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Open Features: A Present For Mary

All young Mary wanted for her birthday was a new name.

Brian Lockett tells a story with a happy chuckle in its tail.

When Mary’s mother asked her what she would like for her birthday she said politely:

“I would like a new name, please.”

“A new name?” said her mother. “What’s wrong with Mary? I think it’s a very nice name. And it’s not difficult to spell, is it?”

“I like Mary,” said her daughter. “It’s the other name I don’t like. I don’t like being called Mary Ake. It reminds me of stomach ache and toothache. I know it’s not spelt the same, but it sounds the same.”

“What would you like to change it to?” said her mother.

Mary thought for a bit and then said:

“I like sweets, so can I be called Mary Sweets?”

Then she remembered what her mother had told her about sweets, so she said:

“I know sweets are bad for your teeth if you have too many of them, but if your name is Sweets that can’t hurt you, can it?”

“No.” said her mother. “But Daddy and I are called Ake and it would be strange if you weren’t called Ake too, wouldn’t it?”

“No,” said Mary very seriously. “You don’t have to have the same name as your Mummy and Daddy. There are lots of children in my class like that. That means you can change your name if you like, doesn’t it?”

Her mother thought for a minute while she was loading the dishwasher. Then she said:

“I suppose you could change it just for your birthday. You know, try it for one day to see what it felt like.”

And that’s what they decided to do.

When the invitations were sent out Mary wanted everybody to know her new name, so with her mother’s help she wrote on each card:

For the day of her birthday Mary Ake would like to be known as Mary Sweets.

“What does known as mean,” Mary asked her mother.

“It means that you’re just trying it out for one day to see if you really like it. Your friends can tell you if they like it too.”

When her birthday cards were delivered by the postman they all had Miss Mary Sweets on the envelope, which made Mary very happy. She started to practise writing her new name. It was twice as long as the old one, but that didn’t matter and, after she had written it a few times, she found she could do it quite fast.

On the morning of her party, which was on a Saturday and there was no school, she helped her mother get things ready. They went shopping for cakes and biscuits and Mary made some of the sandwiches.

Her best friend Sophie was one of the first to arrive, but she seemed a bit sad and when she said Happy Birthday! and gave Mary her present she didn’t smile or hug Mary the way she usually did. All the other children were laughing as they played the games that had been arranged. All the mummies were talking and laughing. When the cake with candles was brought in everybody clapped their hands and sang Happy Birthday!. Everybody except Sophie, who didn’t join in and just sat in a corner looking miserable. Mary’s mother whispered to Mary that perhaps Sophie wasn’t feeling very well, so Mary ought to talk to her and tell her she was sorry and hoped she’d feel better soon.

After the children had gone home Mary was very quiet and her mother thought she might have caught whatever it was that had made Sophie so sad and quiet. She felt her head to see if she had a temperature, but Mary pushed her hand away and looked really cross.

“What’s wrong?” her mother asked. “Didn’t you enjoy the party? Everybody else did. And you’ve got lots of lovely presents.”

“Sophie didn’t like the party because of me,” said Mary. She was looking really cross now.

“She’s your best friend. Have you had a quarrel?”

Mary didn’t answer. She just sat there with her cards and presents until it was bath time. She usually talked a lot in the bath. But not today.

It was only when she was being tucked up in bed that she grabbed hold of her mother’s hand.

“I don’t have to change my name, do I?” she said. “Not if I don’t want to? Even though I’ve told everybody?”

“Of course not,” said her mother. “You can stay Mary Ake if you like.”

“Sophie doesn’t want me to change my name. She thinks that means she might have to change her name.”

“I don’t think I know her other name, darling.”

“I didn’t either, but she told me it’s pain, but you spell it with a y and an e. That means we are Ake and Payne. She likes that. And I think I do too.”

“So do I,” said her mother. “Ake is not a bad name, particularly if your best friend is called Payne. Shall we keep things as they are then?”

“Yes,” said Mary. “That’ll be OK then. ‘Night-‘night, Mummy. Oh, and thank you for my birthday party.”

“My pleasure,” said he mother as she kissed her. “Sleep well.”

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