The Balshezzar Gooblstone Story

by Paul Goldstein

An example of the difficulties of people who stutter in saying their own names (in 4 short parts - all true)

Part I - Clark University, Worcester, Mass., 1973

I was a college freshman, age 19, sitting in the university's pub with another Clark student, a guy who I was meeting for the first time. He told me his name (now long-forgotten), introducing himself. Now it was my turn.

I struggled fiercely, with a huge red-in-the-face eye-bulging ghastly block which must have lasted for nearly a minute, and finally blurted out something that I thought was at least reasonably close to "Paul". (I decided not to even attempt my last name, of course.)

The immediate response from my listener (who I remember as being extraordinarily patient during that long interlude):

" 'Ball'? Your name is 'Ball'? That's unusual! Is that short for 'Balshezzar' or something?"

Part II - International House, University of Chicago, 1980

Seven years later. I was a University of Chicago graduate student, now in my mid-20's. Since the cafeteria at the International House where I lived was closed on Sunday evenings, I generally called to order take-out food on those evenings. Invariably I would be asked my last name - which ("Balshezzar"-type blocks notwithstanding) has always been much more difficult for me than my first name. Because I was never sure if the employee on the other end really understood my name at the completion of my struggles (and also was never really sure how accurate the end result would be), I would normally spell (or attempt to spell) my last name immediately after attempting to say it.

On this particular evening, I was calling a fried chicken take-out shack. After placing my order, I was asked the dreaded question: "Your last name?" There ensued a gigantic battle with my vocal mechanism of truly gargantuan proportions (it must have been one of the worst blocks I had ever experienced that entire day), trying to get that name out, or at least some reasonable facsimile thereof. Many gasps and gargle sounds later, I finally succeeded in emitting two syllables which I thought were a reasonable approximation of "Goldstein". Triumphantly, I then immediately started to spell it.

"That's all right. I've got it!" declared the employee, cutting off my desperate attempt to finish spelling my last name before the next block hit.

Of course, I wondered what exactly it was that he "got". I received my answer a half-hour later when I walked down to the chicken shack to pick up my order.

I arrived at the chicken shack, and attempted once again to say my last name. As soon as I opened my mouth and started blocking, the employee (the same guy who I "talked to" on the phone) immediately knew who I was. He brought out my order. Attached to the box was an order slip with the name "Gooblstone".

Part III - At a motel pool near Hollins College, Roanoke, Va., July 1985

Five years later .... Now past age 30, I had gone through the Precision Fluency Shaping Program the previous autumn at the Hollins Communications Research Institute in Roanoke. I was still basking in glorious fluency, and was back at the Institute for my first reunion (an annual weekend that I would attend for 17 straight years).

Many reunion attendees, staying at a nearby Howard Johnson's motel (today long gone, along with my fluency), were enjoying a poolside party on that hot summer evening. The reunion itself wouldn't start until the following morning, so the first-time attendees like myself were unknown to most of the others. I introduced myself. Using the targets I had learned, I fluently said my name: "Paul Goldstein". No "Balshezzar"-type or "Gooblstone"-type block this time.

Then I told my listeners how difficult it had been to say my name in the past, and to illustrate my point with (a purely retrospective) wicked delight, launched into my "Balshezzar" and "Gooblstone" vignettes, putting those two little stories from my life together for the first time. Then at the end, I announced, "So I guess my name must be - Balshezzar Gooblstone!"

Part IV - At a motel restaurant near Hollins College, Roanoke, Va., July 1985

It was the following morning, just before the scheduled beginning of the reunion activities. I'm not a breakfast person at all, but I decided to join other reunion attendees for a breakfast at the motel restaurant. Many of the attendees I had first met the previous evening were sitting at a long table, enjoying their food (and in most cases, their fluency).

A few seats away across the table from me sat a young couple who recognized me from the previous evening, and had heard part of my "Balshezzar Gooblstone" speech.

I knew they hadn't heard the speech in its entirety, as one of them remarked to everyone within listening range, "Have you all here met Balshezzar Gooblstone? Boy, did he use to have one hell of a time saying his name!"

A moment later, there was a response from someone else sitting nearby.

" 'Balshezzar Gooblstone'? Whew! ... And I thought my own name was difficult!!"

added with permission of the author
June 26, 2007