Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The One, or What's In a Name?

People always ask me about my name, expecting a good story. There isn't one. I don't have an interesting ethnic background or ancestors from a far-flung country where Unas sprout like Cabbage Patch Kids from the fragrant, dusky earth. It's just that my parents liked the name. Well, actually my father wanted to name me Alice, after his great aunt, but my mom nixed it, which is probably for the best. I'd be a terrible Alice. That name demands a refined air and a ladylike sensibility that I simply do not possess. Though I wonder... if I had been an Alice, would I still have drawn all over my body with Magic Marker and run around the house naked? Would I have preferred He-Man over She-Ra and insisted on being Peter Pan for Halloween? I probably would have learned how to blow-dry my own hair, at least. Alices always have such pretty hair.

A lot of people ask if Una is short for something, which it isn't. A lot of people also think my name is Uma, which is all the fault of that bitch Thurman, who is the only person in the entire Western world with that name. Sometimes I can't tell that someone has been calling me Uma until several minutes into a conversation, and because I am passive I let it go on and on until it's far too late to correct them and so I just have to pretend they have it right. I once went a whole weekend being called Uma by a rich housewife who kept feeding me margaritas and nachos, and for that kind of trade I'd do it again.

Here is a great joke you should tell if you meet me: "Is your sister's name Dos?" That one never gets old.

Often I am asked what my name means, and I usually answer with a quip at first. "It's an article in most languages," I say. "It means 'a'." Then I explain that it's Latin for "one" and Gaelic for "lamb," and that I'm sure my parents didn't put any thought into its meaning when they named me. They had an Irish friend with the name, and they liked it, and since my mother had so sensibly intuited that I was not an Alice, I became an Una.

I like that my name is spelled with a U and not an Oo, but it causes some problems. For example, throughout elementary school my phonetically-challenged teachers would unfailingly get to my name on the roll call sheet and stumble, looking at it like it was written in Cantonese. Usually I just said "Here!" before they had a chance to mangle it, but at my sixth grade graduation I could not escape the announcement, broadcast to the entire assembly by microphone, that Ewe-na La-March-ee had won the General Excellence award. I've made this joke before, but I must reiterate that Ewe-na La-March-ee sounds like an alter ego from the deep South who subscribes to the Garden & Gun and might have won the General Excellence award for her homemade mayonnaise recipe.

The great thing about an unusual name is that it gets better with age. From sixth through twelfth grade, all I wanted to do was fit in, to fall in line as an anonymous teenager, albeit one with braces and acne and a penchant for wearing oversize sweatshirts and carrying a set of colored pencils on my person at all times. But once I got to college, suddenly the best thing to be was different, and my name became part of that. The downside was that, due to its Latin etymology, my boyfriends took to calling me "The One." (I never had boyfriends in high school, otherwise it might have started earlier, although "Unabrow" was still in full effect through about tenth grade.)

I know they didn't mean "The One" like I wanted them to mean it, but it was a heady moniker. It made a girl think of monogrammed guest towels and cushion cut diamonds. It made me imagine myself a be-spangled chorus girl being twirled around an imaginary stage by potential paramours:

One moment in her presence and you can forget the rest
For the girl is second best to none, son
Oooh! Sigh! Give her your attention
Do I really have to mention
She's the one

Eventually, of course, they all dumped me, and I was left wailing, "but I was The One!" In one of my more desperate moments, when I suspected that a boyfriend was pulling away, I ordered fortune cookies off the Internet and had each of them stuffed with the same message: "She is the one." I planned to somehow finagle it so that he got one of the doctored cookies and I got a regular one, so he would open it and think that the universe was talking to him. I KNOW. Even just typing this I am consumed by shame. I never got the chance to carry out my plan, though. Either we didn't order Chinese food or he broke up with me because I was kind of manipulative, I can't remember which.

I think it is telling that Jeff has never called me "The One," at least not as a nickname. He calls me Poo Butt, which I swear is not rooted in any sort of actual mishap. Maybe for our next anniversary, though, I'll make him go out for Chinese with me. I'll get him all liquored up, and then when the check comes I'll distract him and slip a special fortune cookie onto his napkin. He'll crack it open, read it, and start to laugh.

It will read: "The one with the butt of poo is for you."

P.S. Check out this image I found while searching for Una signs:

OMG. Arkansas roadtrip, anyone?

P.P.S. Um, when i checked my email right after posting this, look what was in my inbox:

What does it all mean?


  1. My name is Kari, pronounced like "Carrie", but people think it's K-ahhhhh-ree. My spinning teacher, who's class I have taken every Saturday for the past 5 years, still calls me K-aaahhh-reee. I just let him now.

  2. People mispronounce my name "May-ghan" all the time. But it's not. It's "Mehhhh-ghan." Like when you say, "Meh, it was all right, but it wasn't great."

    I do realize that making this distinction is just asking for trouble.

  3. My daughter's middle name is Oneta and people always, always say like the silverware..um No. not Onieda Oneta..

  4. You'd think that nothing could be done with Beth, but people see it, think, "Oh! It's really Elizabeth", and call me Liz. So much extra work to come to the wrong result.
    Also, I love this post, U. It made me snort loudly.

  5. Nathan Phelps9:02 AM

    I don't know if you will like this or not, but you're not the first Una I ever met. The mother of a girl I dated was named Una- she is Scottish.

  6. Amarie4:02 AM

    I'll just remind you of the only other Una I've ever heard of: Bridget Jone's MOM's friend, Una Alconbury. lol. Have a good one!

  7. Anonymous2:07 AM

    Hey! My name is Aislidh, I know what you are thinking, and no it isn't Eyes-lid (which I get all the time) but instead Ash-ley! According to my Grandma its the Gaelic spelling, who really knows though? So i basically have the most unique common name of my generation.


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