What’s in a last name?

I worked for community newspapers for over seven years, so there’s a decent chance I may have misspelled people’s names at various points along the way. If I ever misspelled yours, I’m sorry.

But if it makes you feel any better, I’ve endured my fair share of misspellings and mispronunciations for as long as I can remember.

My last name Sherrier has been written as Shearer, Scherrier, Sherer, and other variations. On rare occasion, people have attempted to give my first name a sex change.

Pronunciations tend to be just as creative. Sherrier rhymes with merrier and terrier, but folks have opted for Sheeerer, Sherr-ee-ae, Sherrararar, and so on.

I’m not complaining. It’s understandable. There aren’t many Sherriers in my area. I don’t hold it against anyone. It happens.

Back in school, whenever the teacher would read through the roll on the first day, I never knew which name I’d get. But I’d politely correct these teachers, and as you’d expect, they’d take me at my word.

Except one.

This particular teacher did not have the most stellar reputation among her students. Most lived in fear of her and dreaded her class.

I usually found such concerns about teachers to be overblown. Even the worst ones I had were still perfectly decent, fair, and reasonable people.

This one was hyped up a little more than usual. So I entered the first class with some apprehension, as did my classmates. Would she live up to the horror stories?

As she called down the roll, she inevitably came to my name. Her face lit up, as if she were thinking, Ah, I bet everyone gets this name wrong, but I know what it is. I’ll show these kids how smart I am.

She read my name with pride: “Daniel Sher-ee-ae.”

I gently corrected her. “It’s Sher-ee-er.”

Usually, that would have been the end of it. This wasn’t usually.

She said, “Actually, it’s supposed to be Sher-ee-ae. It‘s French.”

What can you say to that? Do you and the teacher start debating your name? Do you insist that however it used to be pronounced, this is the way it is now—that you’re not in France—that you have several other European countries in your blood?

I decided to just let it go. My classmates’ only immediate response was dead silence.

That teacher never spoke my last name again. I was listening for it. Never happened. Maybe that was her compromise: I could keep the pronunciation I used all my life, but she wouldn’t foul the French language by uttering it.

The episode did, however, add fuel to her horrific reputation. The story spread fast: “She told Dan Sherrier how to pronounce his own name!”

So yes, you have my sincere apologies if I’ve ever misspelled your name. But trust me, I feel your pain.