The lame name game

8th February 2008 at 00:00
Taking the register has a whole new meaning when faced with a class full of Joans and Joses, says Jeremy Dean.

I have decided to take the register. It seems a sensible thing to try on the first day. "Everybody come and sit down on the carpet," I command, remembering immediately that I don't have a carpet in this room.

"It's not a carpet. It's tiles," my one English child (son of a fellow member of staff) delightedly squeals.

"Come and sit down on the tiles," I amend, my teeth gritted so completely that barely any noise comes out at all.

"They are not coming," my fellow countryman, now sitting cross-legged in front of me, tells me. I wonder who is going to cost me more in paracetamol this year, my compatriot or the 25 Spaniards who are continuing a variety of animated conversations, clapping games and wrestling matches.

I eventually cajole, corral, nudge, bribe, beg and plead them on to the carpet. I mean tiles. It takes the best part of 10 minutes and I haven't shouted once.

The first name is Jimenez Lopez de Brinas Jose Luis. I've never seen so many names in my life. My register is the full-blooded Spanish version, complete with dad's name, mum's name and name of the favourite uncle, tacked on for no other reason (it seems to me), than to confuse a foreigner taking a register.

I toy with the idea of just asking for Jose but I can't even be sure whether to start with a Jo or a Ho. I can now imagine what football commentators must feel when a new import arrives in the Premiership. Twenty-six pairs of eyes are glued on me and 26 mouths are finally silent. Twenty-six brains are probably considering whether or not I'm able to read. I finally go for the Full Monty.

For a second there is a stunned silence. Then 25 children explode with laughter. The 26th child (you can guess who) continues with the stunned silence despite the riot of guffawing and thigh-slapping.

I calm them (finally) and give them a little pep talk about not laughing at people who make mistakes (me in this case), but the glazed look in 25 sets of brown eyes tells me that words such as "respect", "tolerance" and "marmalise" have yet to be added to their vocabulary. So I request a little assistance. The cacophony that follows definitely starts with a "Him" not a "Jim", but I can't hear a "z" in there at all. It's all downhill from here.

I mean, what would you call Joan Gil? Joan Gil, probably. But the laughter is uncontrollable. "Where is Joan?" I plead, only to be met with tears of joy. "Isn't she here today?" I continue, provoking fits of mirth that John Cleese would have envied. I finally notice a small boy with his hand up. "Are you Joan Gil?" I ask nervously. "No," he replies, deadpan. "I am Jo-an Heeeeel."

They try to be helpful. But I am in over my head when confronted with Barrionuevo Bengochea Arantxa, Guillamon Nomdedeu Jaume and Ravaglia Quiros Javier. They try to teach me to roll my rs and lisp my zs, turn ll into y and v into b. But they're fighting a losing battle.

It gets so bad that I falter with the likes of Carla, Denis and Daniel. And before you mock, I'll let you know that Daniel (a boy) is pronounced like we'd say Danielle. What hope did I have?

"Jesus!" (Yes, yes! I know now it's pronounced Haysoos, but it doesn't actually work as a curse if you yell Haysoos!), I moan to Linda. "How did you get on with the bloody register?" She looks at me like I've asked her how she got on with putting on her shoes this morning.

"I think I've psychologically scarred half my class and induced hernias in most of the rest. Haven't you got any Ho-say, Jo-say, No-can-say names?" She shrugs. "A couple. But I asked their previous teacher how to pronounce them."

It's clear we have a lot to learn this year. All of us.

Jeremy Dean has given up teaching in the UK for a contract in Spain. Look out for his next column after half-term.

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