Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Names are More Important than I Suspected


Allow me to explain.

My two older sisters spent hours upon hours looking up names for their babies, Shelley especially. I scoffed, thinking, "what's the big deal? There are plenty of amazing names out there, just grab one up!" But alas, it is not so simple. According to my sisters, (and evidently moms in general) the baby's name cannot be that of any other baby born within the last decade. The baby's name should have some form of tie to an ancestor or relative, or some trendy spin on their names, so you don't actually name your child "Bertha", "Horace", or "Glenda". The baby's name shall not under any circumstance be allowed to transform into an undesirable nickname. The name can't have too many syllables when paired with the middle name.

As I heard the ghastly amount of thought you have to put in to naming your children, I began to understand and respect Dr. Seuss for naming some of his creations "Thing 1" and "Thing 2".

I suppose I put some thought into names myself. I'm fond of the name "Amaya", which means "night rain" in Japanese and "high place" in Spanish. What's not to love? Well, evidently when you say it with a last name, it sounds like an identity crisis. "Amaya Graber" becomes "Am I a Graber?" I don't know if I could put up with that nonsense.

Have you ever looked up your own name? I'm sure at one point or another you've heard or read about the meaning of your name. My parents, being God-fearing, sensible human beings, gave me the name Shawn. In Hebrew, it means "God is gracious, merciful, Jehovah is gracious, God's gracious gift". That's just dandy with me, and I quite like my own name. Much better than getting named "Espen" (a trendy play on the abbreviation ESPN) or "Apple". Not that I have anything against apples.

But as I dug deeper into the variations and meanings of the name "Shawn", I found that Hebrew doesn't have the corner on the definition market. gives me this charming little tidbit:  "In addition to being a variant of John, Zan is also from the Italian, meaning "a clown"."

Shawn: Thanks for that, Italy.

Italy: You think that's bad, Clownboy? Just you keep on reading.

Ignoring the evil chuckle coming from a country that looks like a woman's high-heeled boot, I went deeper into the meaning of my name and learned far more than I ever wanted to know. I wandered across the gender line and started to read about the female Shawns out there. Does a girl's "Shawn" mean the same as mine? IT DOES NOT.
"From the Hebrew, meaning "pretty, beautiful", as it is a variant form of Shaina. Also from the Hindu, meaning "chickpea". Shawn is from the Irish, meaning "God's gracious gift"."

Israel: See? Perfectly acceptable name.

Ireland: Why, nothin' but a bonny blue lass!

Tibet: Tee hee! I like chickpeas!

Believe it or not, it's pretty difficult to find a name with a negative meaning. "Ichabod" is the only one that comes to mind. Even "Delilah" has a nice meaning: "gentle". "Delilah" also means "hair", so you can take that either way.

Now that we have the meaning of Shawn squared away, we arrive at SPELLING, which also happens to be a big deal in the name world. You've chosen your child's name because of all the nice meanings behind it, but now you have all the variations to contend with. Here are the synonyms for the name "Shawn", separated by country. (Also, since I find that lists are boring, I've put it into a conversation format.)

Ireland: Hey everybody! I made up a new name! It's "Shawn".

England: Hmm, needs improvement. "John". No, wait, "Jon"! Both are nice.

Greece: Ugh, too formal. "Joannes" is waaaaayyyy trendier.

Israel: "Hanok"! "Yochanan"!

France: I haven't screwed up enough English words yet. So, "Jean", perhaps?

Russia: "IVAN". (Seriously, how did they get "Ivan" from "Shawn" (or the other way around)? Russia has some serious questions to answer.)

Germany: "Haines" sounds goot, yah. He'll get teased about his undies. Tee hee! Und those Grecians have it wrong, yah. It should be spelled "Johann".

Denmark: Too many letters! Make it "Hans".

Italy: "Giovanni" positively SPRINGS from the tongue, no?

Spain: No, no, it doesn't sound like a name involved with the Black Market. How about, "Juan"?

Wales: We're going for Shortest Name Award, so "Jan".

Ireland: Everybody is the whole world is crazy.

Those were just the BOY variations. The girl ones include Channa, Shakila, Shakilla,Sephorra, Sephora, Channa, and Shanara.

What got me all started on this knowledge quest was the discovery of a plaque in my dad's garage with the Graber Coat of Arms on it. A family crest! I immediately felt a glow of pride in my heritage. Our family crest is beastly. Just look at it!

