When I met my husband and he told me his last name I thought, “That’s a weird name.”
Now it is my weird name.
It’s weird because it’s so close to another, more common name, yet it is not the other, more common name. And getting people to recognize this is an ongoing, uphill battle. Especially over the phone. Here is the conversation I have with nearly every stranger to whom I speak on the telephone:
Me: My last name is Keffler. K-E-F as in Flower-F as in Flower-L-E-R.
Other Person: Okay, Maria Kessler.
Me: No. It's Keffler. K-E-F as in Frank-F as in Frank-L-E-R.
Other Person: Thank you, Mrs. Kessler.
Me: No! They're not S's. They're F's. F-F as in Foxtrot Foxtrot. K-E-F-F Foxtrot Foxtrot-L-E-R.
Other Person: Okay, let me see if I can pull you up in our system. Hmm. I can't find a Maria Kessler.
I once told a linguist about my issue with Keffler/Kessler and she said that over the phone the F and S sounds are nearly indistinguishable. We figure them out by context. For example, if we hear "Corn Flakes" we automatically interpret the first letter in flake as an F, because that makes better sense than Corn Slakes. But Kessler is a more common name than Keffler, so people automatically hear S instead of F in it.
And as we know, it's very hard to change people's preconceived ideas.
A lot of times it doesn’t matter that much if someone gets the name wrong. Another surname in my extended family borders on bizarre. It’s of foreign origin, sounds nothing like it’s spelled, and gets pronounced no fewer than fifteen different ways by those who see it written. So at restaurants that branch of the family gives the maître ‘d the name Smith. It’s easier, more efficient from both sides, and does nothing to prevent my family from getting a table, nor the restaurant from seating paying customers.
But when I’m trying to make a doctor’s appointment, dispute a billing error with a service representative, or register to vote, it’s imperative that they get my name right. Then I must move my
counterpart past his or her preconceived assumptions.
How do I do that? How do I convince another person that what they heard is not what I said? That they got me wrong? That an error exists in their understanding? Alan Greenspan put it best/worst:
“I know you think you understand what you thought I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”
Does anyone else struggle with this? You feel like you’re beating your head against the brick wall of someone else’s assumptions and preconceived conclusions? Here’s what I’ve tried:
First, I state my case again, and repeat it more clearly. Like when someone assumes because I’m a Christian I must hate anyone who isn’t Christian:
My name is not Kessler. It’s Keffler. I know you’ve encountered a lot of people named Kessler, and I may be the first Keffler you’ve ever met, but I am not who you think I am. I am a Keffler.
If we’re still at loggerheads, I try clarifying, or pointing out the difference between myself and others who may seem like me, but aren’t. Like when people assume that because I don’t believe one can legislate morality, I must therefore be pro-abortion:
I think you’re hearing Kessler with an S. But it’s really Keffler with an F. Can you hear the difference between those? I know it’s hard to distinguish. You’ve got most of the letters right, but two of them are still wrong.
I can also try coming at it from their side, letting them know that I understand and appreciate their point-of-view, but that in this case their point-of-view does not represent reality. Like when people claim that the media I read is biased while assuming that the media to which they subscribe is not:
You’re saying Kessler. That’s exactly what it sounds like, isn’t it? But my name is weird, and those two letters in the middle are different from what you’re hearing. It’s actually Keffler. This is a common mistake made by lots of people on both sides of the issue.
I’m pleased to report that, as frustrating as the Keffler/Kessler dichotomy can be, I’ve never had a hate-filled, name-calling, knock-down-drag-out boxing match over my moniker. We get it sorted eventually, even if the receptionist has to change my information in the computer system later, when I’m standing there in person with my driver’s license in hand.
I’m hopeful that by continuing to be patient, clear, respectful, and tenacious, lines of communication and understanding will remain (or re-) open, and better exchanges of information will prove productive for resolving differences and coming to workable solutions to our problems.
So until that day, I will keep trying.
My name is Keffler. Maria Keffler.
“Okay, Mrs. Kiefer…”