Friday, March 03, 2006

What's in a name?

Being engaged certainly does change some things. I stare at my hand for much longer periods and for no reason at all except that there is an incredibly gorgeous ring on my finger. I shamelessly doodle what my new name will be in all the various forms: Mrs. Leslie Petree, Leslie Petree, Leslie Ruth Petree, Mrs. Petree, LRP, Mrs. Jason Petree, Leslie R. Petree. Really, the fun never ends. And yes, I will be keeping my middle name, Ruth, instead of my last name, Unger. Those of you who've known me since at least eighth grade know the reasons for this. But for those of you who haven't, I suppose an explanation is required.

Until eighth grade, the only comment I ever received on my last name was, "Are you related to Felix?" As in Felix Ungar from "The Odd Couple." And this was only at the various auditions I went to during my prestigious childhood career in local musical theatre (and one audition in which I read for a role which Reese Witherspoon ended up winning and was her big break into Hollywood. But that's another story.) I'm ashamed to admit that it wasn't until college that I realized that I couldn't even possibly be related to Felix because he was a fictional character. Dramatic? Yes. Bright? Not always.

So in eighth grade I joined a tight knit group as part of the academically gifted track in our school system. It was a wonderful year, one where I truly remember learning. Mr. Holbrook taught History and Science. He was passionate about the Civil War and has an incredible gift for making it come alive. Mrs. Tedford, certainly a kindred spirit, introduced me to the world of Shakespeare. Her love of literature and her ability to pass that love along is a major reason that I became an English lit major at UNC.

Towards the end of the year, our class went on an extensive field trip along the southeast coast, touring most of the major Civil War battlefield sites. We traveled by charter bus (is there really any other way to travel with a large group of adolescent kids?) and had to find some way to pass the time. Sev Eaton and Ted Shipley decided to create an imaginary WWF wrestling tournament. Of course this meant that everyone in the class received a wrestling ring alias.

Mine was "The Ungertaker."

This was about as good as it got that year. For soon followed Bungus, Dunger (later shortened to just plain Dung), and The Hunger. None of these nicknames were in any way endearing or feminine and I HATED THEM. A breakdown moment came our sophomore year of high school when my classmates (many of them from that same eighth grade group) convinced our student teacher to call me "Dunger" when I returned from delivering the attendance to the office. Cruel, naiive, stupid man. He did and I promptly lost it. We're talking full out screaming at my classmates and the slightly clueless student teacher. It was the last time anyone called me "Dunger" for quite some time.

There have been some more endearing nicknames related to my last name. Email addresses at my school are created from our first initial and last name. So it's not surprising to hear folks refer to me as "lunger." Or the musically inclined Phatted Calf and Jimmy Mac love to replace a lyric from James Taylor's "Shed a Little Light." The line in the song goes,

"There is a feeling like the clenching of a fist
There is a hunger in the center of the chest."

Phatted Calf and Jimmy Mac like to sing,
"There is a feeling like the clenching of a fist
And Leslie Unger's in the center of my chest."

Work me into a James Taylor song? I'm ok with that.

So yes, Unger will be dropped and Ruth will stay. My mom chose Ruth to be part of my name. I love what it holds for me to live into - the Ruth of the Bible. A strong, determined, steadfast friend. One who was bold, faithful and loyal.

Shakespeare was onto something when he wrote,
"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet."
Unger may change to Petree, but I hopefully will continue to carry the sweet aroma of the name my mom gave me and all that she intended.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:56 AM

    So the Unger cause you problems...

    Well, Mrs. Rob Petree...
    (The Dick Van Dyke Show)

    ...or..."petree dish!"
    (Science buffs will understand)

    So, your first family name is not really the's all the loonies out there that decide they want to have fun at your expense.


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