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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

62

The Best Time I Learned My Last Name Means Blow Job

As a shy, late bloomer with a nervous twitch in my eye, I didn't particularly enjoy high school. I was consistently the last one to get a joke, with the exception of dirty jokes, which I usually didn’t get at all. This sense of being on a different wavelength from my peers led to a paranoid, left-out feeling—like nobody knew I existed, and at the same time, they were all laughing at me behind my back.

One night after dinner in tenth grade, my mom said there was something she wanted to “talk about.” My first thought was that my mom had seen one of those TALK TO YOUR KID ABOUT SEX commercials and I’d have to confess I’d never even kissed a boy, which I knew to be pathetic at my age. To my relief, it wasn’t sexual relations my mom wanted to discuss, but our last name. Which is Greathead. Spelled like it sounds: the word GREAT, then the word HEAD.

My mom said she knew it wasn’t the easiest last name to have and asked if I’d ever been teased. I proceeded to tell her about an incident I’d kept to myself for years (for fear of how much it might upset her as a parent). The summarized version is this: one time in middle school, my French teacher, Monsieur Chameron, had lost his temper at me and said: “If your last name is Greathead, then how come you're so stupid?”

It took me a moment to realize my mom’s silence wasn’t for loss of words, but because she was completely unimpressed by this story. When she finally spoke it was to ask: “And is that the only time… having the last name… has been an issue?”

The truth was no. There had been other issues, like when the track team had voted to make T-shirts with everyone's last names printed on the back, but the T-shirt company had refused to include mine. (They were a “family company,” they said). Another time a substitute teacher made us go around the room introducing ourselves and when it was my turn and I said, “Hello, I’m Kate Greathead,” the sub got very angry and threatened to send me to the office, and everyone laughed. Then there was the time someone had “defaced” a poster I’d made for the science fair by drawing an arrow between my first and last names pointing to the word GIVES, which had been scrawled over my diagram of photosynthesis. I could’ve cared less about the stupid poster, but the vice principal had made a big fuss and there had been an “investigation” to find the “responsible party.” No students were ever charged. There were a handful of similar incidents but I didn’t bother telling my mom about them because they didn’t make a lick of sense.

Or did they?

The next day at school I was in middle of gym class, trying to focus on serving a volleyball, when something clicked in my head and all of a sudden I realized that my last name meant something perverted. After class I found my best friend, Sam, who confirmed this to be the case. But what, exactly, specifically, did it mean?

“What do you think it means?” Sam asked.

My best guess: “The tip of a man’s penis?”

After 30 seconds of staring at me, similar to the way your doctor stares at you when you tell him you have a brain tumor, Sam filled me in on what the rest of the school had apparently known since 8th grade: Greathead means blow job. Processing this information was like finding out you’ve been going around your entire life with the words SUCK PENIS tattooed across your forehead—and no one was kind enough to tell you. Because they assumed you knew.

Their assumptions were wrong. Because as a shy, late bloomer, with a nervous eye twitch, I was not the most cunning linguist when it came to slang for oral sex. And, no, never once, not for a split second in my seventeen years on this planet had it occurred to me that my last name—that which was typed on my birth certificate, written in permanent marker on the label of my first yellow raincoat, scribbled in the skies of my Crayola landscapes, proudly penned in newly acquired script on the tops of my spelling tests, in the flaps of my favorite paperbacks, called out in classrooms, announced at piano recitals and track meets, printed in yearbooks, class rosters and postcards from the dentist, signed over and over and over in the margins of notebooks because you never know, one day you might be famous and need a pretty signature—in addition to signifying Which Kate?...This Kate!, was slang for… that act.

Growing up means having holes poked in the fabric of your childhood. These holes multiply and meet each other, forming bigger holes, which keep expanding; eventually there are only a few threads left, not enough to bear the weight of your innocence. So began the rest of my life as Kate Greathead. Spelled like it sounds: G-R-E-A-T-H-E-A-D.

Kate Greathead is a writer and a storyteller. She lives in Brooklyn.



62 Comments / Post A Comment

Kate

I worked one summer with a girl named Kim Godown. One day a guy came into the restaurant asking for Kim. He had flowers he wanted to give her. We had two Kims on staff, so I asked him her last name. "I didn't get it," he told me. "I asked, but she changed the subject." I knew immediately which Kim he meant.

jhonsons

This is beautiful, so good!@j

chnellociraptor

THIS IS SUCH A GOOD AND IMPORTANT STORY.

Also, fuck that one teacher who called you stupid. What an ass.

elephony

A school friend of mine was (still is, I suppose) named Isaac Haverlick. Which is all well and good, but his father was named Dick Haverlick. He didn't go by Richard, or Rick, or Rich, he went by Dick. I never gathered up the courage to ask if he wore his name in defiance of the joke or in ignorance of it, but I've not really stopped wondering.

