Scott's Entry #6

"What's In A Name"

We've all seen it happen.  Maybe it was when you were introduced to the foreign visitor at a party.  Maybe it was the exchange student you sat next to in high school.  Or perhaps it was that guy dressed in a turban who bought clothes from you when you were working retail during summers home from college.

The conversation goes something like this:

YOU:  "Hey! How's it going?  My name is Scott.  What's your name?

Here's Ol' "What's His Name"
At Lake Atitlan

OTHER PERSON:  "Pleezed tew meet you Scwat.  My name is Tzurikfalaham Dresslewani."

YOU:  (stare silent, with mouth hanging open and puzzled look, trying to piece together the consonants of this guy's name.)

OTHER PERSON:  "Hello?"

YOU:  "Oh!  Hey... uh... Tzurkey Dressing...(botched name comes out sounding like the results of George W. Bush trying to sound out the names of foreign leaders during the State Of The Union Address) I take it that you aren't from the states."

OTHER PERSON:  "Pleez.  Call me Joe."

And so it goes.  This poor guy from a foreign land no longer goes by the name he was given, but instead, asks to be called something new.  Sure... in most cases it makes life easier on both people.  You don't have to attempt a correct pronunciation, butchering his name 76 times in the process... and he doesn't have to repeat himself a squillion times trying to be polite.  It's a fair trade.

For me, growing up with a last name like "Dannemiller" presented a few problems.  First off, I was always the LAST one to finish my penmanship assignments in first grade.  I secretly resented kids like Eric Gray, Joel Hayes and Gabby Kubo who had a distinct advantage in the "length of name" department.  To this day, I will argue that the reason I was always picked last for kickball was because I was late getting to recess trying to polish off the final "miller" while the rest of the kids had long since hauled their stale-milk-scented carcasses off to the playground.  But... I digress.

The other disadvantage of being "Dannemiller" is that people have a hard time believing that it is a SINGLE LAST NAME!

HOSTESS:  The wait will be twenty minutes.  Can I have the name of your party?

ME:  "My last name is "Dannemiller".

HOSTESS:  "Dan. E. Miller?  OK Mister Miller, we'll call you when a table is avai..."

ME:  "Uh... Dannemiller is the whole last name"

HOSTESS:  "Dayna  Miller?  Wow... Dayna... that's an interesting name for a man?  Is it a family name?  I'll bet you got picked on a lot as a kid."

ME:  "Please... just call me Scott."

(Uh, Gabby here.  Let me tell you, going from a simple, easy-to-spell, 4 letter last name  -KUBO.. ah, the days gone by- to an 11-letter monster has forced me to stop using my given name as well.  Forevermore I will be "Gabby" on all things not-legal.  Email addresses, applications for employment, and when admitting ownership to pets etc..  I also really like me new spelling "D'miller".  Feel free to use it anytime on Xmas cards and the like, but don't tell Scott I started it.)  Man, the things you'll do for love.

(Scott here... Let's get back to the story.)  For this reason, I've learned to lead with "Scott" in the dance of mispronunciation.  It shortens the game and avoids the pain.  However, in Guatemala, all bets are off.  The name "Scott" is my new worst enemy.

It started when we arrived.  Our first meeting with Guatemalans started with the obligatory introductions.  When people would come up to me and shake my hand I would say, "Hello, pleased to meet you.  My name is Scott."

My words were met with fuzzy looks and blank stares.  Finally... they would say, "Otra vez, por favor?"  (One more time, please).  So, I would repeat myself.  Then, the Guatemalan would take a stab at it.  "Oscar?"  they would ask.  (The response actually sounded more like Oz-Care).  After three tries, they would finally get a little warmer.  "Es-cot!" 

This was close enough for me.  The hand shaking would stop, and they would move on to the next person in line, satisfied that they had figured out the gringo's name.  The only problem was... 20 seconds later, they would forget their near pronunciation and we'd be back to square one again.  Everywhere we went, I encountered the same problem.  In fact, at one church, we were asked to introduce ourselves in front of the whole congregation.  I introduced myself as "Oscar Dannemiller" just to speed the process along and start one step ahead.

After running into this problem for two weeks straight, it was evident that I would have to make a change for sanity's sake.  It was then that I realized how attached I am to my name.  Changing it would not be an easy thing for me to accept.  First I thought of the poor East Indian man we talked about earlier... remember good ol' "Joe?"  Next, I thought of my lovely wife who went from her "Express Line" name of Gabby Kubo to the "Slow Lane In Boca Raton Florida During The Wintertime" name of Gabriele Dannemiller.  What a sacrifice!  If she can do it, so can I.  Still, for me this would be a change of Biblical Proportions.

Biblical Proportions?

Biblical Proportions!

