By Bruce Stambaugh
I recently had a very nice conversation with a six-year-old girl named Sophie. I told her that I liked her name. In response, she just beamed an ear-to-ear smile and blinked her brilliant blue eyes.
I didn’t tell Sophie this, but she reminded me of another Sophie I knew when I was in elementary school. That Sophie and I were in the same grade and often in the same class.
I remember her in part because of her name, which was rather unusual in the 1950s. Plus, when compared to the rest of the hoard of heads in the overflowing classroom, Sophie’s last name was even more foreign than her first.
Just years removed from World War II and in the midst of the Cold War, families with eastern European last names were often looked at askance. That didn’t make it right. It’s just the way it was. As I recall, Sophie was even picked on by other kids, despite her pleasant personality and her charming looks.
I never liked that she got taunted. But I don’t remember ever standing up for her either. I admired Sophie for being so impervious to the mocking and bullying. I seemed only able to empathize with her, stymied by my own juvenile sense of inferiority.
I got teased a lot in school, too. Out of the hundreds of students in our elementary school, I think I was the only Bruce. It didn’t help that I was small and younger than most kids in the class. I remember the hurt feelings more than exactly what was said. I couldn’t imagine how Sophie felt. Yet she kept that furtive smile and carefree attitude.
I silently blamed my parents for my troubles since they had stuck me with the cursed name. I don’t think they liked me. I theorized that since they already had a son, they were hoping for a girl next. Back then, parents had to wait until the actual birth to know the sex of their child.
I figured when another boy popped out, my parents were so disappointed that they named me Bruce. Coupled with my last name, callous students also poked fun at my initials. I had to wonder what were my parents thinking.
My predicament grew worse. A couple of years later, my parents got their girl and I became the forgotten middle child. To complete the Stambaugh brood, Mom bore both another boy and girl.
As you might imagine, the derisive name-calling worsened among the squirrelly junior high school kids and the insensitive high school jocks. When I finally began to both accept my name and get over my silly self-pity, I realized what my classmate Sophie had known all along. Bruce, like Sophie, was just a name, and a decent one at that.
I long ago got over my folks tagging me with the name Bruce. I’m just plain stuck with the initials. Given my orneriness, I probably have earned them anyway.
I enjoyed my recent chat with young Sophie; glad for the memories she evoked. From what I could tell, Sophie had already learned an important lesson that would take her far in life.
Like the Sophie in my elementary school, this sociable first grader instinctively seemed to know that it’s not what’s in a person’s name that is important. It is what’s in the person that really counts.