Two senior boys popped through my classroom door along with the sophomores making their way into class after lunch. Their laughing exclamation was not referring to articles of clothing, but a mispronounced abbreviation of my last name. These two boys stopped in my room with the sole purpose of calling me “Robes.” And in that moment, a dreaded vision of my future at this school flashed before my eyes.
During the lunch announcements, another teacher had referred to me as “Mrs. Rōberson” with a long “O” sound, like the word “row”. It’s supposed to be pronounced “Rŏberson,” as in the word “rock.” My name is like “Robertson” without the “T”. The senior boys were amused because last week we’d had multiple conversations in just one period with their class about how to say my name. “It’s ROBerson,” they’d heard me say, only to correct someone else again several minutes later. And then whole class collectively corrected one oblivious student who’d missed all the previous conversations and called me Mrs. Row-berson. The poor kid was answered with a chorus of “It’s ROBerson!” from the whole room. So when my coworker announced my name wrong to the whole school, the senior boys found it pretty funny.
The mispronunciation of my last name is common, and I have to combat it every time I take a new job. I had one boss who never got it right for a whole year. Since I’m hoping to work here long-term, I have been pretty proactive about trying to get people to say my name right, but apparently the teacher giving the announcements didn’t know.
To make things more interesting, this school has a unique tendency to nickname their teachers. Two-syllable last names are abbreviated down to one syllable, while one-syllable last names are joined with the teacher’s first initial (like JLo). These nicknames have become ingrained in the school, and while not all the teachers have them, the nicknames that do exist are used commonly even among the staff.
My students tried to nickname me in my first few days of my employment, but nothing stuck. “C-Rob” didn’t roll off the tongue well (thank goodness), and I put a stop to “Robbie” before it could gain any momentum. The students got bored with the attempt after a few days and I’ve been simply Mrs. Roberson for the past month. So imagine my mental cringe when two charismatic, enthusiastic seniors came into a room filled with impressionable sophomores and called out my name abbreviated and with the wrong vowel sound.
They were being satirical, making a joke of the mispronunciation from lunch, but in a flash, I saw a potential nickname being formed. I wasn’t wrong. The same boys immediately followed up their joke with the semi-sincere comment, “Hey, can we call you that?”
“No! No, you can’t!” I was laughing, but insistent nonetheless. “Then everyone will think my name is Row-berson! No one will ever get it right!”
To which they responded, “Can we call you Robs?”
I think I’ve escaped this time, but only time will tell for sure…