The first day of school was always the toughest for me, because I have a very weird name: Mayobanex Sanchez.
I remember sitting at my desk, surrounded by new faces, excited to make friends…and then the teacher would start taking the dreaded attendance. “Mary, Peter, Paul, Luke, John.” I always knew when he was getting to my name, because there would be a long pause followed by a look of puzzlement. Beads of sweat would surface on his forehead. Then he’d begin fidgeting and adjusting his reading glasses. Then finally, the actual sound-it-out-like-a-first-grader moment… “umm, Ma-Lu-Bane-X ?”
Like the sound of a needle scratching a record stops a party, hearing my teachers trying to pronounce Mayobanex for the first time would bring a classroom full of noisy kids to a dead silence. All the kids would start looking around to see who had the weird name. I often thought of not answering…just sitting still and going up to the teacher after class and asking to be called Mayo. But what would have happened if I had sat still? Maybe the teacher would’ve said something funny like, “oh well, class, we almost had an alien among us.” Then all the kids would start laughing at the absent alien kid. Instead, I would just bury my head into my palm, stare at the top of my empty desk, raise my hand, and take my lumps.
Rather than acknowledge my profound embarrassment, the teachers would always say “that is a very interesting name,” bringing even more attention to me – the kid who just wanted to blend in.
If only my school were like William McKinley High on Glee. I could have had my musical dream sequence moment, where I’d explain the origins of my weird name through a great song and dance number. Picture it: The classroom lights dim and a spotlight finds me standing atop the teacher’s desk in a tuxedo and top hat, twirling a pointer. I’d skip into a little soft shoe, a map of the world drops down in front of the blackboard. I jump off the desk, into a side split and point out the Dominican Republic on the map, and then just like Michael Jackson I’d pop up, spin around, and belt out:
“Noe Sanchez was my father’s name, he was born in the Dominican… he was proud of his country, and its rich history…. so he named me Mayobanex, after a brave Dominican Indian…. who burned down a fort full of Spaniards that had conquered and enslaved his people.”
My classmates now join me in the chorus:
“Mayo-banex…Mayo-banex….Mayo-banexxxx! He was chased into the mountains by the hostile Spaniards…caught and beheaded…for his heroic act, [chorus, dance finale] Mayo-banex!!!!”
The music fades, the lights go back up, and all the kids return to their desks, happy and enlightened.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t Glee’s William McKinley High School in Lima, Ohio. This was the unforgiving reality of St. John’s Prep in Queens, New York and I was going to have to deal with the awkward stares, the stupid questions and all the ribbing that comes along with being the kid with the unusual name.
The first time I remember hearing my name, I was frightened by it. I was out shopping with my paternal grandmother, my abuelita, who lived in Washington Heights. I must have drifted off in the department store and before I could get into any mischief, she called out to me, “Mayobanex van aca (Spanish for come here), Mayobanex van aca.” I remember thinking, “why is that lady cursing at me?” It was at that moment I swore to myself that as soon as I learned to speak I was going to change my name. A child’s first words are usually “mama” or “dada”. Not mine. My first words came in the form of a complete thought, a look in the eye and a deal-making handshake. Like a tiny little mob boss, I’d pull out my pacifier say, “not matter what you hear, my name is Mayo. Just Mayo. You got it?”
Shortening my first name from Mayobanex to Mayo was no bargain either. Even today, introductions are always sketchy at best. I’ll say, “hello, my name is Mayo” and people will inevitably ask “Milo?” I get annoyed and I say, “ no, its Mayo, there’s no L.” I have to follow that with a few puns, so my new acquaintance doesn’t think I’m a psycho. “Mayo, like mayonnaise, like ‘hold the mayo’…everyone in my family is named after condiments. I have a sister named Mustard and a cousin, Relish.” I end my bit with a fake laugh and quickly switch the subject so I can bring my blood pressure back to a slow boil.
As much as my real name still bothers me, in honor of my father and his love for his homeland, I would never change it legally. But I did the next best thing. I got into acting and stand-up comedy and after a few parts on TV, I was afforded the opportunity to join the Screen Actors Guild and I created a stage name. Did you know that Charlie Sheen’s real name is Irwin Estevez and that Whoopi Goldberg was born Caryn Johnson, Jamie Foxx is really Eric Bishop, and Kirk Douglas grew up Issur Demsky? If they could do it, so could I. So I thought long and hard and I came up with Mark DeMayo. It’s not my “real name” but it’s not that far off. I took my baptismal name Markos and made it my first name. I just added a “De” in front Mayo and voila!, Mark DeMayo!
The Dominican side of the family wasn’t thrilled. My grandmother watched me perform stand up on TV and when the host announced “the next comedian coming to the stage, Mark DeMayo,” she said, “Who’s Mark DeMayo? You should use Mayobanex. Mayobanex is a beautiful Dominican name.”
Mayobanex is a great name for an antibiotic, not a human being.
A funny thing happened when I started telling the story of my name on stage in NYC comedy clubs. I realized that NYC is the melting pot, full of people from all over the world with unusual names. The audiences get the joke and they laugh with me, not at me.
Back in the day, no one could say my name correctly. Now that I make a joke of it, I have audience members calling out to me after the show, “Hey Mayobanex! Can we have a picture with you?” People can finally say my name right, and I love hearing it.
Featured image courtesy of Couponaholic