Emma Carmichael

@elephony A woman in my hometown OPTED INTO the surname Woodcock in her second marriage. Her first name was Anita. Anita Woodcock. In retrospect, much respect.

Titania

@elephony I worked with a guy whose name was Richard Blow. I don't think he ever went by Dick, and also he later changed his last name to something else, but I am pretty sure plenty of other people thought to call him that regardless.

elephony

@elephony For real, I have a ton of respect for Anita and Dick.

Sella Turcica

@elephony I know a Michael Hunt who goes by Mike. He fully admits his parents are assholes.

ThatChickMelly

@elephony I had a teacher named Richard Head. He went by Dick.

Katie Walsh

KATE! This is so so wonderful!

Katie Walsh

One of my favorite stories from college was when we were freshman and some older guys came up to us at a party and said, "heh heh... isn't your last name Goodhead?" and you responded brilliantly, "no, it's GREAT." xoxo

Emma Carmichael

@Katie Walsh SALUTE

Annie Murphy@facebook

@Katie Walsh That rules everything!!

OhMarie

@Katie Walsh This is great and she sounds great!

Kate Greathead@facebook

@Katie Walsh I remember this. And then he said, "we'll see in the morning."

Betsy Murgatroyd

My grandparents had a (long dead now) next door neighbor named Richard Everhard. And yes, he did go by Dick. He was also a high school teacher. I wish it was a joke. It was not.

lasso tabasco

@Betsy Murgatroyd In high school we had a regular sub named Mrs. Seaman. Cue the "come again?" jokes from the teenage bros.

blaybeck

Kate Greathead-Woodhead

Annie Murphy@facebook

Your story just turned all my frowns upside-down. Thank you!

MarianTheLibrarian

In my life thus far, I've encountered a Richard Weiner who went by Dick, and a young man with the unfortunate name of Harry Johnson.

myeviltwin

Great piece! I had a middle school science teacher named Dick Butt. I don't remember anybody giving him any grief over that name. He was a nice guy. If he had been a jerk, I'm sure we would have been merciless.

VerityStandingStill

@myeviltwin I knew a Patrick Butt, who went by Pat.

myeviltwin

Also, the last paragraph is gorgeous.

likearollingpin

Wait, no one's going to mention "cunning linguist when it came to slang for oral sex"? Because that's really fucking clever, unless I'm just overthinking it.

dreeski

@likearollingpin

Not overthinking it. That line was absolute perfection.

Also, I know a guy named Richard Holden III, and his father goes by Dick.

klemay

@likearollingpin My dad worked with a guy named Dick Hertz, and he was from a town called Holden.

Dick Hertz from Holden.

karion

@klemay: I wish you knew how loud I laughed at this. Ugly, snorty laughter, which gave way to uncontrollable giggling.

My story is one of my BFFs, whose last name is Moore. She married one of the greatest guys I know, whose last name is Weener. She kept her last name, but hyphenates defiantly when it suits her. I was the maid of honor at the Moore-Weener wedding.

They have three sons, by the way.

And Kate? This is my favorite piece of 2014. I know its early, but it is the reigning champ.

ThatChickMelly

@karion I tried to convince my friend to hyphenate. Her initials would have been LMAO. She didn't. We're no longer friends.

(for a totally different reason)

so what?

@likearollingpin I was going to say the same thing! So many comments without mention of that spectacular line.

Superrrdupa

I worked in an office where this dude's wife would call to set up his appointments (already a weird guy, amirite?). His name was Alexander Weiner.

But he went by Sandy. Presumably for the LULZ because otherwise I can't figure it out.

caritasvillage2013

Our knowledge can sometimes be helpful for our success. - Feed the Children

magnowlia

I knew a bus driver when I was in middle school named Dick Ball....

RachelAnn

My mom went to high school with a lady named Wanda Sweat. She married someone named Butts. Talk about an upgrade.

adriana

@RachelAnn But did she hyphenate?

peculiarity

Great essay, very funny!

I went to school with three different kids whose last names were Babcock, Hancock, and Glasscock. And I lived for a few years on a street named Woodcock. It was difficult to order food ("Woodcock? Like I'm falling for that one!" ::click::) and the street sign in our yard was stolen eight times in the five years I lived there. And also, the Babcocks lived next store.

Bridget Palardy

Kate, this is amazing. Remember when you lost your ID card and then discovered it months later taped up on the wall in a Hockey dude's dorm room?

By the way, when I first met you freshman year, I thought your named sounded really grand and regal.

