In-law Laws

Years ago when Carol and I were visiting family in Ohio, her mother Olga (in her mid-80s then) and I were talking about family first names over past generations against those given to kids nowadays; some names, we concluded, were going out of fashion.

When I observed how names of each our boys had five letters, she quickly pointed out Carol’s sister Sue had two boys, one with a five-lettered name, the other with four, “not much poignancy there,” she said. I went on to note how each of her own three children’s first names had five letters too which prompted her to remark that this sort of thing probably happened quite a bit. After all, most names had either four or five, or maybe six letters. “So what?” she said glibly.

Dismissive in a typical Olga-listic way, she was perhaps only momentarily entertained—yet unimpressed along with a just-where-are-you-going-with-this? kind of look that only she could manufacture with a lowered jowl tucked under a straight face while looking over the top rim of her glasses.

Fascinated by this sort of thing, I have to admit my daydream-type musings focused on letters in words, pronunciations, anagrams, and the like. I reminded her about how I had commented at dinner that the game of golf was really flog because that’s what I did with the ball most of the time, and flog is golf spelled backwards. Remaining unamused with her smile and frown combo deepening in her forehead, she withheld a grimace while feigning a snicker.

She humored me by asking, “are there other peculiarities about our family names that are, uh …genuinely noteworthy?” She quickly pointed out how our oldest was named Brian, and Carol’s sister Sue’s oldest was named Ryan; these names rhymed. Now that was interesting! This time her snicker lingered with a twinkle in her eye as she played along.

Although previously observed, we got a reinstated chuckle out of what Ryan’s initials would have been (B.O. instead of R.O.) had Sue picked her first boy’s name choice (Bryan). I went on to observe how our Brian’s initials could have been funny too (B.M.C. or, B.M.), and she cringed at the humor for about two seconds before arching her eyelids, disagreeing the name “Bryan” was ever a serious consideration since our son had already been named Brian a year prior. This was followed instantly by that same maternal brow furrowing as she sipped her cup of tea, elevating her little finger like a sarcastic sword targeted in my direction.

She was humoring me with her penetrating Welsh-squinted eyes, pursed lips, and notorious, inquisitive but dismissive frown, but remaining entertained by this type of familial chat. So when I asked her what her maiden name was (we both knew it was Cooper), I said “if you take that ‘C’ in Cooper, then follow it by the first initial of your married name, what do you get then?”

She said “H” (for Hoier).

“OK, ‘C-H’. Then if you take the first initial of her firstborn Susan’s married name, what do you get?”

She answered “O?” promptly.

“OK, ‘C-H-O’. Now, if you take the first initial of her second-born (and my wife) Carol’s married name, what do you get?” I asked with a touch of touché in my voice.

This time the “C?” was drawn out slowly and deliberately.

“Now, place those four initial letters in chronological order, what does it spell? The answer is ‘C-H-O-C’ or my own surname correctly spelled. So, isn’t it absolutely appropriate for me to talk about letters in names, wouldn’t you agree?” asking with a pointed verbal spar.

“Well, now you mention it …absolutely not!” said with that swishing Welsh wink in one arching eye that she reserved for those “gimme putts” she’d use in her game of flog. “That name has only four letters, not five! Besides, just how else would you spell your last name?!”




[Olga Cooper Hoier passed away September 8, 2015, at the age of 97]