
When we make an effort to learn others’ names and call them by name, we affirm their value. We reflect divine love that cares enough to notice and to know. We validate worth as we elevate identity.
If you don’t believe it, just ask Mary. She must be hanging around that food truck somewhere.