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“Papers, Please”

by on October 24, 2014

                                                           “Papers, Please”

                                                          by Marco M. Pardi

Note: All comments are appreciated, read, and responded to accordingly.  The COMMENTS sections for all previous articles have been opened for use.  I will certainly look forward to your comments.  Comments that do not specifically address content will be trashed as SPAM.

“What signifies knowing the Names, if you know not the Natures of Things.”  Benjamin Franklin. (1706-1790) Poor Richard’s Almanack, November 1750.

Over the years several stray dogs have come to my house.  My wife says it’s because of how I smell.  Regardless,  I always go outside and sit down where the dog can see me.  I look for signs of illness or aggression but have yet to see either.  Sooner or later the dog comes to me, out of need or just curiosity.  I have yet to find one with a collar, much less a name tag.  I live in the American southeast and such things are just not “manly”.  For that matter, I’ve not yet seen a neutered male dog.  Of course, once the connection has been made I ask the dog his or her name.  No response yet, but I keep trying. 

Throughout my life I have, for one reason or another, been in circumstances where I encountered wild and not-so-wild non- human animals.  In every case I knew the common name for members of the species.  In some cases I knew the taxonomic name established in the binomial nomenclature.  Somewhere along the line it occurred to me that I never once wondered if that cobra answered to a name, or that tiger, whose long, low growl suggested I could fit in one of its lungs.   Of course, being in the wild, they are free.  However, recent studies of dolphins and whales strongly suggest they have “names” for each other, if not for themselves.  Analysis of utterances, especially within whale pods, strongly supports the conclusion that whale mothers emit a unique, short utterance to their newborn calf which is picked up by other pod members and used solely toward that calf.  The calf learns to respond to that utterance while at the same time developing the full range of utterances characteristic of that pod – except that it does not replicate the unique sound applied to itself.  Thus, it appears that this utterance is an identifier, a name.

Reading about this brought me back to my early years in American schools.  I sat in classes, all male at first but coed later,  in which I, in contrast to the several Johns, James, Williams, and Roberts, had a unique identifier; through all my years of schooling I never encountered another Marco.  Indeed, I often saw teachers having to include the first letter of the boy’s last name in order to preclude a storm of responses from the others: John S.,  William B., and etc.  There were even cases where that was not enough, the full name had to be used.  In my case the teacher never had to extend to the first initial of my last name.  In fact, no one else had either my first or my last name.

I wondered what it must be like to have the same name as someone else.  What must it be like to grow up hearing, “No, the other one”?  A twist on this came in the form of my early difficulty in speaking my own name.  Since I never had reason to enunciate the word Marco – or Pardi, except in rare moments when asked my name,  I felt I had difficulty in pronouncing it.  Shaping the sound seemed odd.  In fact, my father, a pedantic practitioner of precise and exact enunciation in several languages, took me to task for my American rolling of the r’s in my name instead of the Italian trilling of the r’s.  I did not make that mistake again.

And so the phenomenon of naming a person became interesting.  Studying Anthropology I read of cultures that waited for some distinguishing characteristic to appear in the child before a name, based on that characteristic, was applied.  And, there were the cultures in which the name of a deceased person died with him, never to be used again.  In traditional Italian culture secondary names – “middle” names were often a declaration of fealty to some revered religious figure.  It was not uncommon for a man to have the name Maria somewhere in his collection, but no one thought there had been a gender mix-up.  I was also always told that Italian culture did not practice “Junior”, the Third, etc.  I can imagine kids directly named after their fathers and more remote predecessors must feel pressure along with personal anonymity.  For too long in school I was my brother’s “little brother.”

Through school and the military I strongly discouraged anyone who tried to Americanize my name;  Marc, Mark were proper names in themselves, but not my name.  Further, they would strip my heritage.  Sometimes people questioned my name, with me explaining I was born in Italy and am Italian.  Often they said, “You don’t look Italian.”  Rather than cite my British grandmothers, which would simply have condoned their ignorance, I usually replied, “You’ve never been to Italy.”  

When my daughter was born I named her Sophia, for the Greek concept wisdom.  She has far exceeded what I had envisioned.  Yet, there were people who thought I named her for Sophia Loren, and even told her she would have to develop large breasts to not disappoint me.  How do stupid people get born?  How do they survive so long?

After accepting a request to transfer into a different Division within Centers for Disease Control I presented myself in the Administrative Office for in-clearance.  During GOP administrations CDC was always starved for funds; “public health” sounds so Democratic.  So I should not have been surprised when the Administrative Assistant checked my security badge, leaped to her feet and shouted to the office, “Our money troubles are over!  Our Mafia connection is here!”  I was stunned.  I truly did not know what to say.  So, I shot her.  (Note: The Division Director heard her outcry and issued her a Letter of Reprimand that day.)

