I've been getting a lot of mail from people named Schmuck, who, to a person, think of Sister Mary Schmuck, the subject of my most recent dispatch in The Atlantic, as a hero. Here is one such letter, from someone who asked me to withhold his (new) name:
I read your article with great interest because Schmuck was my given name. My father emigrated to the United States from Germany in 1954 but he never really got the joke. I changed my name about 15 years ago when I first got married. I took my wife's name at the time, but she is now almost my ex-wife, so that presents some interesting issues. Your article was a good piece, but I can tell you that a 72 year old nun who lives in a relatively cloistered environment probably has it relatively easy. It is a very difficult name to carry, and it can make almost every human transaction from picking up dry cleaning to making a dinner reservation to trying to develop a law practice very challenging and more than occasionally confrontational.
The best observation I ever heard on the topic is that either you make the name or the name makes you. Sister Mary is clearly making the name. At the end of the day, it's all about respect, and she is reminding people that whatever etymology of their name a person should not be treated disrespectfully or presumed to have the personal characteristics implied by the usage of their name.
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