Having a last name like Lick can be a problem. Try looking up “Lick” on the Internet, and you’ll see what I mean. When I tried it the other morning, I was glad nobody else was looking. I hope my friends and relatives don’t look up “Aunt Sue” and get an eyeful of words that will send them to confession. I’m talking about words that would make my mild-mannered mother, may she rest in peace, throw my computer in the trash. If you’re going to search for me, just use Fagalde. It’s Basque for “little beech tree.”
When I married Fred, my stepdaughter Gretchen warned me. She had been teased her whole life for her last name and couldn’t wait to adopt her husband’s perfectly ordinary name, but I figured I was an adult and could handle it. After all, back in San Jose, where I grew up, the most common reaction to our name is to ask if we’re related to James Lick, the guy who built Lick Observatory. We’re not, but it’s an honorable connection.
Lick is a good name for a guitar player. My fellow musicians often tell me I have a perfect name, since a “lick” is a riff, a musical phrase. You can have hot licks, cool licks, groovy licks, country licks, jazz licks, etc. Plus if you put my first initial and last name together, you’ve got “slick.”
Of course, you have your basic salt licks, too, of which horses are fond.
And yes, licking is what we do to envelopes and ice cream cones—never at the same time.
It’s a very versatile word. Did you know a “lick” is a small body of water between the size of a rill and a stream? There’s a line of liquid supplements for dogs called “Licks.” You can slap on a lick of paint, get it done with a lick and a promise, be the guy who can “lick” everybody in the room, give the kid a few licks for misbehaving, or lick the frosting off the mixer blades (turned off, of course). The urban dictionary talks about a lick as a hustle where you come upon easy money.
What a word, eh?
But an alarming percentage of the population associates the word lick with one particular sexual act. For years, people got their giggles by finding our name in the phone book and making obscene calls, usually in the middle of the night. I haven’t gotten any of those calls lately. Maybe word has gotten around that I’m overweight and old. Or maybe I scared them by responding, “Sure, bring it on. Can you come over right now?”
One of the worst experiences of my life happened at an art and wine festival years ago. I was on stage singing my folk songs behind a red and white banner proclaiming my name. A group of young people waiting for the rock band due on after me apparently didn’t like my music. Fine. They didn’t have to listen. But gradually I heard a chant that grew in volume until I couldn’t ignore it. The teens had reversed my first and last names and were shouting “Lick Sue! Lick Sue!”
Trained that the show must go on, I finished my act, then left the stage in tears, never to return to that festival. I don’t why someone didn’t shut those guys up. What was the person in charge doing while I was dying on stage? Now every time I fill out a form that calls for last name first, I wonder if the person who reads that form will think . . . well, you know.
I’m not the only one with a problematic name. God knows this world is full of them. A friend named Gay has received harassing calls all her life. For the record, she isn’t. The Asian person whose name is Phuc gets no end of grief in the U.S. I’ve known men named Dick who switched to Richard because they were tired of the jokes. The jokes aren’t funny when it’s your name.
And it’s not just my name. Spokeo lists 24 women named Susan Lick. Average age 59, average income $59,000, 100 percent white, 60 percent married. Oh, and they list five arrests, including the traffic ticket I got 10 years ago for an “unlawful stop.” Another reason to add the Fagalde (And to stay away from Google while you’re working).
A name is just a collection of letters, but it is also a symbol of a family, a tribe, of roots that go back farther than we can trace. I’m proud of my family. That’s why I use my maiden name along with my married name. I have no intention of dropping either one. But it’s a shame some people have to turn it into something dirty. That ain’t worth a lick.
Do you have a troublesome name or know someone who has? Please share in the comments.