Here it is on a commemorative beer stein.

But I found it on a wooden plaque, not a beer stein.

And NO, I don't see any resemblance between the Graber family crest and the universal signal for DANGER or CAUTION.

What would possibly make you think they looked alike? Posh with a capital P!

HouseOfNames jumps in with another helpful little fact. "
The distinguished German surname Graber is derived from the Old High German "graban," meaning "to dig." The name was originally used to indicate "a digger of graves or ditches."

I wouldn't have placed "grave digger" under "distinguished positions and occupations", but who am I to argue with the Germans? Perhaps they honored the people that did jobs nobody else wanted to do. Kinda like we do with plumbers nowadays, but instead of honor we give them money.

As many of you know, (for it is one of my favorite stories to tell) I was going to receive the name "Shane" up until it was stolen 14 days before I was born. The name-thieves were none other than my roommate Shane's parents.

Debby: "What do we name our son? Sam and Serena took our name!"
Barry: "Let's name him Shane anyway. We don't hang out with them very much."
Debby: "We see them far too often. We can't have our sons named the same."

(Note: I was not living at the time this conversation took place, so I can't claim complete accuracy in the quotations.)

So I was named Shawn instead. Shane Schwartz, my roommate, is a very close friend of mine and I'm glad my mom was sensible and named me something different, although Shane contends that it would be "practically the coolest thing" if we were able to call ourselves Shane & Shane.

My parents had their revenge 6 years later, when my brother Shane was born. It was like, "See what we did? We got to have a son name Shane anyway."

Two possible responses my parents had when naming my brother Shane.

I'm not even slightly ashamed to say that I like the name Shawn better than Shane. Perhaps it was because I didn't know there was a possibility I was going to be named Shane until I was a teenager and had gotten used to being Shawn. So by the time my parents mentioned that my name was changed a scant two weeks before I was born, I couldn't possibly imagine being called anything different.

HouseOfNames backs me up on this point, and states that "Psychologists find that if people are happy with their names, they are generally happy with themselves." That smarmy little quote was found under the name "Delilah", as if to say "Cheer up! Getting named Delilah isn't the end of the world."

And it isn't. I know of a Delilah that is so awesome, she's every bit as positive as Sampson's treacherous barber-wife was negative.

Thank you, Mom and Dad, for my name. I love it. My outburst at the beginning of this blog was not in anger or a feeling of injustice. I was shouting only because I'm amazed that out of all the thousands and thousands of choices, you picked the perfect name for me.

Of course, with knowledge comes change. Thanks to the internet, when I greet a stranger, I'll say "Hello! I'm Chickpea, the Grave-Digging Clown."

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

My Letter to Taco Bell

There was a time in the History of Shawn that Taco Bell was a welcome port in a hunger storm.  When the distant rumblings of an empty stomach crashed over the landscape, Taco Bell was a sure-fire way to stave off the munchies.

That all came to a sudden halt when I realized there were trace amounts of gluten in everything I had previously thought was Shawn-Friendly was indeed NOT Shawn-Friendly.  As I have stated in posts past, there are only two food types in the world: Shawn-Friendly and Wheat Sauce. 

I searched for images of "wheat sauce" and this is what the internet has returned to me.

The food at Taco Bell, to my shock and surprise, fell firmly in the latter category, despite their motto "Think Outside the Bun®" practically screeching Shawn-Friendliness!

Yeah, seasoned alright. Seasoned with WHEAT.

I recently read that the Taco Bell corporation does some pretty awesome things.  When a prankster gave false hopes to a town in Alaska about getting a fast-food restaurant, Taco Bell air-shipped 10,000 tacos to the town, free of charge. Screw you, prankster! For reals, you can read about that awesomely heroic Taco-splosion right here:

I decided that I could possibly sway the Taco Bell executives to send some love my way in the form of Shawn-Friendly tacos. Without any more laborious prologue, here's a copy of my handwritten letter to Taco Bell, headquartered at 1 Glen Bell Way, Irvine CA.

