What Is My Name?

by CommunicationFIRST Board Member Melissa Crisp-Cooper

Melissa Crisp-Cooper smiling, sitting in a wheelchair, wearing a purple t-shirt with the CommunicationFIRST logo.Strangers rarely understand my name. Somehow, my scrambled speech sounds turn my relatively simple name, Melissa, into Marissa, Maria, or another version of a name that usually begins with the letter M. At least they get the M right.

My maiden name, Crisp, seemed to be equally difficult for strangers to understand. They sometimes heard me introduce myself as Marissa Crip. This is a highly ironic misinterpretation given my physical disability. Other times, they heard Cliff or even Crap as stand-ins for my last name. It was Crisp. You’ve seen it everywhere; on bags of potato chips or colorful boxes of Snap, Crackle, Pop – Rice Krispies!

I often wonder, if something as basic as my name is so difficult for people to understand, then how are they supposed to understand anything about my personality, my core, the basic essence of my being? How was I supposed to come across as smart, snarky, sexy Melissa Crisp if everyone heard Marissa Crap tumble from my lips?

When Owen finally asked me to marry him, many joyous thoughts fluttered through my mind. Early in the post-question bliss, I distinctly remember thinking I’ll be a Cooper. I’ll actually have a standard last name that everyone will understand. But on official documents and sometimes in real life, my last name is now hyphenated. I still wanted to hold onto a remnant of my old identity.

Ages ago, as my dad was giving our dog, Samson, a bath, I asked him why he and my mom had given me such a boring, plain-Jane, 1970's first name. My mom had died many years earlier, way before I cared about my name.

“Your mom liked it. She thought it was pretty,” my dad replied, rinsing the soap suds from Samson.

I had always known that my mom and I shared our middle name, Jean (“Just like your pants,” I tell people who don’t understand). Now I had two connections to a mother that I barely remembered.

In reality, I do like my name. I like the way it looks on paper, the connection to my mom, and the way my niece and nephews smile when they call me Aunt Missy. I love the way my husband still starts my day with an “I love you, Crispy.” I even like all the weird ways people mess it up.

So go ahead, call me Marissa or Martha Crip-Cooper. I’ll answer to just about anything.