Who Am I Anyway?
I got the question again the other day: “Is your name Charlene (pronounced with a soft SH, as in shoe) or Charlene (with a hard CH, as in church)?” Well, there’s a story about that. It goes all the way back to when I was born.
My then-18- (now 79-) year-old Aunt Dot had a suggestion for a name for the first grandchild in the family. “Why don’t you name her Eva Charlene–Eva after Evelyn (my mother) and Charlene after Charles (her brother and my daddy)?”
Though Eva is spelled E-v-a, it is pronounced Evie. I had always heard it pronounced Evie and didn’t know it was spelled E-v-a myself until I was in school. I never was called Evie (or Eva) except the first time a teacher called the roll at the beginning of a semester when I was in college.
I was always called Charlene with a hard CH sound, except by the few people who shortened it to Chene when I was a little bitty girl and my high school friends who called me Charle (pronounced Charlie). Are you confused yet?
My problem began when I was in elementary school and my Uncle Joel started dating a girl named Charlene (pronounced with the soft SH sound). To me Charlene (who later became my Aunt Charlene) was super-cool. I mean, after all, she taught me how to dance the Mashed Potato–how cool is that? One day she told me that she was not Charlene (pronounced with the hard CH) but Charlene (pronounced with a soft SH). Well, I decided right then and there that the soft SH pronunciation of Charlene must be the cool way to say it.
When I went to college at the ripe old age of 17, I had my chance to become cool. When people asked me my name, I pronounced it the cool way with a soft SH. In my senior year, I met Ray. Ten months later he married Charlene (with a soft SH) and we began our life together.
While we lived in Lexington, Kentucky, and Oxford, Mississippi, and Urbana, Illinois, and Cookeville, Tennessee, I was Charlene (with a soft SH)–except, of course, to my family and the people from my hometown who continued to use the hard CH–and to the people who got mixed up and called me Charlotte.
When we started Notgrass Company in 1999 and began to travel to homeschool conventions, I continued to introduce myself as Charlene (with the soft SH).
Then just before Christmas in 2003, my daddy died suddenly and unexpectedly. I went through one of the most difficult times of my life. As I worked through my grief, I began longing to be Charlene (with the hard CH) again. I had never tried to get anyone who knew me before college to change to the cool way of saying Charlene. I had never thought of the soft SH as being dishonoring to Daddy (I certainly hope he never felt that way), but now the hard CH felt better somehow. I wanted it back.
I asked Ray to change the way he had pronounced my name for 29 years. He changed immediately and I still love to hear Ray say my name. He didn’t try to convince me otherwise. He just gave me what I requested.
With a name like mine, I get to spell a lot. When I come to Notgrass, I say, “It’s like not flowers, not trees–not grass.” People often laugh when I say that, but it keeps me from having to say “n as in nancy, o as in octopus, t as in Tom . . .”
When I thought about telling you this story, I was embarrassed to admit that I let a little comment from a teenager have such a lasting effect on my life. I wondered if I really wanted to let you know how insecure I was back then. I hope it serves to remind you how insecure your own children may be. This knowing who we are and being okay with it and letting others know who we really are is pretty important stuff for young folks. I’m glad your kids have you to lean on while they find out.
He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments;
And I will not erase his name from the book of life,
And I will confess his name before My Father and His angels.