It was that time of the year to welcome our elf on the shelf, Melvil. But someone was not merry because of the elf’s name.
“Why?” I asked.
“The elf was named by my predecessor after Melvil Dewey.” She said.
Say “Melville”, and I thought white whale. Say “snow”, and I thought snow crab. My brain tended towards ocean. A poll of my coworkers on the origin of the elf’s name came up majority Herman Melville of white whale fame.
Call me stupid, but I had to look up the other Melvil. Melvil, (he changed the spelling from Melville), cofounded the American Library Association, developed the decimal system for cataloging books, and was accused of racism, anti-Semitism, classism, and sexual harassment of women. His legacy was described as complex. Translation: Melvil acted like a Moby Dick.
“Do you think a child will make the connection between our elf and a serial sexual harasser?” I asked considering that I worked in a library and had no idea.
“I’ll know.” She said.
Our elf, or smallish type being who is stuffed and not technically alive, never once revealed a nature associated with racism, sexism, classism, or any bigotry. For the past few years, our Melvil allowed me to put him in a latke costume, cross dress him as a female pirate, and with a joyful face, he mended shoes. Our Melvil promoted reading and books.
A person’s or elf’s name by meaning or association shouldn’t define them. My name means supplanter. To supplant is to take the place of by force or plotting. I saw myself as more of a devise a sequence of events kind of person and not a storm the capital kind of gal. Melville is a Scottish surname meaning “bad town”. Likewise, our Melvil was definitely North Pole merry and not Vegas Sin City oriented even though he once sported a feather boa.
I was named after Jackie, the president’s wife, a smart dresser, who stuck by two alleged philandering husbands. When my namesake was revealed decades into the name, I’d already forged my path towards flip flops and valued fidelity. I refused to take on someone else’s identity because we had the same name. As I held not an ounce of Jackie O. in me, Melvil the elf held nothing but stuffing in his red and white striped self.
Our elf’s name breached with a white whale’s worth of contention. As solutions to our elf trouble were presented, calling him Ishmael was not seen as the least bit humorous. We could’ve purchased a female elf and named her Boudicca. Boudicca stood her ground against thousands of Roman soldiers. The wife turned warrior was not unlike Adelaide Hasse, Tess Kelso, and other women who spoke out or testified against Melvil, the jackhole, not the elf. In an era where harassment was brushed off, these women risked all to come out swinging swords.
Due to a tiny budget, Boudicca didn’t make the cut. The next most promising idea was to run a contest to rename Melvil.
The response to the renaming idea, “That’s too much work.”
I swear our elf (name to be determined) rolled his eyes in disbelief. Look at the constant toil of an elf. Elves don’t just show up on Christmas Eve, they back up their principles with year round hard work. Santa wouldn’t hire slackers nor did he tolerate naughty.
In the end, Melvil’s name was shortened to Mel. We missed a teaching/learning opportunity because it was too much work to explain that our elf was named after an asshole.
I felt that I owed Mel and all of elfdom an apology. Sorry elf, if you weren’t able to own your name Melvil in your way, at least you could’ve been named after Jimmy, Terry, or Benedict, activists who live their principles.
The downfall of civilization won’t be greed or climate change or even wars. Humanity’s demise just might be caused by laziness.