Other venues provided opportunities to consider the human condition.  When an out of town couple came for a visit I decided to take them to a restaurant with which I was familiar.  I had long ago learned to not give my last name to any hostess when checking in, but my wife had slipped and done so at this restaurant before.  The hostess was a rather fetching young girl.  Looking into her eyes gave one an unobstructed view to the rear of her cranium; the pressure folds in her interior occiput were quite charming.  As expected, she called us to our table with a tittering “Party, party of two!”  So I was not averse to turning the tables, as it were, when we entered with our guests. 

Clearly not remembering us, she asked for the name under which to place us.  I responded by spelling out the name – Secks.  My guests almost gave away the game when they doubled over.  Nonetheless, we were eventually called to our seats with a loud “Secks party of four!”  I was sure I heard chairs pushed back as middle-aged husbands craned for a view and sour wives reconsidered their steak knives.

Even in my 70’s I still encounter people who respond to my introduction with, “Oh, like Marco Polo, eh?”  A flat affect usually suffices, but sometimes I’m pressed to respond with, “I think I was 8 when I first heard that.”

Returning for a moment to non-humans, I adopted a dog whose philosophical demeanor inspired me to name him Plato (later, the Vet said it was only worms).  When checking him in for his first Vet visit, I gave the receptionist his name.  She giggled and said, “Play dough, what a cute name!”  I said, “No.  Plato, as in the Greek philosopher.”  Her marvelously blank gaze informed me that I must spell it for her.

Returning to college teaching in the age of the internet,  I advised students that if they “Googled” me (and who doesn’t?) they should enter Marco M. Pardi in the search box.  Two other Marco Pardi names have surfaced on the net, one a high powered business executive and the other a former Professor of Mathematics at Stanford University.  The Professor moved back to Rome (Italy),  where I looked him up when I was there in the 1990’s.  It would be interesting to have conversations with them about their name experiences here in the U.S.  But then, I would guess many others have had their share as well.


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  1. Quite timely in light of the recent media storm about Amal Alamuddin taking the last name of her husband, George Clooney. Names are a very important part of our image. I have long thought about taking back my maiden name, but could tell, while my spouse says it is my decision, it is something he would find hurtful. I have talked to many a married man and the majority say it is important to them their wife have their last name.Many said one last name gives the family a feeling of unity. When asked if they would take the wife’s last name, not a single yes. So, I have long since given up explaining my heritage is Irish, when asked about my German heritage from my married last name. I was listening to an interview with the comedian Hannibal Buress. It makes for a rather difficult life going through it with the name Hannibal. But he said probably not as rough as being named Adolph.
    Thanks for another thought provoking article.


  2. Thank you, Mary. I have always wondered how women felt about giving up their family name. I view it as patriarchal domination.


    • Dana permalink

      Marco, I may be unique, but I was thrilled to give up my family name since I associate it with a difficult childhood. Now having been divorced twice, for several years I was in a quandary about what permanent surname to use one day.

      I would never again change my name should I remarry, particularly since I will not be having any more children. I am still looking forward to the day when I will change my last name to Franklin, for the great man you quoted to introduce this blog.


      • Dana, I remember our discussions of this, and agree now as I did then. Now that much of my life is behind me I can say I have used the name Janus, knowing that almost no one would catch the joke.

        I’m quite comfortable, even knowing the little about him that I do, thinking Benjamin would have taken a very great interest in engaging you in conversation as often as possible.


  3. diannejoydiamond permalink

    Your name is as intriguing as you are, and has that Roman flair. I still remember all 5 of your middle names, which I will list only by first initial as you may not want all your readers to know them.
    Marco M A F M S Pardi. And indeed one of those names is Maria. You do seem to encounter too many young women who seem to be lacking in the intelligence department. Is that a Southeast phenomena? Our vet receptionists and hostesses don’t have the same limitation. My own experience with names has a Jewish slant. My paternal grandmother, Anna, died long before I was born. I was named to honor and remember her, hence Dianne with 2 N’s, like Anna. I think of her some times and wonder what it would have been like to know her. I constantly deal with people spelling my name with only 1 N, and it looks so anemic spelled that way.. But it is my middle name that I have grown to love. A very close friend of my parents died the day I was born. His name was Joey. So they slurred it to become Joy. I rarely used my middle name. But when I retired and was replacing my business-oriented email address to something personal, I began to use my full name to remind myself to welcome joy into my life on a daily basis. It is a great teacher for me. And it also illustrates that out of death and sadness emerges new life and happiness. So though I never knew Joey, I am glad he is remembered through my name.


  4. diannejoydiamond permalink

    PS A friend of mine got married in the 90’s, and her husband did take HER last name. So it does happen, though rarely.


  5. Dianne, what a marvelously philosophical and uplifiting comment! Thanks so much. You truly embody the Joy, and I fear I could never keep up with you. Marco


  6. Now you have me wondering whether I have ever pronounced your name properly. I speak bits of several languages and have been told I have a good ear, but am always tongue-tied when speaking them to “native speakers” for fear I will sound the fool.

    As harsh as I imagine your father’s “lesson” to be, it stood you in good stead in later years. I know that the slightest mispronunciation can become a serious issue in the right situation; the wrong method of counting, too. As I’m sure you are aware, One is counted with the index finger, while Ein is counted with the thumb.