Even though my job title is now something akin to "missionary,"  I am not what you probably think of when you hear someone is a missionary.  Unlike traditional images of missionaries in the past, I am not in Guatemala to SAVE ALL OF THE HEATHEN NATIVES!  I'm also not one of those guys who can quote Bible verses off the top of his head.  The only time I can hit the nail on the head is with John 3:16, and that's probably because it's always featured on a big poster-board sign held by some bare-chested, beer-swilling slob at major league sporting events.  In fact, so long as we're confessing sins, I have a laundry list for ya'.

I use swear words when I stub my toe.  If watching NFL football is "keeping the Sabbath Holy", then consider me to be a close follower of that particular commandment!  What's more... I often covet my neighbor's goods... especially the lawn care tools.  In short, I don't expect there will ever be a "Saint Oscar Dannemiller" canonized anytime soon.

Still, for Gabby and me, this year is all about following God's call.  While I may not walk around in a white flowing robe healing the sick, I do pay a lot of close attention to what God tells me to do, and firmly believe that He is present in my life in many ways.   (WARNING:  This may be a bit weird for those of you who know me but haven't heard me talk much about my spiritual side - which will be a change for you when you read some of my journal entries this year)  I know this because there are constant reminders in my life.  God is always with me if I only open my eyes and look a little.

So... back to the name thing.  I remembered back to this past spring and a sermon that our pastor gave (yes... Nancy... you can believe it... we actually pay attention to what you say on Sundays.  It's good stuff!)   Anyhow, Pastor Nancy was talking about how there were numerous times in the Bible when God gave people new names. 

For example... Abram and Sarai wanted a son.  When Abram was 99, God promised he and Sarai that they would finally get their wish.  Abram laughed at God and so did Sarai.  They were saying things like (and I am taking some liberties here), "Sure God... I saw on The Tonight Show how Tony Randall (of "The Odd Couple" fame) fathered a kid when he was almost 80!  That was a miracle... but I'm almost into the triple digits... and so is my wife!  Fat Chance!"  Still, God noted the strength of his character and came back to Abram and asked for his faithfulness as well as the faithfulness of his wife.  To signify that Abram was now a "changed man", The Father gave him a new name - Abraham.  God also changed Sarai's name to "Sarah."  Not long after this, the couple was hosting numerous baby showers and shopping for cute outfits at Baby Gap.

And so goes the story of the apostle Paul, who used to be called Saul when he went around stoning Christians.  Peter, who is now the bouncer at the pearly gates (get your tickets early... supplies are running out!) used to be called Simon before God called him into service.  All were given the names of their Father (the big man upstairs) to signify that they now saw the world through different eyes and had the spirit of service.  Even still, all doubted that God knew what he was talking about, and their faith was continually challenged.

So... fast-forward to 2003 where some gangly red-headed guy is sitting at a kitchen table in Guatemala eating "Surprise On A Plate" for the 386th time in a row and wondering why in the WORLD he would ever give up his comfortable life in Austin for this experience.  "Was this a huge mistake?  How did I ever think I could make a difference here?  How will I ever be able to relate to these people?  Why can't I flush toilet paper down the toilet here?  How many days 'til I can go home?"

And then our new host dad comes to visit me at our language school.  Gabby and I will be living with him for the rest of the year beginning in October.  He has been talking to the people at our church in Cantel, 20 minutes outside Quetzaltenango.  We'll be doing a lot of work there this year, so he is prepping all of the congregation for our arrival.  Unfortunately, "Scott" is too hard for them to pronounce.  He tells our boss that "Oscar" doesn't fit either. 

Note:  This conversation did take place in Spanish, but words have been translated to protect the idiomatically challenged (namely myself).

Martin:  "Es-cot... I was wondering if you wouldn't mind changing your name this year?"

Me:  "Sure.  No problem!  What did you have in mind?"

Martin:  "I have a cousin whose name is Kenneth.  It's easy for me to say, and the people in church will have no problem with it either.  And, I heard it's your middle name.  What do you think?"

Me:  "That sounds perfect to me!"

Martin:  "Seriously!  That would be great!  You sure Kenneth is OK?"

Me:  "Kenneth is perfect.  In fact, it's my dad's name."

So... here I am in Guatemala with all my doubts and fears, faced with big life changes, going by a name given to me by my father... or Father... but who can be sure.  Coincidence?  Maybe.  Irony?  Not sure.  Message from God?  I think so.  It's one of those slap-you-in-the-face kind of signs that my brain understands.  However, you can decide for yourself. 

Whatever the case, my opinion (not that you asked for it) is that the world around me is always trying to tell me something.  I just have to look and listen.  The smiles from a kid... the sun on my face... the kindness of a stranger... the smell of rain on hot summer concrete... a warm cup of hot chocolate on a cold day.  I firmly believe that all of these things are little signs from God... mini-advertisements for Heaven... all proof that there is something incredible out there that is trying to reel us in. 

Until next time, this is Kenneth, signing out with words from a song I remember from church at my college campus.  I'm sure it comes from the Bible somewhere, but I can't quote the verse.  Still, I think it's a fitting prayer for the day.

May God bless you and keep you.  May the face of God shine upon you and be gracious unto you.  May God with delight touch your life... and give you peace.