There’s no ‘luck of the Irish’ for Mr. O’Dell

Remember St. Patrick’s Day as a student in elementary school?

Every year, one of the ways my grade school teachers would celebrate the Irish was to place an O and an apostrophe in front of each student’s name for the duration of the day.

On March 17, Michele Graham would become Michele O’Graham, and even Scott Olson would be tagged for the day as Scott O’Olson.  It happened to all of my classmates, except me. 

The reason is simple; see it up there on the byline? My last name is already Irish-sounding and features not one, but two, capital letters separated by a hanging punctuation mark — the apostrophe.

You might think I’d take pride not needing to add a capital O and apostrophe to celebrate the day, but you’d be wrong.

Ask any of my colleagues who have been burdened with what I call O-osis. You know them, they have last names like O’Neill, O’Brien and O’Connor. While that extra capital and the apostrophe do not necessarily make life difficult, they do make it inconvenient.

The examples are plentiful.

Most corporations and entities don’t know what to do with the apostrophe.

Mass mailers — those people who send all of the junk mail crowding our mailboxes — must have simple names like Smith and Jones because they simply do not understand or use apostrophes. I receive lots of unsolicited mail addressed “Dear Mr. Dell” and even more to “Les O. Dell”.

To them O is my middle initial and Dell is my surname.  Note to marketers: The quickest way to have me completely disregard what you send is for it to be addressed with this blatant error.

Think of those test or survey sheets requiring students completely fill-in the little circles corresponding to the letters in their names. There’s no little bubble for an apostrophe. What am I supposed to do? Leave a space? That’s not right. Skip the apostrophe all together? That’s wrong as well and akin to asking someone named Theresa to leave out the “h”.

When I tried to file state income taxes online just a few weeks ago, I was treated with disrespect by the state because of the apostrophe. After I entered all of the required information, I received a terse error message: “Your last name is invalid.”

Even my driver’s license is wrong. For years, my name, according to the to this “official document” is spelled out as “Les – space – L – space – O – space – Dell”, again, making my last name appear to be Dell. 

Way back in 1990, I called to ask when the state might finally recognize the apostrophe. I was told that an upgrade was planned “within a few years” and the technological advances should lead to punctuation finally making its way onto my driver’s license.

I recently renewed my license; still no apostrophe.

I was, however, given the choice this time between O-space-Dell and O-no space-Dell. I chose without the space, despite the fact that it is printed in all caps so it looks as though my name should be pronounced “Odle” instead of the correct “O’Dell”. I think the state hates me.

My classmates only had to deal with O-osis once. I endure apostrophe discrimination 365 days a year, always have to spell my name (“it’s O, apostrophe, capital-D, E, L, L”) and constantly put up with those who choose to ignore a very valuable part of my name.

That apostrophe means a lot to me. It’s part of who I am; it’s my heritage.

Oh, and speaking of heritage, did I mention that O’Dell isn’t even Irish? It’s British, but that’s another story.


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