A few days ago my memory was nudged as I was asked about a student I taught in Bassett, Virginia, in 1988. At first, I drew a blank when asked about this particular student, but then today in a burst of brain activity, the whole memory flashed back.
I was teaching sixth grade at Bassett Middle School. Bassett was a mill town in southern Virginia, and the students I taught mostly came from factory worker homes, and there were lots of cousins in my classroom. Many of the children lived outside of town in family “hollers”, and had very little experience with the world outside of Henry County. Names were unusual, to put it mildly, and I had to learn how to spell names in very unusual ways.
One day in mid-year, a wiry little guy was escorted into my classroom by the principal as a new student. I greeted him, and asked him his name. It sounded like he said Drunarb, with the accent on the”narb.” Trying not to embarrass him or make him ill at ease, I mumbled his name as I introduced him to the class and showed him to an empty desk. Grabbing a pad and pencil from my desk on the way down the row to his seat, I was ready to figure out what his name was. As he sat down, I pulled up a chair next to him, and asked him again his name. He mumbled it again, and again, I couldn’t understand what he was saying. Putting the pad on his desk, I asked him to please spell his first name.
He began, “D-r-a-n-r-e-b”. I wrote the letters on the pad as he spoke. When he was finished, I tried to pronounce it, and he corrected me. “It’s Dranarb,” he said.
“That’s an unusual name,” I said. “I’ve never heard of it.”
“I’m named after my father,” he answered.
“Oh, your dad’s name is Dranreb?” I asked.
“No,” he countered. “His name is Bernard. I was named after him.”
The lightbulb in my brain finally fully turned on as I looked at the letters spelled out on my pad , I was flabbergasted, but couldn’t stop there. “That’s great that you were named after your dad. Do you have a middle name?”
“Yes,” he said. “My middle name is Siwel.” He spelled out the letters while I wrote them down.
Ok, I got it. I looked at him and said, “You’re dad’s name must be Bernard Lewis. Am I right?”
Dranreb nodded and smiled.
What more could I say to that!