“Call Me By Your Name,” By Holly Laurent

Aug 7th, 2019 | By | Category: Nonfiction, Prose

I used to love it when, upon re-entering the country after traveling abroad, I’d get a customs agent who’d stamp my passport, look up and say, “Welcome home Ms. Laurent.” I’ve been traveling a lot lately and with strangers I use a fake name. Josephine. Online I’ve started using the moniker Howard LaGrunt. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s a protection mechanism, maybe it feels like my name is irrelevant, or maybe my name is just nobody’s bee’s wax. I was standing in a TSA line this week holding my boarding pass and I.D. and as I looked at my license it felt like I didn’t recognize my own name.

A few years ago I married a guy named Greg. He’s great. But as soon as we were engaged the same question kept coming up. Hol, are you going to change your name? It made me uneasy every time. My mother-in-law even said to me, “You know, I took my husbands name because I love him that much.” So I went straight to Greg and let him know I was open to him taking my name. He declined. He didn’t even really take that much time to think about it either, and I tried not to take it as a sign of him not loving me that much.

Once we were married, mail began arriving addressed to Mrs. Greg Hess. I not only don’t go by Mrs. or by Hess, but I definitely don’t go by Greg. Since it’s illegal to open mail that’s not addressed to you I never open that particular mail. I do however whisper, “Fuck you” to it as I drop it in recycling.

Not to be a dick, but the name Greg is kind of forgettable if you ask me. And I only say that because I called him Jeff for the first year I knew him. To make matters worse, his middle name is Todd. Which I also think lacks pizzazz. But you know how names have an origin? The origin of the name Todd is actually really interesting. It’s a great story and has a component you can try at home. You will need access to a naked male body, maybe your own! (You can leave socks on if feet are cold.) You will need to have the man lie on his back, face up. Once he’s lying down, take two fingers and put them on either side of the flaccid penis. (If it’s not fully flaccid it could be upwards of a half-y but not more than that.) With two fingers, like tongs, lift the flaccid penis up to the highest point it will go, like a slug trying to look tall enough to get on a roller coaster. Once you have gently pulled it to the extent of its vertical height, let go. As it drops down onto the belly it will clearly make the sound “Todd.”

Needless to say, I didn’t change my name. But it’s not lost on me that I still have a man’s name. I have my dad’s name. And even if I took my mom’s maiden name, that’s still a man’s name. That’s her dad’s name. Every street I walk down is named after a man, every building I walk into is named after a man, the day I was born I was named after a man, and the day I married I had the option to switch from being named after one man to being named after another man. Women are nameless characters moving through history. Slaves were named after their masters, and women are named after men.

When I was younger my parents were missionaries in Haiti. The Haitians called my dad Bob because that’s his name, and they called my mom Madame Bob because of the French influence on the Creole language and the patriarchal influence on well, everything. While we lived there I got to be good buds with a little Haitian man who had a big goiter. His English was decent and his name was Cesar. In Creole, Cesar means “money,” so I called him Big Money. In the hot afternoons I’d go sit with him while he sat with his goat. He would teach me Creole and I’d help him with his English. Sometimes we’d sit next to each other quietly watching someone across the street cut the head off a chicken, or a group of young men push a broken down truck up the hill.

One day, as we sat swatting flies and shooting the shit, Cesar turned to me and in slow English asked, “Um. Do…you…have…a…big…pussy?” At first I thought it was not what he meant in English but quickly discovered he knew exactly what he was asking and in fact roomy vaginas were in fashion. I tried to explain that I thought my vagina was pretty standard size, but just kept laughing so hard it became his new nickname for me. We were an unlikely pair…Big Money and Big Pussy.

I’ve got to tell you just one more thing. I’m not a breeder. I’ve never liked the thought of my body being a cocoon for future masses. I know people think I’m obsessed with my dog because I’m childless, but I like to say I’m child free. I don’t want a kid in my body or in my apartment. I don’t like the thought of a human literally sucking off my body or my bank account. But I’ll tell you what, if I ever did have a baby – it would have my name, whether that be Josephine or Howard or Holly. Because let’s be real, to make a baby, a man does the equivalent of peeing for nine seconds while the woman risks her life and sacrifices her body for nine months. And if I were a master painter I wouldn’t sign my painting with the name of the person who lent me the brush.

Right before I got married I went to Kenya on a kind of mission to prove to myself that I was still wildly independent. I stayed in a suburb of Nairobi with a woman named Mama Cha Cha, which I said over and over because just saying her name felt like singing. Ma-ma-Cha-Cha! After I’d been with her a few days her son Cha Cha arrived and I learned that women in Kenya are named after their first-born. It’s all got me wondering if all these names just represent what we value most. Maleness? Offspring?

As I sit here now in another airport terminal, watching people yell at their kids, or stare at their phones, I find myself wishing I was watching someone cutting the head off a chicken or pushing an old busted Toyota down a dirt road. As I get older, I’m feeling so much more like myself, but my name seems to be fitting me less and less. In my home country I am Mrs. Greg Hess, just like my mom is Mrs. Bob Laurent. In Kenya, she’d be named Mama Christopher and I’d be nameless, while in Haiti my mom is Madame Bob and I’m Big Pussy.


Holly Laurent is an LA based comic and writer. She is currently touring as a cast member and writer on the nationally syndicated radio variety show Live From Here (APM) and is creator and host of the hit podcast MEGA. Originally from Chicago, she is an alumnus of the Second City main stage and holds a M.A. in Interdisciplinary Arts from Columbia College. Film/television credits include Tacoma FD (truTV), Drunk History (Comedy Central), Food: The Source of Life (Adult Swim), Key & Peele (Comedy Central), Barely Famous (VH1), Funny or Die: Exclusives and The Late Late Show with James Corden (CBS).

Tags: , ,

Comments are closed.