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  • Writer's pictureLiz Totton

A Girl Named Jelly

Hello. My name is Jelly.

Not the actual name tag in question. 

Joy, Jelly, Juniver, Maiden & Darling… What do you think of when you hear these “names”? What’s in A Name? 

You are right now probably wondering to yourself are these actually names, really?! What? These are just a few of the more unusual names for people that I have encountered here in the UAE. I know, Joy’s not at all uncommon, but I liked the assonance—let’s chalk that addition up to artistic license, okay?! Anyway, some of these so-called names had my friends and I in gales of laughter the other day at a café. In fact, my one friend now cannot even say the word “Jelly”–even when speaking about the foodstuff–without my utterly doubling over and tearing with laughter. I love moments like that. No, I LIVE for moments like that.

Here’s the Story of a Girl Named Jelly…. After a laborious morning shopping at the new Deerfields Mall, my friends and I found ourselves famished. The food court offered very little but deep-fried junk food, so we descended to the bottom floor and then across the road to a Shakespeare & Co café next door. Shakespeare & Co. is a trendy café chain here in the UAE that’s jumped on the shabby chic train–straight outta the Anthropologie catalogue.  I like the ambiance a lot. It is honestly like walking into an Anthropologie store but with food and not one of the fixtures is for sale, so you don’t have to feel bad that you cannot afford anything there like you do at the actual store. You can just get some chow and relax.

It was warming up here, so we decided to sit outside on the balcony in the sun. Along came our waitress to bring us menus with a big smile. She handed us menus and asked us if we’d like anything to drink to start. I zeroed in on her nametag straightaway. Her name was Jelly. I was bemused. Could that really be her name? I could barely maintain my composure—I thought it so peculiar and funny! My friends ordered. I ordered a sparkling water, and Jelly took leave of us. No sooner had she gotten to the door before I was smacking my friends with the back of my hand with a whisper asking them urgently, “Did you catch the waitress’ name, did you? I won’t tell you what it is. You have to see it for yourself.” They collectively replied no. They begged me to tell them, but I wouldn’t. I wanted them to feast their eyes on this delightful piece of weirdness as I had.

We waited and waited for what felt like hours for our dutiful Jelly to return to the scene of the foible. She finally came with our drinks. She positioned the drinks before each of us carefully allowing both my friends a LONG gander at her nametag. She took our food orders and we all looked at each other gasping. The statement “That CANNOT be her name!” was simultaneously expressed by both friends in bewilderment. “How can you have a name like ‘Jelly’?” and “That’s what the tag says, but that CANNOT be her name!”

Of course, we all knew this was not her real name. After all, Jelly, like many in the service industry here, is from the Philippines. She has a given name but when you arrive here to work, people choose or are given a name easier for westerners/English speakers to pronounce. This young lady just happened to have been named Jelly, and she didn’t appear to have a real problem with that?!

While we waited for our lunch, we guffawed about the implications of having a name like “Jelly.” Our lunch arrived later and another server, whose nametag read “Maiden,” assisted Jelly. They served us. We thanked them. They went away. We belly laughed. “Why does every server here have a weird name?” I asked. We must be missing something. My friend to the left offered, “That must be a mistake. Her name must be misspelled. I bet it’s Kelly, it could not be Jelly.” We all agreed that was possible. After all, weird English and mistranslations abound here.  English was clearly not Jelly’s first language. Would she have even known that Jelly is not a name or that her name was actually supposed to be “Kelly,” but it was spelled incorrectly on her tag? We agreed probably not, but then how do we explain the name “Maiden.” We might never know. Slowly we finished the lunches that we had had trouble getting down amidst the merriment. We moved on to another topic to twitter and chuckle about because that’s what you do with friends, isn’t it? Laugh until you forget the minutiae and the 99 problems circling in your head.

Ever the conscientious server, Jelly noticed we had finished lunch. She returned to take our plates and ask us if we’d like the check. She, then, brought it to us.  We went into the restaurant to settle our bill. We each paid individually and thanked Jelly. My one friend and I walked out as our more daring friend stayed behind to beg the question of Jelly’s namesake that neither of us had the guts to ask. She could not leave until she knew if Jelly’s name was actually Kelly. I could not think of a polite way to ask this question, so I left Shakespeare & Co. fearing I might never ever know if “Jelly” is indeed her real name or not. Surprisingly, I could live with this, but not my friend, N. (This is the same friend I featured in last week’s blog. She is fearless and fun.) She was not content leaving without knowing her real name.

According to N., the discourse went something like this. After we left, N. asked for change for parking or something as an excuse to speak further to Jelly and ask her about her odd name. But that elusive, hard-working Jelly had already slipped back upstairs. N. asked the manager, who was making her change, what her server’s name had been. He replied, “your server’s name is ‘Jelly’.” N. said quizzically, “No. It can’t be. It must be Kelly. It has to be spelled wrong. Jelly is not a name.” He insisted Jelly was indeed her name. He went on to add the following gems, “Jelly is her name. She likes it. She likes Jelly because it’s so soft.” He added with a mischevious smile, “I also have a strange name. My name is Juniver.” With this, N. accepted the names. Of course, like Jelly, Juniver is also NOT actually a name, but what was the point of apprising him of this? Both he and Jelly knew they had weird names, but they liked their kooky names for their own weird reasons.

It was apropos of everything that the setting for this humor-filled encounter was at a café named for William Shakespeare who is known for his wicked sense of humor. We left in gales of laughter asking ourselves that age old question,

“What’s in a name?” or in this case a “name tag.” We may never know, but I am really interested in learning more about the girl named Jelly. 

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