a guest article by Kay on behalf of Phil McCollum

Does your name ever cause you hassle? Sometimes even the most innocent name can. Would you believe there’s a TV presenter on a UK gardening programme called Gay Search? I’m sorry, but every time I hear that name I think of phone-lines to contact gay people. It’s probably not the sort of name one would choose to have any more than, say, Yellow Pages.

I’ve had loads of problems with my name, which might appear to be quite straightforward. My parents, allegedly, considered Rochelle and Gay among others but settled on Kay because it wouldn’t be shortened. Wow, that’s a great reason! But I’ll forgive them because it could have been worse. Or could it?

So what’s wrong with Kay? Well, for starters it seems to mean “what” in many languages. In Nepal, for example, when I was introduced it caused no end of confusion. “Her name is what.” Try again. “What is her name.” The people were very embarrassed that they didn’t know who I was – maybe I was famous or something but they, naturally, hadn’t a clue who I was. And, of course, it never occured to them that anyone would have such a stupid name as “what”.

Working with Afghans brought its own problems. It’s polite to use the term Mr in front of the first name so I became Mr Kay, or sometimes even Mr Kay Sir. The nickname followed me to Kurdistan which was fine – I even used Mr Kay as my radio call sign – and I was very used to it. Until one day in the office someone asked, “Why do they call you Miss Turkey?”

I’ve lost times of how many times I’ve been called Key, which is probably the least of my problems. In Kurdistan my name was very close to the slang for “stonking big erection” (if you’ll excuse the term) and the more sensitive of my local colleagues didn’t like to use the name, preferring instead to refer to me as “You know – her with that name”.

Considering I was working for CARE at the time and that was the word, as opposed to just being close, the organisation was frequently referred to by its initials. I confess I enjoyed explaining this to a high ranking official when he visited and (I know it’s naughty to eavesdrop but I couldn’t help it really) also enjoyed it when in typical Aussie fashion he gleefully relayed that fact to Canberra on the sat-phone.

Another odd thing that happened there was that after I had attended a meeting, the person who typed up the minutes may not have been as adept with an electronic typewriter as one might hope, and listed me as Kaaaaaaaaaaaaay. No matter how many times I tried to rectify this, that remained my name on subsequent minutes for several months.

We all know that parents need to take some care in choosing names. I have friends with the surname Long who used to joke that they’d call their first son Miles. Then again, some names may seem fine in one language but a bit rude in others. I’ve heard that Jim is a bit rude in Thai, for example.

On the other hand, when travelling round Vietnam some years ago, my travelling companion was intrigued by the number of shop fronts with a certain word in their signs. When he assumed an air of total innocence and asked a somewhat prim Vietnamese lady “What does *** mean?”, I just cringed. She didn’t even notice and replied “Lucky, of course. It is a very lucky name.” Indeed.

If you can’t beat ’em join ’em. Dave and I even had an email address for a while as DayVanQue but very few people got the joke so we ditched it. I’d given up worrying about my name, until I was reminded of it all when I received an email from Dave who went to Korea last week. He apparently was mildly surprised to find that one of his middle names was “Joan”. Nice!!!

Has your name ever been changed into something funny or embarrassing? Or have you ever had a colleague or friend with an unfortunate name? Why not comment and share it with the world?