Kate Greathead@facebook

@Bridget Palardy
Ha! I vaguely remember this...

whizz_dumb

@Bridget Palardy I still think it sounds grand and regal. My dirty mind gets selective.

stroopwafel

I remember a guy in high school with the last name Titsworth. Any time his name was called, snickering followed.

BoBisa Rodriguez@facebook

@stroopwafel i remember a kid named Titsworth who went to the public school in my area (i was banished to Catholic school wahhh) & he was friends with a bunch of boys i worked with at the pizza place, and they nicknamed him Titties aka Tits McGee. Anchorman was really popular at the time...

pagooey

@stroopwafel Sarah Lawrence College has a Titsworth Hall. In my day the abbreviation "TITS" was stenciled on all their garbage cans.

caleahfornia

@Kim Douglas@facebook Don't forget that Tits is an all-female dormitory...

Mike_B

@stroopwafel There's a school in Indiana with a Tom Raper hall. He sells RV's.

Amy Lowe Starbin@facebook

In my childhood church congregation, we had a lovely upstanding man named Dick Shook. He was also a Boy Scout leader. Ahem.

Edith Zimmerman

KATE!!! This is so great.

tmsteele2000

I went to school with a girl named Melissa Hiscock. Her boyfriend was a friend of mine and once remarked, "Wouldn't it be funny if my last name were 'Hercunt'?" I heard she legally changed her name after high school.

Emilydancingpumpkinman

Kate, love it! Every so often, I tell people about how you and Sam had your Greathead/Cochran posters for high school student government. Let me also follow-up by saying that I married a man whose last name is Boney; I think he encountered some of your same experiences growing up. I didn't take his last name and I've forewarned him that any children down the road will, at the least, be hyphenated in a way to avoid making Boney an adjective. He counters that his last name made him stronger.

yellojkt

One half of folk comedy duo Garfunkel and Oates is Kate Micucci. She has talked many times about finding out what her last name really means.

nikkininedoors

I know a young man, last name: Cockburn. I feel bad for the kid but so many giggles :)

stonefruit

@nikkininedoors ahhhh apparently this is sometimes pronounced Coe-Burn? But then you see it written out and can't stop giggling?

I mean, so I hear, or at least so my International Law class demonstrated to me (we had a supplemental text by SomeoneOrOther Cockburn).

klemay

I went to high school with a girl named Joanna Handee. And her parents didn't have the decency to give her the pronunciation that sounds like "Joe-Anna."

stonefruit

A gentleman of my acquaintance has the surname of Mandick. This was bad enough, but much worse for his sister, who got called Womanpussy enough times in high school that she changed her name promptly after getting married.

cmcm

My mom's maiden name is Felch. I didn't learn what it meant until I went to university.

Soooo... that's something.

jhiezmhart

This is the right web site for everyone who hopes to find out about this topic. You know so much its almost tough to argue with you (not that I actually would want to…HaHa). You definitely put a new spin on a topic which has been discussed for a long time. Great stuff, just wonderful!ibcbet

siniichulok

When I was a teenager, I babysat for a two-year-old with awful parents who incidentally named him John Thomas. I think they thought it sounded British and therefore really classy.

Stacy Patton Anderson@facebook

My favourite line: ' I was not the most cunning linguist when it came to slang for oral sex.'

Tafadhali

My last name is Johnson, which isn't so bad in and of itself, though there was the time when I realized that the middle name I was considering adding to my name would give me the intials E.A.T. Johnson.

Also the time two weeks ago when I was skiing in Wyoming with my brother and his girlfriend and she skied her first blue run, and he semi-jokingly (I honestly can't tell with him) said, "We should name our son Jackson Blue." I started to say, "Actually, I don't hate that" when I paused and reconsidered that the middle name "Blue" was probably not in the cards for our family. Especially when it makes the name sound like erotic presidential fanfiction.

YourMom

I'm new here, but I was compelled to register and say this article was lovely, and the comments have got me cracking up like a lunatic in the dark!

soft4pk

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ifsolitude

My last name means "dick" in Hindi, and I think Urdu? A Pakistani boyfriend clued me in.

jhiezmhart

Greetings! Very helpful advice in this particular post! It is the little changes that make the greatest changes.
ibcbet thanks for spending the time to discuss this matter here on your site.

caleahfornia

As a fellow innocent, I totally relate to this story, Kate! When I was in 6th grade, my mom bought me a backpack with my initials embroidered across the front: CCO'C (yes, I'm Irish). This was an affectionate nickname my parents used for me, saying each letter individually ("see-see-oh-see"). Of course, every boy in my grade started calling me "kuh-cock" while maniacally snickering, much to my bewilderment. I didn't figure out why until many years later.

This is what happens when your mother is the type of person who calls the Tea Party "tea baggers" but doesn't understand why that's hilarious.

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