The Name Game

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Have you ever played “the name game”? When, within the first few moments of seeing a new stranger, you rack your brain in hopes of coming up with the best guess for a person’s name given your first impression of them? OK, so maybe I’m the only one who does this. But, either way, participating for me means adding a splash of fun to what may otherwise have been an ordinary day.

During my first visit to a local coffee shop, I quickly noticed something much different from other establishments – when ready; every order and customer name was called out loudly through a microphone at the front counter.

Now, I know what you may be thinking: surely she’s been to a place with this routine. But, nope. Not like this.

“Marrrry! Your order is ready. Order ready for Mary,” the gentleman at the front loudly exclaimed, as if trying out as the announcer of a local baseball team.

This caught me off guard because it was abnormally loud, but also because it spoiled any plans I had for playing “the name game”.

Just as I saw a new customer and began making a list of name guesses, a loud, drawn out announcement was made.

“Ssssstephanie! You have an order at the front counter!”

At first I was a bit annoyed and turned off by the nuisance. But then I decided to use the obstacle as a jumping off point for inventing a new name game. For the next 30 minutes, I listened and took note of customer first names. Among them: Ashton, Jessica, Don, Faith, Buddy, Judy, Jason, Brian, Valerie, Lane, Barb, Caroline, Kate, Gavin, Phyllis, Mike, Sherry, Elizabeth and Donna.

No real rhyme or reason to the names, but interesting nonetheless.

I’ve recently noticed multiple articles claiming older names are “in” and are becoming increasingly popular for those parents looking to name their new babes. Perhaps it’s because I personally know of 11 women pregnant right now,  but I couldn’t help but think of these statistics when hearing names belted over the loudspeaker because, well, these customers were babies once, too.

According to TODAY Moms, baby name trends for 2012 are fierce and heroic. Baby Centre gives a nod to and blames the “100-year rule” for old-fashioned names being “cool” again. Parenting Magazine also released a list of 20 vintage names moving back into style. Of those, none of the coffee shop names made the list.

My attention was steadily captured by the man announcing each order until a gentleman sitting near me loudly shared his thoughts about the ordeal.

“Is it just me or should he take it down a bit?” he said, making eye contact with me. “I’m just waking up.”

I just smiled.

He then looked up at me before making a candid suggestion.

“You know, it would be much smoother if you went up and asked him to calm down his announcements,” he said. “If I went up there, I’d just simply look like a jerk.”

I smiled again and told him the noise wasn’t bothering me. (What I didn’t tell him is I was taking notes.)

After jotting down a series of names and packing up my belongings, I started toward the door. While doing so, I passed two older gentlemen sharing a newspaper.

“Do you like to look at the obituaries?” one of them asked.

“Yes, I like to see if someone with my name is in there,” the other man answered.

Hmm, I thought. Looks like someone else has a name game to play, too.

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Jeff Zaslow: A man of many words, but too few years

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“Write, design and create a piece of work from your career field of interest which you can be proud of.”

This was an assignment given to me (and 25 other college students) by our english professor; a man well-known and respected for his unique style of teaching. Rather than following textbooks and shuffling spoon-fed students through a series of lectures, “Dr. Bill” challenged his students to think about their passion in writing/design and apply it to the “real world”.

I was up for the challenge, and frankly, drawn to this particular assignment because there were no boundaries or guidelines; just a world full of possibilities. Writing for the university newspaper at the time, I was keen to the profession of journalism. My first thought was to interview my Dad who has been in sports writing for over 30 years. Too easy.

When given the assignment, I also had just finished reading “The Last Lecturea best-selling  book written by Wall Street Journal reporter Jeff Zaslow. There was something about his writing I admired and wanted to learn more about. So, after some hesitation, I decided to try my luck at emailing the now popular author in hopes of receiving a response in enough time to turn in my assignment. A few days later, I received a response from Jeff inviting me to set up some time for us to chat.

In my car, parked in a university parking lot, I sat in the driver’s seat holding a yellow notepad in one hand, cell phone in the other. My hands shook with nerves as I dialed his phone number, but once he answered, his relatable personality made me feel as though I was talking to an old friend. I continued probing him with interview questions for the next half hour – some for the school project and others just out of curiosity. I took diligent notes, submitted a solid piece of work for class and followed up by sending him a copy.

In the years following college, I have had the good fortune and opportunity of engaging with Jeff over email. Like a true professional and polished mentor, he always responded and his words always left me feeling encouraged and inspired to keep writing.

During a phone call with a close friend, I was saddened to learn Jeff Zaslow was killed in a weather-related car accident this morning in northern Michigan at the age of 53. His death comes after recently releasing a new book “The Magic Room“, a story inspired by his love for his three daughters and wife.

In a recent interview promoting his book, he said “…my job as a father is not to tell my daughters what dress to wear, not to tell them what to do. My job is to tell my girls I love them. And Sherry, that I love her, too, obviously…..when I hug my kids now, what a gift it is to be able to do that. And that’s sort of the story I’m telling in this book,which is we’ve got to hug our kids and make the most of each moment, because you never know.”

Thank you, Mr. Zaslow, for  inspiring so many people through your unique style of writing and understanding of human interaction. May your humility live on and continue to inspire future generations for many years.

And, thank you for taking the time to share your story – as part of my college project and for the years following. Let me tell you, I am certainly proud.

Andy Rooney: Cheers to Writing

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Credit: Flickr, Tumbleweed

Former writer and well-known “60 Minutes” commentator, Andy Rooney, recently passed away at the age of 92. About a month before his passing, he said goodbye in the best way he knew how – by sharing his opinion on life, being famous and writing.

He complained about being famous, but said he can’t complain about his life.

While in high school, an English teacher told him he was a good writer. It was encoragement which would shape Rooney’s 70-year writing career, and impact the rest of the world at the same time.

It’s times like now, as journalism is getting a face-lift into a new era of digital communications, we need to listen to stories from those like Rooney – the charming, yet straightforward 70 and 80-something’s –  to remind us what it means to be a writer. It’s not about the latest and greatest technologies or even about how news and publications are delivered or recieved. It is, however, about going back to the basics.

As Rooney shares in his last video, he wrote for an Army newspaper during World War II called Stars and Stripes. He then went on to work for television and radio. He continues by saying some people have the voice for radio and the face for television. But, they also need someone to write what they said in a way others could understand it. One of the classic principles of writing.

So, rather than getting caught up in the daily hoopla about the latest iPad, the newest social network or the new journalism courses in colleges, let’s go back to the basics and remember what writing is all about. It’s about thumbing through content and reorganizing, rewording and writing in a way readers can best understand.

According to Rooney, writing is also about:

  • Saying what readers want to know or are thinking about;
  • Telling the truth. There aren’t many original thoughts in this world and it’s a writer’s job to articulate the truth;
  • Writing. He says “writer’s don’t retire. They will always be a writer

I, too, was encouraged by an educator (in college) to follow the path of writing and I’m thankful for that. And, I’m thankful to people like Andy Rooney, who are teachers to writers everywhere, for sharing their wisdom and for reminding us that while the way we communicate may change, the value of the written word will never go away.