Melody Benjamin is an MFA student in the SCAD-Atlanta Writing Program.
My mother says that God told her to name me Melody. She says He led her to a verse:
Ephesians 5:19 “…singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;”
In Isaiah 43:1, God tells Israel, “I have called you by name; you are mine.”
If I believe in this sort of thing, my existence is stamped with divinity; the name Melody was chosen by Jehovah.
Did He know people would have such difficulty pronouncing it?
When properly pronounced, its sound mimics its definition.
It’s meant to be pretty, uplifting, joyful.
Melody – a sequence of single notes that is musically satisfying
my name is almost always mispronounced; when I was a kid, I decided it was an impossible name. I wanted to be a:
Malady – a disease or ailment
It can’t be a coincidence that melody and malady resemble in spelling and sound. I don’t believe in coincidences.
I read this once and it all made sense:
“What of art?
-It is a malady.”
–Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
If (a) music is art, then (b) art is a malady, then (c) melody is a malady.
I’m not sure if it’s my lazy mouth or people’s assuming ears, but most people hear Mel-a-nie. Then I have to repeat myself a few times:
Melanie is far more common than Melody, so I understand the mistake, but I never excuse it. I can’t ignore the error. It has to be corrected before anything else is said. It doesn’t matter who I’m speaking with. The pastor. Church folk. The president. My parents’ colleagues. Your question or comment is dismissed until I’ve had the hearing pleasure of my name.
My parents’ former coworker, a VP, decided to introduce me to her guests:
This is Mel-a-nie.
I frowned and waited for her to make the mistake again.
Mel-a-nie, how’s school?
I respond to Mel-a-nie like a conservative homeowner during a home invasion.
I smiled before pulling the trigger.
Mel-a-dy. It’s Melody.
The look on her face. For a moment, I thought I’d actually hit her.
Ex-cuuuse me. I’m sorry. Mel-a-dy.
Some people actually think they’re saying Melody. I’ve gotten into countless quarrels with people who swear on their tongues that they’re saying Melody. I could make a living off my senses. It’s the final syllable that my ears linger for. I wait for the impressive dee or the unacceptable nee.
Church people talk a lot. Most of it is gossip or made-up scripture:
He won’t give you more than you can bear.
My family spent a lot of time at church. For a few years, we were the Wednesday night, Thursday night and all day Sunday people. Well, one Sunday afternoon in New Jersey, I was unusually irritable. Children’s Church was having a picnic on the lawn. We had warm, gritty watermelon and messy cold-cut sandwiches.
Melanie, it’s your turn to read the bible verse?
Melanie, I know you hear me.
I sat in that hot, metal chair, arms folded and face twisted.
It’s Mel-a-dy. Mel-a-dy!
It was no use. Even my music reference couldn’t save me.
Melanie, calm down. We know your name.
I stood up and knocked over my chair. I kicked my white Mary Jane’s off and had a fit in the grass. I tore bits of parched grass from the ground and threw them into the air like a witch in a seance. They thought I was possessed. Out came the holy water and the tattered leather bibles. New Jersey summers are vicious, so after a while of kicking and screaming, I passed out. The church folk were convinced that they’d laid my demons to rest. Moments later, I woke up.
Mel-a-dy, are you alright?
Finally, after raging in the grass and losing the barrettes to my braids, they got it right. I decided that it wasn’t good enough.
It’s Mel-an-ie! It’s Mel-a-nie!
The hatted church folk knotted their foreheads and clenched their jaws. I just wanted to fuck with them. If they knew anything about the bible, they’d know the importance of names.
Saul became Paul (prayed for to humble)
Abram became Abraham (exalted father to father of many)
Jacob became Israel (supplanter to God wrestler)
Ben-oni became Benjamin (son of my sorrow to son of my right hand)
Simon became Peter (listening to rock)
I can’t imagine God would go through the trouble of changing names if they weren’t important.
We moved to Georgia when I was thirteen. The strange vernacular distressed me. How would the South manage my name? The upperclassman asked me my name. He didn’t attempt to repeat it; instead, later that day, he gave me a note.
What’s up Melondy?
I still have this note. (Actually, I have two boxes full of notes from high school.) I still don’t understand how he managed to commit to both consonants. I corrected his spelling in my reply, but the halls of Sprayberry High School echoed with Mel-un-dy whenever I saw him. I passed him along to my play cousin because we did that in high school: we had play cousins and we passed each other around.
In college, I dated a guy for a week. His tongue continued to land on the wrong consonant.
He requested to call me Mel. It sounded like a fair compromise that could save us both. I was seventeen, so I gave it some thought. After mulling over my life-long malady, I settled on righteous indignation. I pretentiously hailed that calling me Mel was a privilege for those who could succeed first at Melody. A few years later, I tried to date him again. He figured out my name, but it couldn’t save him from my irritability.
It wasn’t my last time hearing that request. There was an army officer, a second lieutenant from Hawaii. In Hawaii, names are shortened. Everyone’s a Bob, Bill, Ed or Auntie. The fewer the syllables the better. He told me my name was a mouth full.
Can’t I just call you Mel?
He was dishonorably discharged.
Then there was this attorney. I gave him a nickname, one he knew nothing about. It was only after I became uninterested that I gave him this nickname. It’s the sort of thing I do when I’m no longer excited about someone or when they call me Melanie. He was tall and bony and he carried a long umbrella, and his tongue slipped on the fateful syllable. Jiminy fucking Cricket.
There’s something sexy about a man who can say my name right. It’s the spectacle of his tongue and lips catching my name like a fly ball. The proper utterance of my name is electric and orgasmic. It’s the hum of the mel. It’s moan of the uh and the sweet finish of the dee.
After Sean died, the guy who burped me through my acid reflux, loved me in spite of myself, and always got my name right, I made enumerable personal introductions. I didn’t have the energy to correct the slipped tongues, so I nodded surrendering to the malady of my name. Sean’s mother mustered the strength to preemptively pardon people from their sin.
Just call her Mel.
My mother’s name is Carmelita. (I don’t think she imagined my name would be difficult to pronounce.) Her name gets slaughtered. The telemarketers aren’t hard to identify. They stumble over her name pronouncing it with telling pauses:
So she goes by Carm.
When people get my name right, they compliment it:
Mel-a-dy. What a beautiful name.