Dearest Taco Bell,

My name is Shawn Graber. At age 9, I was diagnosed with Celiac, that is, gluten intolerance.  Alas, my weakness can be found in tacos.  I cannot resist those crunchy, zesty, cheesy, munchy piles of Mexican cuisine.  Unbeknownst to me, those delicious little slices of Heaven had hidden amounts of "wheat sauce" in them.  I would leave your fine establishments with a stomach ache but think nothing of it, deducing that my aforementioned aches were due to my indulgence in vast quantities of taco-ey goodness.  I discovered the wheaty ingredients in your corn shells, your taco meat, and your irresistibly tasty potato bites while I was doing some research on the ingredients of your then-brand-new Frutista Freezes.  To my delight, I found that your refreshing Frutista Freezes are Shawn-Friendly, but to my dismay, I found every other menu item that I loved contained wheat sauce. (You see, there are only 2 types of food in this world: Shawn-Friendly and Wheat Sauce.)

That dreadful discovery was a few years ago, and since then I've abstained from Taco Bell food.  Over time, my squelched passions for your amazing food have built up inside me until I can no longer be silent.  This brings me to my heartfelt plea: would you be able to create a Shawn-Friendly taco?  It would be fairly simple.  I can have all vegetables and dairy, so lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, onions, peppers...these are fine.  I can have meat, provided it isn't thickened with oats.  I can have corn shells, provided they are not thickened with oatey filler.

I understand this is a large request, but I would be MOST grateful!  I would purchase any gluten-free offering you sell.  Also, the gluten-free community (2,000,000+) would be grateful as well.

I'm not asking for an entire menu overhaul, just a taco that I can munch without unpleasant side-effects.  I'd be more than willing to spend my hard-earned money on a few dozen.


Shawn Graber

Hardly a week passed from sending my letter on its merry way, when I received a reply from the offices of Taco Bell. Upon official Taco Bell stationary, their response read:

July 25, 2012

Dear Mr. Graber:

On behalf of Taco Bell Corp. ("Taco Bell"), I want to thank you for your interest in our Company and for taking the time and effort to suggest and idea.

We have, however, adopted a general policy of not accepting unsolicited ideas and suggestions.  While we regularly receive many unsolicited suggestions concerning our advertising, products, processes, and a wide range of other subjects, experience has shown that most of the unsolicited ideas we receive have already been considered or used by Taco Bell or its competitors.  Also, experience has proven that the practice of considering unsolicited suggestions can give rise to misunderstandings as to the origin and ownership of the particular ideas which may be contained in such materials.

In keeping with this policy, we are unable to pursue unsolicited suggestions, and have not retained any copies of your letter, and enclose your submitted materials herein.  May I express our appreciation for your interest in our company and sincerely thank you for taking the time to write, by enclosing a "Taco Bell Gift Check" for your use.

Very truly yours,
BJJ/cs (Some scribbly official-looking signature)
Legal Department


(Enclosed with the letter was my original handwritten letter, along with a $5 Taco Bell Bucks voucher.)

First I laughed at the irony of getting sent money to a restaurant that can offer me nothing but fruity slushies.  Then I sat back and admired Taco Bell for running a successful business whilst (or because of) still maintaining professionalism and courtesy.  Sure, I want me some tacos, but there are other places I can get them.  It's pretty difficult to find Wheat Sauce in authentic Mexican food (besides their flour tortillas, of course).

I traded the $5 voucher to my brother Shane for the purchase of fast-food at a restaurant that is more Shawn-Friendly, but looking back I feel like I should have framed the $5 voucher, along with the letters.

If you are a homeless beggar that has access to stationary and stamps, you can send unsolicited suggestions to Taco Bell and receive $5 toward their restaurants (along with a nicely worded denial to your idea)! I wouldn't advise this because you would most likely starve in the week-long waiting time it would take to get the voucher.  If you DO send a letter, get a voucher, and visit a Taco Bell restaurant, make sure to ask the cashier if they have any Gluten Free menu items.
Worth mentioning is that although I pulled "2,000,000+ gluten-free community members" out of a foggy bank of dim recollection (where most of my exaggerations come from), I was pleasantly surprised/totally not surprised at all that my claim was backed up by the Celiac Disease Foundation.

Lately I've been ending my blogs with a question. I'm in no mood to rock the boat tonight, so I'll continue the trend.

If you, dear reader, suddenly found out that you were unable to eat at a fast food restaurant (or if you did, you would come down with warts or leprosy or elephant-shaped bruises in conspicuous places), which restaurant would you miss the most? If you're brave enough to reply, you might as well give us a reason why you'd miss it the most and/or your favorite menu item at that establishment.