“What’s in a name?” Romeo asked it first. But we all know what kind of trouble that question caused him, not to mention Juliet, and the whole Montague and Capulet clans. For a romantic comedy, Romeo and Juliet had more deaths than an episode of Lost, and certainly more death scenes than love scenes. Which means we might question whether we can call it a “romantic comedy,” a name applied to the film version in my cable listings — the 1996 one where we’re supposed to buy Elizabethan dialogue coming out of the mouths of Miami drug dealers.
“Chick flick” doesn’t fit any better. “Tear jerker”? Nope. By the time Romeo finally checks out the only reason I’m crying is because I have to listen to a 14-year-old pontificate about love—particularly painful when Leonardo DiCaprio is mouthing the lines while his character is on crack. Lit professors like “Tragicomedy,” a name that might fit, but fits together, about as comfortably as an ACLU-Tea Party mixer.
Which, in an admittedly round about way, brings us to my name. Take a look at it. It’s up there at the top of the column: Mark Noe. You wouldn’t think it would cause much trouble. Just seven letters. What could be easier to spell, simpler to pronounce? Yet, that name has become my own tragicomedy.
People are constantly mispronouncing it. I pronounce it with a long “o,” long “e.” Everyone else seems to be compelled to pronounce it long “o,” drop the “e” entirely, as in Dr. No. The first, and best, Bond villain. Dr. Goldfinger comes a close second: “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.” Best villain line ever. However, it’s an association I don’t care to encourage.
No one pronounced it right until I moved to the Valley, where I learned my last name was the Spanish language version of “Noah” (he of Ark fame). I have the story of “El Arca de Noé” to thank for the correct pronunciation of my last name.
Which has simply introduced another problem: in the Valley, Noe isn’t a last name, it’s a first name. This causes no end of problems. If I put “Mr. Noe” on one of those “Hello, My Name Is . . .” sticky-tags they pass out at meetings, I’ve joined a fairly select group who use their first name as a last name: Mr. Francois, who owns The Poodle Palace, a dog grooming place in Dallas, or Mistress Elvira, who dresses in black leather, carries a whip, and—well, perhaps we shouldn’t delve any deeper into the Mistress’s profession.
When I introduce myself as “Mark Noe,” all too many people think I’m saying something along the lines of “Billy Bob” or “Jimmy Bill.” Good, East Texas names, both. Compound first names that are a result of cousins marrying each other and thus having too many grandfathers to name their kids after. When I say “Mark Noe,” people assume I come from East Texas, and wait patiently for me to add my last name. They nod encouragingly for me to go on, as though my name was the first half of a joke and they can expect the punch line any moment. I wait just as patiently back at them.
The quandary I find myself in when introducing myself may be the reason I pay closer attention to names than did Romeo. I’ve noticed that we live in an age when PR guys, who seem to have as much disrespect for names as did Romeo, have turned job titles into names.
Cashiers aren’t cashiers when they work at Wal-Mart. They’re “associates,” which apparently means they are more responsive to customer needs while simultaneously allowing Walmart to pay them less than simple cashiers at other stores.
Is the coffee at Starbucks any better when it’s served by a “barista” instead of a waitress? Just how much do you tip a barista? They don’t actually serve you at your table. But, they’re baristas after all, which must count for something. The drinks they serve have even more impressive names. Would, to riff off Romeo, a Venti Double Espresso Mocha Macchiato taste as sweet if we just called it coffee?