“No, Harling. It’s like Darling with an ‘H.’”
My mom made this clarification to her obstetrician on the day of my birth—and the rest, as they say, is history. After laboring for 20 hours to bring me into the world, she gave me a name that I would labor to explain for the rest of my life. Revenge Of The Uterus!
Unbeknownst to my mother at the time, her impromptu rhyme would become a handy necessity for me. I’ve uttered it more times than I could possibly count—to new friends at Kindergarten, work colleagues, Starbucks baristas, regular baristas, dental hygienists, sociology professors, various unassuming customer service representatives, camp counselors, distant relatives from Iowa, bank tellers… you get the picture. I’d estimate that 99.99% of humans mishear my name the first time we meet. They think it’s Harley (“Oh, like the motorcycle?”). Sometimes Darlene, Carly, Helen, Carolyn…
Accuracy varies widely depending on background noise and general lip-reading visibility. If we meet in a nightclub and try to scream out our names over the magically synthesizing swell of Beyoncé’s “7/11,” it’s unlikely you’ll be able to find me on Facebook the next morning. Apologies to all the men who have fallen in love with me on the dance floor.
Despite all of this, I really love my name. Is it annoying to explain sometimes? Yup. But the meaning and history behind it readily make up for any phonetic difficulties.
Harling is my grandmother’s maiden name. In fact, I am the only person in my family to go by Harling as a first name, which makes me super trendy. Its bestowal upon my newborn self effectively renewed the dead nomenclature of my maternal ancestors, which had lapsed briefly thanks to a generation of daughters.
My grandmother, Susan Harling, went back to school in her mid-forties to get her Master’s Degree in nutrition and went on to teach high school students about neat stuff like protein-carbohydrate ratios well into her seventies. Her father, Robert Harling, was starting quarterback for the Texas A&M football team. Later on in life, he helped invent the Brangus breed of cattle, which apparently has superior fertility and disease resistance. His mother, Irene Harling, was the first woman to sing on the radio in Texas.
A universal thread of gumption links this cool cast of characters and their little stories. The fact that I am their namesake is obviously highly entertaining in some respects (mega-fertile cows!!!), but it is also an inspiration. It has motivated me to have a little gumption of my own—to change jobs when it felt right, to ask for help in intimidating circumstances, to wear non-stretchy pants on occasion, and even to sit down and write this blog post.
At the end of the day, the history of my name is a testament to the importance of being bold. I try to keep this in mind whenever I have to announce that my name rhymes with Darling. Sure, it was cute when I was six, but now it makes me seem like some kind of self-obsessed rapper.
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