I watched Boston Legal last night—a great show, by the way. There was a momentary play on words when one of the characters used "surely" and "Shirley" interchangeably to get a laugh. He got one from me because I did that a lot when I was a kid. Here's how:
When I was growing up, I traveled with the gang-like neighborhood kids in a pack from morning to night, but none of us really stepped out from behind our mothers to get to know each other until the age of six or so. Before that, all I can remember is being in the house with Mama or being babysat by the neighbor women. My mother got a job as a bookkeeper at a hardware store when I was in kindergarten, so I spent afternoons with people like Mrs. Hodsen, Mrs. Jeffrey, and Mrs. Mackey.
I called them all Mrs. Whatever because in those days children did not address adults by their first names. But I knew their names. I knew they were also known as Rita and Louise and Jan and Shirley.
It was during these same years that I was learning songs at church. We sang all the standard hymns like Rock of Ages and What A Friend We Have in Jesus. We also sang a hymn with a chorus that went like this:
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days, all the days of my life.
Because pronouncing "surely" takes a bit of effort most people don't bother with, especially when they are singing, I was never quite sure what this song meant. I thought we might be singing about the neighbor lady who let me play in her house and take a nap on her sofa during the occasional afternoon.
Instead of calling her Mrs. Mackey, I started calling her Surely Goodness. She was charmed, and it stuck. You can listen to the hymn here. Tell me, if you were five years old, wouldn't you be confused, too?