My given name is Beth, not Elizabeth. Throughout my school years teachers constantly asked me this: “Are you sure your real name isn’t Elizabeth?”
“Yes, my name is Beth. Just Beth, Beth Lee.”
It’s an interesting thing to have a short first and last name, especially when they fit so well with each other and could very well be a single name. Maybe it was influence of Petticoat Junction and the characters Betty Jo, Bobbie Jo, and Billie Jo that made people ask me for my last name after I introduced myself as Beth Lee – or maybe they just thought I was from the South because of my ability to imitate a southern drawl.
Fast forward a decade or two and wouldn’t you know it, I unwittingly perpetuated the “what is your real name” conundrum. Twenty-some years ago it was fashionable for a woman to create a new last name by hyphenating her maiden name with her husband’s last name when she got married.
I was an independent woman with personal dreams and career aspirations, I wanted to retain my identity before marriage, and also Lee-Browning had a really nice ring to it so I legally changed my name from Beth Lee to Beth Lee-Browning. What I didn’t realize is that personal records are most often filed by last name and a hyphenated last name was subject to interpretation which meant that I never knew if was filed under “L” for Lee and other times under “B” for Browning.
Ok, so about the election. It was funny on multiple fronts.
By avoiding eye contact I managed to weave my way through the line of awkward teenagers passing out campaign literature with only one unwanted flyer in my hand. I can only hope that the trash can full of crumpled campaign promises made it’s way to a recycle bin.
There was no signage indicating which one of the two tables set up in the Middle School gym would have the book with my name in it, so I flipped a mental coin and chose the closest one. After a few minutes of pre-voting chit chat with others in line it was my turn to sign in.
The volunteers manning the table didn’t find my under the letter L or B, and it sparked a mini-debate about whether or not I was registered at all. Finally one of them looked at my driver’s license and asked, “Which side of Arborlea are you on?”
“When I look out my front door it’s on the opposite side of the street,” I replied.
“Well then! You’re at the other table, if you’re even registered at all.”
Clearly in her mind I should have known which of the unmarked tables was for voters that live on my side of the dividing line. I walked 25 ft to the next table and waited patiently to explain that they might have to look in both books to find record of the fact that I am registered to vote.
I sized up the volunteers at the table and determined that the woman with the Lucille Ball red hair would need to put rocks in her pockets on a windy day or she’d be blown away in a wind gust. And based on the thoughtful nods and the serious demeanor it was clear that the grey-haired gentleman beside her took his role in the election process very seriously.
I approached the table and said, “I’m not sure which book you’ll find me in, I might be filed under L or I might be under B.”
Who knew such a loud sigh could come out of such a tiny woman?
“You mean we have to try and look you up in both books?”
“I’m afraid so,” I said. “What can I say? I’m a complicated woman.”
A response that didn’t even trigger the slightest of grins. They were both too busy trying to locate my name in the election sign-in books.
“I found you! But I have a question for you,” said the silver-haired gentleman.
“Sure, what’s the question?”
“So, your name is Beth Lee Browning. Is Lee your middle name or part of your last name?”
I think it was his way of asking if I knew what my real name is. All I could do was laugh. I also voted. 🙂