Someone else must have introduced “Liza” and me. Liza is my coworker. We met years ago and were acquaintances that became close friends. Until recently I always called her Liza. That’s Liza with an i like “eye” in the middle. Lie-zuh!
Liza is from the Caribbean, but her name seems pretty American. At least I think it is. Is Liza Minelli American? So you’d think it would be pronounced the standard way.
Over time I began to pick up on instances where I’d hear someone refer to Liza as “Leeza.” At first I thought they must be mistaken. I don’t normally correct people’s pronunciations, at least overtly. If I think a word is mispronounced, I’ll just continue talking and pronounce it my way, the right way. Of course, I’m prone to mispronunciations, too, and actually often assume the other person knows how to say a word better than I do.
But no, it was Liza. I called her Liza to her face. She had never corrected me. Even our boss called her Liza. What was this Leeza business?
I’m not sure when doubt began to creep over me. Over the years, I had introduced Liza to plenty of friends. “This is Liza,” I’d say, and she’d shake their hands. But perhaps we had one too many instances where we both were mutually meeting someone and I heard her say her name, and she said, “Nice to meet you. I’m Leeza.” I blinked. Had I misheard her?
A few weeks later, we found ourselves meeting someone new again. This time I was ready.
“Hi, I’m Leeza,” she said.
Leeza? Lee-za? Not Lie-zuh?
Maybe they were all wrong? Maybe her name was Lazarus?
Why had she never corrected me? We had known each other for literal years. In 48 months, how many times had I said, “Liza, come look at this”? “Liza, what are you doing?” “Liza, can you help me?” “Liza…”? The depth of the error began to sweep over me. Was it…possible?
When people mispronounce my name, I correct them. If people have seen my name on paper before hearing it, they often call me “Kah-zee.” Like kamikaze. And what the hell sorta name is that?
“It’s Cazey,” I’ll gently correct. “Like Casey.”
Or sometimes people call me Kevin. “It’s Cazey,” I say more pointedly in these cases.
“You look like a Kevin,” they attempt, and I imagine my stare makes them reconsider that assertion.
But Liza had never pulled such tricks on me. “Liza, come here,” I found myself saying a few days. “Look at this meme.”
Shoot. Her name is Leeza.
But Leeza sounded forced, wrong, and obvious. What would happen if I suddenly switched to calling her Leeza? It would be conspicuous admission that I had been a dodo bird for four years. Did I even really know my friend?
“Leeza, come here,” I whispered.
“What?” she said.
Two months ago, we went on a road trip. When we picked up our rental car, she told the clerk she was Leeza. When we checked into our hotel, she said her name was Leeza. When we met up with a friend of mine, she introduced herself as Leeza. Fork me, I was on vacation with Leeza. Liza had died and never existed. Did I bring this glaring, bellowing, bold-faced miscommunication to the front?
I imagined a scenario.
Me: “You know how you’ve been calling me Cazey for the last four years? It’s actually just Kah-zee, and I wanted to just put that out there.”
Leeza (formerly known as Liza): “And you know how you’ve called me Liza for the last four years? It’s Leeza.”
That scenario did not happen, least of all because my name is Cazey, not Kah-zee.
How had we gotten so far in this trench? Correction: How had I gotten here? I imagine one person said her name wrong the first day on the job, she never corrected them, and the plague swept across the office infecting us all.
Soon a friend asked me what I had done the night before. “I got dinner with Leeza.”
“Who’s that?” the friend asked.
“Liza,” I clarified.
Another friend later what I was doing that weekend. “Leeza and I have plans.”
Our friend scrunched her eyebrows.
“Leeza,” I said more slowly, “and I have plans to see a movie.”
“Liza you mean?”
“I think,” I tried, “I think her name is Leeza.”
“No, it’s not. It’s Liza.”
“Have you ever heard her say her name to someone?” I asked.
“She says Leeza. I only just realized.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’m pretty sure,” I said.
“But I call her Liza.”
This conversation happened over and over again. Our mutual friends all stared at me as if I was crazier for calling her by the correct name than by the wrong one. My roommate conjectured, “What if she goes by both?”
Me: “Do people do that?”
A few days later, I came into the office and saw Liza across the way. “Leeza,” I said as greeting.
“Hey!” she replied. She showed no recognition of my cure, that I called her correctly now.
“What are you up to?” I said. “Leeza,” I considered tacking quickly to the end of the question. I didn’t.
“Nothing. Just about to get lunch.”
“Want to grab coffee…” (Leeza)
“Sure! Give me a sec.”
We boarded the elevator. On our way down to the lobby, a colleague hopped on. “Liza! How are you?” the woman beamed.
“I’m great, how are you doing?” Liza answered.
I concluded in that instant, Who the hell knows what my friend’s name is? I’d be damned if I was going to ask.