Who’s sayin’ Hussein? Florinda Hussein Vasquez, that’s who

This one is for the MOMocrats.

We here at MOMocrats have decided to make today an impromptu “Just Call Me Hussein” Day in response to people like Bill Cunningham who is obviously still seven-years-old.

Bill needs to learn how to use his words so in order to remind him that making fun of people’s names is not polite, we are using our powers as mothers to teach this naughty little boy a lesson. Today, for “Just Call Me Hussein” Day, we are sharing stories about how childhood bullies—because they are bullies—tried to make us feel bad about ourselves by mocking our names.

Bill Cunningham and others like him who try to imply that Barack Obama is a “terrorist” because of him, consider yourselves in a time out. No, more than that: You’re Grounded!

If you’d like to participate in MOMocrats’ “Just Call Me Hussein Day,” simply title your blog posts like I did above and either link back to this post in yours, or leave a comment with your link below. We will find you and link you!

Kids can be jerks sometimes. We remember that. To be honest, sometimes we were the jerks ourselves. And much as we hate to admit it – and we try to raise them to be “better than that” – sometimes our kids are too. Some kids outgrow it, and apparently some don’t.

The MOMocrats decided to respond to recent comments emphasizing Barack Obama’s Arabic middle name, implying an association with “the terrorists” (made at a campaign event for John McCain, who distanced himself quickly), by recollecting some of their own experiences being teased, laughed at, or unpleasantly singled out because of their unusual names – or some other personal factor. Some kids have a laser-sight for weakness.

If you don’t think a short, skinny (back then!), four-eyed, frizzy-haired bookworm with an oddball name like Florinda got picked on for numerous reasons, then you grew up on a different planet than I did. Any of those physical attributes (?) was certainly plenty of cannon fodder on its own, but the combination was, shall we say, not pleasant. My attempts at smart-aleck rejoinders tended to backfire on me, as well.

But the name. “Florinda Elizabeth Lantos” was a pretty big name for someone as small as I am, and the ways that “Florinda” can be mangled are quite creative. “Florenda,” “Felinda,” “Lorinda,” “Florlinda,” “Dorinda,” “Florina,” “Florida”…and I’m sure there are others I can’t remember. Most of them are perfectly nice names – except “Flo.” The lazy people would give up on trying to pronounce my name at all and just start calling me “Flo.” Don’t do it. No disrespect to any Flos or Florences, but the name will always signify big hair and “kiss my grits” to me, and that is just not my style or image in any way.

My last name was of a not-very-common ethnicity, and frequently was altered to “Lamppost” by my grade-school classmates; that was one reason that I was happy to change it when I married for the first time, especially since the new last name was pretty WASP-y. I wasn’t unhappy to change it when I married for the second time either, but now there’s a different ethnicity question. Tall Paul’s last name actually sounds like a better fit with my first name than any of the others I’ve had, but I’m concerned that people will encounter it and assume English isn’t my first language, which would be a problem, since no hablo Español.

An unusual name will make you stand out, like it or not, and as a kid you might wish your parents had been a little less creative. I’ve never thought my name particularly suited me – it’s a bit too exotic – but I’ve grown into it (so to speak), and I can’t seriously imagine being called anything else. My experiences have taught me the importance of respecting and acknowledging people’s names, and getting them right, and addressing people as they want to be addressed. And as I’ve grown into my name, I’ve outgrown people who would pick on it, or on me because of it. But this week’s news events make me think that not everyone does outgrow such things. It wasn’t funny then, and it’s really not funny now.

So call me “Florinda.” Florinda Elizabeth Lantos Pendley Vasquez. And just for today, call me “Hussein” if you want to. Just don’t call me “Flo.”

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  1. I love your name. It’s beautiful.

    As for “Flo” —would it help to know that to me it connotes a stylish Frenchwoman? That’s because the first “Flo” (for Florence) I knew was when I lived in Paris and she was lovely indeed.

    Picture it said with a short French “o.”

    But, never fear, to me you are always and forever Florinda (except when my spell check changes it to “Florida”) and never ever “Flo.”

  2. Working Girl – I always have to add my name to spell-check, or else it would make me “Florida” too. I used to live there, but that’s as close as it gets.

    It was my grandmother’s name, and I take no credit for it. 🙂

  3. I’m 100% with you on the Flo thing.

    It’s funny because I always *wished* for an unusual name, tired of being lumped, clumped and mocked as “just one of the Julies.”

    And I think you’re right…everyone recalls being picked on, somewhere out there are the pickers (and it just might be us sometimes LOL).


  4. Julie P – I liked your contribution to the “Just call me Hussein” meme – Graceland is one of my all-time-favorite albums.

    That’s one thing I’ve always wondered about…as adults, many of us recall being the underdog, but what about the kids who put us in that position? Where are there reminiscences? Maybe they’re not talking much about it because they feel bad about it now. And there is a pecking order, too – sometimes the underdogs responded by turning on those even lower on the playground food chain.

    I think an unusual name is often appreciated more as an adult. Then again, I come across some kids’ names, imagine the hell they catch over them from other kids, and think their parents must be clueless, forgetful, or just plain mean.

    Thanks so much for stopping by, and I’m adding your blog to my subscription list!

  5. I admit that working in a job where I come across a lot of names every day, I sometimes do wonder if the parents are aware of what their child may endure once they reach an age where other children will pick up on the unusualness of it. Truth be told though, even the most common and typical names are twisted and turned by those seeking to pick on someone else.

    Jokes come my way all the time because of my name, but not so much the bullying (I experienced that too–but not in relation to name calling). People are always dining at my place or they feel the need to point out the obvious weather conditions outside. I sometimes let out a monotone, “Ha. Haven’t heard that before” and keep walking or turn away. These people don’t mean to be cruel, of course, and it’s much different than the malicious bullying that you are talking about. Still, it is annoying. I wouldn’t dare to that to anyone else.

    My husband is very sensitive about his name. He does not tolerate any play on his name and sometimes if I say a word that rhymes with his name in a sentence with his name he cringes, even though my intent is completely innocent. It shouldn’t have to be like that. His real name, by the way, is a common one–not really that unusual at all.

  6. Literary Feline – Your husband’s name isn’t really Anjin? 🙂 I guess it’s a good thing Tall Paul isn’t sensitive about his name, or I’d be in some trouble.. But you’re right about how people will pick on even ordinary names if they want to. Just ask my son, Christopher Pendley, who endured “Crispy” (Chris P.) and the ever-popular “Pissy Chrissy.” (My cousin Chris got that one too, actually.)

    Much of the time, as you say, it’s not with cruel or malicious intent – just cluelessness or misguided humor. (The comments from people who’ve dined at your place – my dad would totally do that.) That doesn’t make it any funnier or the receiving end, though.