Is It Charlie or Kharlie?

Posted July 20, 2004 at 02:37 UTC

After the Kitty Wars incident, Joe and I were heard occasionally (sometimes all too often) making hissing sounds around the house. Khhhhh… khhhhh… “Knock it off!” Wendi would exclaim. “Enough with the hissing!” Once I remarked, “Maybe I should change my name to Khhhh-arlie—you know, like ‘Charlie,’ only spelled with a ‘K’.”

The seed was now planted. Curiosity got the better of me, and I searched the Internet for “Kharlie” to see if anyone else had ever thought of the idea. I found only two instances of it that were actually guys, plus several that were girls (a variation of Carly, to be sure) and several more where the gender was uncertain. That was it: a handful of pages on the entire Internet. Obviously the name Kharlie was heard of, but rare.

One of the guys named Kharlie was actually a ventriloquist’s dummy named Kharlie Kukamonga. On June 20, I emailed the ventriloquist, Doug Carroll of Vincennes, Indiana, to ask how he pronounced the name. He sent me the following email the next morning:

Kharlie is pronounced just like “Charlie.” My children liked the name Kukamonga because it made them laugh everytime they heard it. I spelled Charlie with a “K” to be different and have it misspelled in every show flyer. LOL

Aha! So in this case, Kharlie is just a variant spelling of Charlie! I sent Doug this reply:

Thank you for your kheerful response! LOL
Charlie Petitt (or is it Kharlie?)

Seeing that I had spelled “cheerful” with a “K” as well, Doug responded to my reply thusly:

Why not try Kharlie for a few days or weeks. My vent buddy likes it and it makes him, in your word, kheerful! LOL

As you can see, we were both doing a lot of “Laughing Out Loud.”

Seven days passed before I finally decided to take him up on his idea. I went all the way and switched the name on this website as well as on four others that I manage. My name tag that I wear at work had “Charles” on it, and I was tired of that anyway (since everyone knows me as Charlie), so I had them make me a new one which said “Kharlie”. But before I could claim the new name tag, someone, apparently thinking it was a typo, threw it away. So I printed one up myself, on my home computer, in 24-point Arial font, and secured it with Scotch tape. It was difficult to tell it from an original. Kharlie made his debut at work on Thursday, July 1. No-one even noticed the name the first night, or at least no-one said anything about it. On Friday, two co-workers asked about it. On Saturday, another co-worker looked at it, puzzled, and said “Carly?”

Meanwhile, Joe had gone to Michigan for a Christ in Youth conference with the church group. The youth pastor brought up our website on his cell phone and asked who “this Carly” was. One of my website clients saw the name on his site and thought it was a typo. He pronounced it as “Carly” too. So did our pastor, the first time he saw it. I found all of this rather amusing at first and continued wearing the name tag, just to see what other reactions I might get.

A few other co-workers commented on it; most of them thought it looked like “Carly.” One customer offered a creative response to Kharlie on Saturday, July 10. Another co-worker, a few days later, seeing the name on my tag, asked “What did you do that for?” I told her that I had simply done it to be different. “You didn’t have to do anything to be different,” she replied.

I planned to keep the name Kharlie perhaps until early September, then decide whether to continue with it or not. But I was already getting a lot of strange responses, and no-one seemed to be seeing it as a workable variation for Charlie. I decided to let three factors help me determine what to do about the matter:

  1. The response of my family, and particularly my wife (see below), who had already been spelling my name as Kharlie in her personal journal.
  2. I wanted to see if anyone else would spell my name as Kharlie, either in email, on the schedule at work, or anywhere at all (no-one did).
  3. I wanted to see if any stranger would get the pronunciation right, or if everyone would continue to call me Carly. This was already starting to get old (do I look like a girl? Give me a break).

Wendi told me as early as Saturday, July 10, that I “probably should change it back to ‘Charlie’ with a ‘C’.” She didn’t like the idea of me being called by what sounded like a girl’s name.

On Tuesday, July 13, I asked her what she thought about the name Kharlie. “It sounds too feminine,” she replied, based upon the fact that people were pronouncing it like “Carly.” Later, I asked her what she thought about it when pronounced with a soft “K” or “khhhh” sound. “That makes it sound Jewish,” she replied, “and you’re not Jewish, so it doesn’t fit.” Finally she announced to me that she would resume spelling my name with a “C” in her journal.

I wore the “Kharlie” name tag at work for a four-hour shift that evening. I punched in at 5:58 p.m. and one minute later (still before my shift was scheduled to begin) a co-worker addressed me as “Carly.” The young lady I worked with that evening had never noticed the different name tag, so I pointed it out to her a while later. When she saw it, she jerked her head back in surprise. “Well, that’s interesting,” she said. In my experience, that is usually a kind but unfavorable response, one given by a person who dislikes something but doesn’t want to say so directly.

So I asked her what she really thought of the name Kharlie. “It sounds evil,” she said, “sort of Children of the Corn-ish… you remember the guy that kept coming out of the cornfield? His name was probably Kharlie!” And of course she pronounced it as “Carly.”

That was the last straw for me. First I’m a girl, then I’m from the Middle East, and now I’m evil! I decided that this would be the last night anyone would ever see “Kharlie” on my name tag. It seems to work great for Kharlie Kukamonga because of the K’s in the last name, and the showmanship and all. But for a regular guy, it’s kinda tough—people either don’t know how to say it at all, or it ends up sounding like Carly! The spelling confused even me enough that I had to ask Doug Carroll how he pronounced it.

I took the smock, with the name tag, home after work. Wendi insisted that she be the one to remove the old name tag. After she finished, I went to the computer and cleaned up all the files containing the misspelled name, then republished everything. I had even switched the name on four other websites I manage, so I fixed them also. Finally I printed up a new name tag, in a different font (so it would still look different from everyone else’s), bearing the name “Charlie” with the traditional spelling. I finished all of this at exactly midnight.

I was off work on Wednesday but returned Thursday night. Less than an hour into my shift, a customer read my name tag and said “Thank you, Charlie.” I felt better; I hadn’t realized it, but I had actually missed being called by name, even by strangers. And now I had a name they could actually pronounce.

So what have I learned from this experience? First of all, I would never, ever name a baby boy Kharlie, for doing so would sentence him to a lifetime of being called “Carly” or “Khhhh-arlie,” but hardly ever “Charlie,” by strangers. It might be a nice name for a girl though, since “Carly” is how it usually gets pronounced. Secondly, I likely will not try it again myself, for the same reasons. I only did it this time, to prove to myself that I actually had the guts to pull it off. Now that it’s over, I have an interesting experience and a funny story to relate to others. I think that made it worth my trouble, don’t you?

Be sure to read The Last Word on Kharlie (I Think).