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SPELL IT WITH TWO N'S, PLEASE, AND IF YOU NEED TO ASK WHY . . .

'I'D LIKE TO thank Mr. Alfred B. Wright.
Now, I don't know the man. But I'd like to thank him anyway.

Mr. Wright, in a recent letter to the editor of this newspaper, touched upon a sensitive subject. One that, until that moment, I had not summoned the courage to discuss.

At one point in his letter, which defended the choice of "The Star-Spangled Banner" as our national anthem, Mr. Wright mentioned my name. Specifically, he wrote, "Donn (Hollywood for Don?) Esmonde."

Mr. Wright raises a question that has come up time and again over the years. One which, until he posed it in a public forum, I had been hesitant to discuss.

Specifically: Why do you spell your name that weird way?

Generally, people make one of a few assumptions:

1. Your name is really short (or long) for something else. Folks have guessed my real name is Donald, Don, Dom, Dominick and Donatelli (in honor of my non-existent Italian heritage). There are other names I've been called as well, but they don't sound anything like Don (or Donn), and therefore probably do not fall into the category of innocent mistakes.

2. You are one of those odd people who thinks the number of letters in your name somehow determines your destiny.

Personally, I think that fate is unaffected by poor spelling. Coincidentally, though, I have a relative who changed the spelling of her name for precisely that reason. She lives in California. But you probably guessed that.

3. You are a pretentious boor who wants to set yourself apart from the rest of humanity (also known as the What an Idiot theory).

Thanks to Mr. Wright, here's an opportunity to clear up a few misconceptions.

For starters, being mentally lumped with people who call a scarf a cravat and affect a phony English accent whenever they have a few cocktails is almost too much to bear.

Admittedly, I am not without faults. I make noise when chewing food. I firmly believe that everyone is entitled to my opinion. I would rather read the newspaper than fix a dripping faucet. But I like to think that one thing I'm not is pretentious.

For the record, I believe there is little reason to change the spelling of one's name, unless one's drug-addled parents stuck one with a moniker such as Port-O-San, Sequoia or God (in the last instance, one is more than justified in adding a second d, just so there's no confusion).

Naturally, if one's last name is Mugwump or Loser, it is perfectly understandable to switch to something less prone to bring out the wit in all of us.

Despite the confusion, having an odd name is not without its perquisites. Among them is immediate kinship with those of the same moniker.

A few years ago, while driving through the Catskills, I came upon a wondrous sight -- Donn's Country Store.

Although not shy of provisions, I immediately pulled in. Within minutes, I was comparing driver's licenses with the proprietor, each of us verifying our claim to the coveted second n.

So overwhelming was the feeling of fellowship that I purchased a few snack items. At this point, I learned a valuable lesson: The fraternal feeling engendered by odd names does not extend to economics. Donn of the Country Store offers no Double N discount.

Admittedly, as personal problems go, an odd name isn't up there with antisocial tendencies or body odor. Having dwelt on the subject, however, one owes the reader an explanation.

Getting to the bottom of the tale involved a long-distance phone call. A woman's voice on the other end. A tough interview. She is tight-lipped, nearly hostile. Finally, though, I wrench the truth out of her with a probing question.

"Mom," I asked, "why the second n?"

To make a long story short: Mom liked the name Don, but not Donald. So she put a second n on Don, so there would be no confusion.

Of course, all there has ever been since is confusion.

But my mother is a dear woman, and I give her points for imagination (among other things, naturally). I'd also like to publicly thank her for not deciding that Mortimer was the way to go -- with either one or two r's.

So, no, I did not add the second n to Donn. I didn't go Hollywood or try to change my destiny via a spelling error. I like to think of myself as a natural sort of guy. Who happens to spell his name a ridiculous way.

Now, the second e in Esmonde. That's something else again.

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