Few things can be ingrained in young minds as severely as shame. We are taught at an early age to be ashamed of letting our parents down by cracking a sibling across the head with a croquet mallet. We felt embarrassment when caught in a heinous lie as to our whereabouts at 3 am (ps- where ELSE would a teenage boy be?) When the other kids mocked you for being – insert here – tall, short, thin, round, weak, strong, mustachioed, you name it – you’d look down at the pavement and kick your Vans in the dirt, hoping the attention of the group would soon turn on another, weaker member of class, while secretly wishing you had the ability of Mr. T to crush them against the cafeteria walls.
So tell me, if you can, why on earth some folks insist on naming their kids with a one-way ticket to an ass-kicking? I am a certified authority on the subject; not only is the Johnny Cash song “Boy Named Sue” relevant to me on a personal basis, I survived grade school through this very day with a name that still makes people say “huh?”
Somehow, in May of 1974, my sweet mom decided it would be a “good idea” to name her first and only son after his father: thus Ulrich W. Gulje, jr. was hatched into existence, more commonly known as “Uli“. Let’s get the first part out of the way. It’s pronounced “oooo-leeee” (uli), “ool-rick” (ulrich), “goool-yay” (gulje) and joon-yur (junior). The Lyin’ Dutchman (aka “senior”) somehow was able to get by with being called “Bill” when he arrived stateside, and while there are plenty of jokes centered around Bill, nothing makes you a marked target like a name that people think is pronounced “ooleygooley”. My own loving bride even made the comment to several people while we were dating that she would NEVER date someone named UleeGulee. As the marriage certificate states, I showed her.
So Uli it was through grade school, with teachers all taking great pains to announce on the first day of class, “myyyy, what an INTERESTING name, why don’t I subject you to further humiliation by making you talk to the class about such an UNUSUAL and UNIQUE name?” Then, after being drug out from under the desk of shame, and compelled to make up a reason why I had such a jacked up moniker (“my folks are international assassins, and I’m only here to hide out from the KGB while they’re at work, maam”) she would no doubt refer to me as “you-lee” for the rest of the school year. And I never quite looked like a “Rick“, “Rich” or “Ulrich“, even. When I first moved to Alaska and got a job with NAPA Auto Parts, my bosses all wanted me to go by “Ulrich”, because “Uli” sounded like too much of a kids’ name. WHAT? Who in their right mind would name their kid “Uli“? My parents, that’s who. And to say they were in their right mind is a bit of a stretch.
All of my siblings from The Lyin’ Dutchman’s other nuptial endeavors managed to escape serious harm; there’s Daxter, Trevor, Davis, Alan and Matt. Oh yeah, I also have an older brother and sister I’ve never met named Reggie and Penny. Get married enough times and I guess the law of odds mandates that ONE of your progeny is gonna end up with a name that seemed like a good idea at the time, but in reality, just sounds like something you might cough up. The situation was only exacerbated by moving to the Ozarks, where to stand out with a name like mine, you might as well declare that you’re currently engaged in a love triangle with Rosie O’Donnell and her cat. I’ve gotten all sorts of comments ranging from “You got some sorta disease, or is that yer name, son?” to “Man, your parents must have HATED you, to name you something like that.”
Any diseases I might have are long gone thanks to the advent of pharmaceuticals, and no, my parents did not HATE me per se, they just have an appreciation for a lifelong practical joke. I’ll never lack for conversational material with strangers, who often believe I am making up my name. I still get the treatment from cashiers and bartenders who want to know where the name originated, and I still tell them lies to amuse myself. As we’ve all gotten older, and I am no longer the skinny little kid getting picked on, fewer third graders take liberties with mocking me to my face. As well, I took care to give the Heathens names that are easily recognizable in the Western Hemisphere.
After all these years, though, I think I’m gonna stick with Uli; I’ve earned the right to use it. Brad, Adam, David and Mike may well be fine names for fitting in in this world, but then, I’ve not been one for whom fitting in is a priority. Just don’t call me Sue when I crack you over the skull with my croquet mallet.