In school, students are arranged by seating charts. The same kids sit in the back corner of the classroom, receiving less individual attention until they graduate, and even then, the audience is making ZZZs by the time the last Z receives his or her diploma.
In the workplace, when two or more people write a report, their names are listed in alphabetical order, regardless of who did more work. The same principle applies to programs for recitals, lists of conference speakers and job interviewees, and names on ballots.
It is a never-ending battle for those at the end of the alphabet.
With a maiden name that begins with a Y, I can attest to this. Before I was Hannah Belleque, I was Hannah Yocum, the timid German girl with a seemingly unpronounceable last name.
I didnʼt know what chocolate milk tasted like until junior high, and I hardly ever got to choose anything at school. I would be stuck with whatever the other kids did not want. The last one to present to my sleepy class. The Hannah “Yoccum/Yoakum/Yogurt?” in the back row, always feeling that I was somehow inferior because of my position in the alphabet.
Numerous beaming teachers told me “last but not least” when they steered me toward the back of the classroom or gave me that last beat-up textbook that every other kid had turned down—but I felt least.
Even now I catch myself expecting to be last, letting other people cut in front of me when I try to leave a room or when I get in line for lunch.
After years of “last but not least”, I was ready for a permanent change. In my mind, children needed to be freed of the shackles of alphabetical order. Little Jordan Ziegler deserved the same opportunities in life as his classmate Ryan Abrams. Thankfully, though unbeknownst to me, I was headed for that permanent change. In August, I married my best friend, and while “Belleque” isnʼt the easiest surname to pronounce, it sure was an upgrade from “Yacomb?”
At long last I was free! Free from the fetters of the last name that kept me last. Free of the scarlet surname that burned “Y” into my forehead for all to arrange me by. Free of the “Yocham/Yochem/Yochim?” chant for good. Though still somewhat unpronounceable, my new last name sent me straight to the top! (Of the alphabet, that is.)
After two months of “Belleque” bliss, I took my seat in my Teaching the Bible class.
With presentations fast approaching, my professor took the notecards we had turned in at the beginning of class, and called students up to his desk to sign up for presentation times.
“Jena?” my professor called.
Jena raced to the front of the classroom, happy to be the first students to choose a presentation time. I sat on the edge of my seat. After all, I had been the first one to turn in a note card, but perhaps my professor had shuffled the cards around.
Close, I thought, readying myself for the next name.
I was the first one…
This continued for ages, until it finally hit me:
White. W… X…
It was elementary school all over again. “Iʼm sorry, Hannah” I heard Mr. Stein, my
sixth grade teacher, say.
“There are only five minutes of class for you to present your state project.”
I remember walking up to the front of the classroom and giving a solemn presentation to a disinterested group of twelve year olds. No one cared that Colorado means “colored red,” and no one gave my Rocky Mountain diorama a second look.
In the same way, I took the long walk up to the front of my Teaching the Bible class. I debated whether I should, or even could, correct my professor. I wrote “Hannah Belleque” at the top right-hand corner of every paper and test. I had even emailed him before the first day to remind him of the recent name change.
It didnʼt matter. To someone, I would always be Hannah Yocum, and in hindsight, that wasnʼt so bad.
Yocum came with a legacy; a noble origin and story. As did Belleque. I left class that day feeling slightly disappointed, but still hopeful. I had a few minutes before my next class was schedule to start, so I made a quick stop at the coffee shop. I picked up a chocolate milk, was in first in line to check out, and headed to class in silent triumph.