Name Game

Between The Bridges

In the never ending litany of "trigger words" and  "micro-aggressions" continually being defined on an almost daily basis by administrators and students alike at our nation's institutions of higher learning, mispronouncing a student's name is now considered a "micro-aggression" and is alleged to cause that student "anxiety" and "resentment" with such mispronunciation truly negating the student's identity, which, in turn, will hinder academic progress as the teacher, in addition to bollixing up their name, is also disregarding the student's family and culture as well. 

The mispronunciation of one's name is an occurrence I am all too familiar with.  Born Peter Joseph Mahon Jr. back in 1950, my last name ("Mahon") has been the subject of a continual series of phonetic butcheries for as long as I can remember.  My father always pronounced our last name as "Man".  My mother, who hailed from the Emerald Isle pronounced it "Mahan" but her maiden name was Kelly so she also was not too sure. Others would appear (at least to me) to go out of their way to find new variations of the name such as "Mayon" (as in mayonnaise) or "Mahin." Growing up in the (then) Irish enclave of Woodside, Queens, my last name was the butt (pun intended) of many jokes because of its phonetic likeness to the Gaelic phrase "pog mo thoin" which, bastardized in English slang, translates to "Pogue Mahone" meaning "kiss my arse."

In an attempt to put this issue to rest, when my parents visited Ireland to see my mother's family in the late 60's I asked my father to ascertain the correct pronunciation of "Mahon" from the locals there. Upon his return after several weeks in the "old country" I asked my father, "So what's the deal with our last name?” He replied that the locals were somewhat confused by our last name as it didn't have "Mc" in front of it (i.e., "McMahon") and he inferred that the locals may have thought we had intentionally dropped the "Mc" prefix as a means of "Americanizing" our last name, which they also thought was culturally inexcusable although amusing because of the resulting likeness to the phrase "pogue mahone" as explained above. Although at times the Irish can be a cruel people, they are not the only ones with a predilection for patronymic humor.

After being laid off from the NYPD back in 1974 I joined the NYC Department of Corrections in 1975 and was assigned to one of the larger jails on Rikers Island.  It was not uncommon to be walking among a group of Hispanic inmates and hear someone shout out "aqui viene el mojon!" which I initially thought, that upon seeing my uniform nametag, it was simply the inmate's way of announcing to the group that Correction Officer Mahon was in the area.  Upon hearing this I would always cordially reply to the group in general, using my limited knowledge of the language, "Buenos Dias, como esta?" which would always be met with a rousing chorus of laughter on the part of the group of inmates.  It wasn't until several months into my new career on Rikers Island that another officer who was fluent in Spanish pulled me aside and advised me the inmates were misreading my name tag and that "aqui viene el mojon!" translated to "here comes the turd!" which they obviously found hilarious. As it turned out, apparently some Hispanics are as easily amused by the mispronunciation of one's last name as the Irish! 

In any event, as I look back over the past decades and my never-ending struggle to have my surname pronounced correctly (if and when I can ever determine such correct pronunciation) I find I have suffered neither anxiety nor resentment. Unlike those special snowflakes ensconced within safe spaces at our universities, I do not consider such phonetic errors as slights against my family, culture or having served to negate my identity. Truth be told, I firmly believe there are always those in life carrying much more baggage than ourselves. Just look at Anthony "Weiner"...or perhaps "Whiner"...or perhaps "Weener."  No good can come from any pronunciation, correct or otherwise, of that last name!

Broad Channel - why would anyone want to live anywhere else?

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