    As for Plato (the dog); he is well named. The Greek philosopher Plato was so named because of his strong musculature; a second feature they have in common.

    My mother and I share the same first name, and so I always used my middle name growing up, and still do in many situations. The military taught me to use Rose, and I guess it’s easier to remember, but I’ve never been sure it’s really me. No matter; a rose by any other name…


  7. Dana permalink

    Marco, I am roaring with laughter (inwardly and silently – I’m at work). I think this is the most humorous blog you have written thus far.

    I never knew or heard of another Dana until I was a young adult. Until that point, school children would tell me I had a boy’s name. I would also search the racks of novelties with first names on them (pencils, pens, key chains), only to be disappointed never to find my name. To this day, people mispronounce my name, “Diana, Danna, etc…”

    Stupid people are everywhere, and they seem to be getting stupider. Marissa and I were just discussing this yesterday morning as I drove her to work. There was a 5K run (it should have been more appropriately named a 5K crawl) around Atlantic Station. Between the 5K hobblers, Atlanta police directing traffic (while texting on their cell phones), and all of the slack-jawed, drooling drivers all around us, she was nearly late to work for the first time. We were at first impatient and bordering on road rage, but wound up breaking out into howls of laughter. For a moment, the stupidity all around us was insanely comical. Unfortunately, when I go over details of such experiences later on, I almost get a chill. If humans are this clueless now, how much worse will it/can it become?

    Back to names – to this day people ask me if I named my daughter after the actress Marisa Tomei. Naturally, I did not, and I still fail to see why this would matter to anyone.


    • Thank you, Dana. Yes, seeing your name on the class roster I would not have been surprised either way – although I did have a female college friend named Dana. I’m glad you found this piece both relevant and humorous. I do strive to be like you in finding the humor in irritating situations, at the time instead of just later. Tell Marissa hello for me; still hoping to meet her.


  8. Hi Marco ! let me introduce myself 🙂 Loredana Salvatoriana Carmelina Musacchio !! and my father was Nicola Maria Musacchio .
    (and am pretty sure that I can pronounce your name more than properly with both accents 😉 !!)

    However, in Japan I am known as Lory Nakamura , and this always gave me a hard time in the States with my credit card as Lory Nakamura and passport as Loredana Musacchio (they never let me use my cc !! …false identity !
    YES! and did you notice ? No Nakamura on my Italian passport either. Imagine what ?
    Now in Italy women cannot have their husband`s name on their passport (by law), only their maiden name. !!! Maybe Dana would call it evolution (lol!) but for me it was always a source of `papers` trouble.

    And Dana, this is for you. My father used to call me Dana all the time (!!!), taking the last part of my name Loredana (or Nana`). But most people would call me Lory, choosing the first part.

    Oh! forgot to say that I also have a Japanese name with even Chinese characters Nakamura Loliko !!
    Oh MY! Names have been a messy thing in my life !! 😉

    Marco, as always, thank you so much for such wonderful and hilarious article !!


    • Thank you, Lory. Your name inspires a peaceful feeling. Interesting. Yes, papers can be such a drag. Getting an American driver license was a chore because my birth certificate is, of course, in Italian. I volunteered to translate but they wouldn’t allow that. So, had to get a person from the university to do it for them. I sometimes get credit card offers in Spanish, and feared for a long time that the county would zero in on me for jury duty presuming I was “Hispanic”. I did once get a credit card offer in Italian, and nearly accepted it just to congratulate the company on its wisdom.

      The first day in my Mandarin class the instructor gave us our names in Chinese. So many years ago I don’t remember it. Thinking again of Google search, women are hard to track down because of name changes when they marry. But, us guys are out there with our pants down.


    • Dana permalink

      Lory, that is so neat your father used to call you “Dana.” 🙂


  9. Michael E. Stamm permalink

    I”ve known–or at least known of–one other Marco (not counting the Venetian explorer), who was the younger brother of a surfer dude I knew after I graduated from high school. And I’ve known three Dana’s, two women and one man (not counting present company or the actor and actress). I’ve run into a couple of people, one an annoying high school teacher, who thought that my last name should be pronounced as it probably was in Germany (or maybe Switzerland) when my paternal ancestors left circa 1840.

    And years ago I worked with a German doctoral student who took his wife’s name as part of a hyphenated last name–and her part came first. I thought privately that it was thus a trifle unwieldy–Scots and German don’t make a natural combination–but figured it was his business, and hers…


    • Thanks, Mike. You share the same origins as my wife – German/Swiss. Her maiden name is regularly mangled here. My most common exposure to Marco happens at motel swimming pools. I still sometimes have to restrain myself from answering the call..


      • Mike Stamm permalink

        To be honest, I was going to say, “Venetian explorer and swimming pool habitue’,” but thought better of it at the last moment. Me, after 40+ years I’m still dealing with, “Let’s ask Mikey! He hates everything! Hey Mikey!” from that moronic breakfast cereal commercial…


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