The name “Clara” hasn’t been super popular in America since the 1940s. This is cool because, unlike all my friends named Ashley, I never have to ask, “Which Clara do you mean?”
I’m uncommon in literature also—I show up occasionally in old books as the upstairs maid or someone’s spinster aunt. I never have to worry about being the villain, though I did recently come across a short story in which a college-aged Clara refused an offer of ice cream. That’s tantamount to libel.
The heroine in The Nutcracker is a Clara, of course. Like most little girls I logged several Christmases in a velvet dress watching the children’s ballet with my mom, and I felt a justified sense of ownership over the whole show. My parents found me a pop-up book version of The Nutcracker for Christmas the first year, and when I opened it…
…they had changed the little girl’s name to Marie. The writers must have wanted everyone to think they were French and sophisticated. I just thought they were mean.
I was similarly disappointed last month when I found out that Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, was actually named Clarissa. At least she had good taste in nicknames.
Anyway, I’ve still got Clara Bow, leading sex symbol of the roaring twenties, and Clara Rockwell, virtuoso of the sciencey-delightful theremin. I can also claim an 18th-century rhinoceros and a minor planet.
In practice, 40% of the people I meet say, “Ooh, that’s my great-grandmother’s name.” The other 60% say, “Nice to meet you, Claire.”
The real problem with this phenomenon is that I don’t always catch on right away—I tend to just assume that people are mumbly. Then I realize a month later that someone I work with every day has been calling me the wrong name, and how am I supposed to explain that I’ve never corrected it before? It’s a lot easier to ignore it, get incrementally more irritated, complain to outside parties, make 6-inch nametags for my desk, and finally lose all my composure in a poorly timed burst of self-righteousness.
This unfortunate fate befell a very sweet lady at my office last week. I couldn’t bring myself to embarrass her directly about the syllable she’d been missing for weeks, so instead I changed the desktop on our shared computer.
Then I changed it again.
Then I tried some cleverly constructed, loud conversations with nearby coworkers.
Finally, on my way out the door for lunch, she said it one more time.
This is the response I had expected and stayed silent for weeks to avoid:
This is the response I received:
The moral of the story is probably something about bottling up frustration, or assumptions, or possibly listening skills. The lesson I prefer you take away, though, is this:
Also don’t call me Carla.
(P.S. It tickles me to think that, 40 years from now, kids will say, “Courtney?! That’s an old lady’s name! Just like Britney and Krystal.”)