Tuesday, February 20, 2007

what's in a name

Two Sundays ago my parents called me in the remaining hour of my art show. My mom said they'd be passing through the city and asked if I needed help taking all my pictures down. An hour later they showed up and dutifully helped me not only take down the photos, but carry everything down a flight of stairs and out to the van parked a block away.

"I found a coupon for an Ecuadorian restaurant on Milwaukee," my mom said. "Want to go to dinner with us?" This surprised me--not the invitation to dinner but the fact that she's not usually the one to suggest "ethnic cuisine." God bless the coupon book--expanding minds and appetites all over the Chicagoland area.

We drove several miles north on Milwaukee until we found La Peña. As we crossed the street, the three of us joked about how it appeared we would be the only patrons in the restaurant that evening. But as we opened the first set of two doors, my dad said, "Oh look--there's one other family. I guess people do eat here." The hostess led us to the table almost adjoining the other family's.

My mom hadn't even sat all the way down in her chair when the woman at the table next to ours asked, "Is your first name Randy?" My mom sat down and looked in the direction of the question. "No..." she answered, confused. "But I know you," the other woman insisted. "You went to Sullivan High School." "Yeah I did. Who are you?" "Alyse [insert last name]." If there was ever an appropriate time for jaw-dropping moments, here it was. My mom pointed at me, her daughter, sitting across the table. "She's named after you."

* * *

Growing up I was always aware that my name was unique. Not only is Alyse not that common of a name, but to spell it with an "A" is pretty much unheard of. People with my name typically spell it with an "E"--Elise or in a few cases, Elyse. I've met one other girl who spelled it with an "A," and that was when I was 9 years old in the Mammoth Cave gift shop on a family vacation to Kentucky. For some reason this digression from the regular way of spelling my name really throws people for a loop. Every year in school I'd have to correct the new teacher on the pronunciation; every substitute teacher we'd have during the year--same deal. I even had a dance teacher one year who only called me Alice. I've been called everything from Alice to Alis to Alicia to Alisha to Allison.

It's Jewish custom/tradition to honor deceased relatives by using the first letter of their first name when naming a newborn. I got the "A" from my maternal great-grandmother, Anne. Originally, my mom wanted to name me Alana, but that was shot down by her mother, who refused to let her granddaughter don the same name as a woman she claimed to have unresolvable issues with at the office. So my mom was forced to choose a different "A" name. Runner up was Abby, which my dad vetoed out of fear that people would only associate his daughter with the columnist, "Dear Abby." My mom gave up sharing her name choices and single-handedly settled on Alyse.

Over the course of my lifetime I have heard the story of my namesake probably 100 times. People would say to my mom, "I love the spelling of your daughter's name--where did you come up with it?" And my mom would reply, "Well I grew up with a girl named Alyse, and I always loved her name and how it was spelled. So that's what I decided on when I knew she'd have an 'A' name."

Not that impressive of a story, I know. It's just one of those things you hear over and over but never think much about. I mean my own best friends (before this night) didn't even know the origin of my name. And they know (almost) everything about me.

* * *

I looked back at my mom, then at the woman sitting next to me. "What the hell is going on??" I asked.
"Yo!" my dad exclaimed. "Heck," he corrected me. He doesn't like when I "swear."
"Have you guys been here before?" Alyse's husband asked us.
"No!" we all said simultaneously.
"We haven't either!" they said. "We just found this coupon and thought we'd try it out."
My dad picked up an identical coupon off our table. "So did we!"

(Did I already say God bless the coupon book?)

"This is just wild!" I said, and I almost started to cry because I wasn't really sure how else to react.

What are the chances that my namesake and her family (husband, daughter, and daughter's fiancee) A) chose Ecuadorian food in the first place B) picked the same Ecuadorian restaurant as us and C) on the same night at the same time. And all because of a silly coupon in the Entertainment book.
Of course I insisted on taking a picture.

I'd say that meeting Alyse is about as close as I'll ever get to meeting Anne (the "A" sake), but with the weird games the universe has been playing on me lately, I might not be shocked if we end up face to face the next time I'm in a coffee shop. Or maybe I should check the Jewish deli...


Abbi said...

I didn't know you were sort of almost named "Abby". Wouldn't THAT be weird.

spudart said...

whoa! what a great story... all the parts of it, how you were named, how you came across these people in the restaurant, how your parents are branching out due to the coupon book (I should drop one in my parents house), and how your parents helped take down your show. That's four hows and that deserves four hoorays. HOORAY HOORAY HOORAY HOORAY! and one for spice HOOOOO-RAY!

Too Hotty said...

That's fantastic. I wonder what that woman felt... imagine seeing someone, not really knowing who they were, and having them say "OMG I named my daughter after you, that is to say, the daughter I had after ritually sacrificing my first born in your honor." But yeah... neat.

P.S. This is Scott. Nice blog.