My friends have gotten into the habit of calling me by a nickname, which would be wonderful if they had asked first, but otherwise I’m okay with it. The problem comes when they introduce me to people using that nickname, leading those people to think that it’s my real name and so they use it too. So now I have a dozen people all calling me by a nickname and I can’t help but flinch inwardly when they use it. I want them to call me by my actual name but I don’t know how to tell them that and I don’t know how to broach the subject of not introducing me with it to my friends either. To be quite honest, I’d prefer a few of my friends to stop calling me by it too but I don’t know how to tell them to stop without making them feel bad about it. I’m also worried that bringing it up at all will be disregarded or made fun of because to them it’s just a name and doesn’t have any meaning while to me it means a whole frakking lot. Is there any way to fix this?
There is a way to fix this. There is no way to do it without risking making your friends feel bad.
But right now, YOU feel bad. Because having someone consistently mess up or diminish your name is dehumanizing.
And how your friends feel about misnaming you is firmly under the heading of Their Shit To Deal With On Their Own Time. Embarrassed? Sad you didn’t correct them before? Justified and wanting to argue that what they do is ok? Whatever they feel, it is not your problem, and it will pass soon.
This is important, and it’s important that you give yourself permission to speak up about it!
So, the way to do this is to wait until one of them uses the nickname, and say “Hey, that reminds me. I’d prefer to go by (Actual Name) from now on, thanks.” And when they introduce you to someone new, hold out your hand and say “Actually, my name is (Real Name). (Nickname) is just a nickname that I’ve been trying to get out from under.”
If they ask why, or make a big deal about how you didn’t say anything before, they are derailing. Don’t offer any explanation. Explanation implies that this is up for negotiation. “Whatever, don’t worry about the past, just, in the future, call me (Actual Name) and everything will be cool. Thank you.”
This offers an interesting and useful test for new people that you meet. Cool new people, the kind you want in your life, will immediately switch to your actual name and make a conscious effort to use it. Douche-y new people, the kind you don’t want in your life, will see your name as a vulnerable spot and start poking it by using the nickname.
With your old friends, give it a little bit of time to sink in – habits die hard – but if people consistently misname you, switch to a boundary enforcement strategy of one correction + leaving (or asking other person to leave) conversation if things don’t improve.
#471 and 2 below the jump.
Dear Captain Awkward,
I hope you can help with this situation with my mother. I am an adult in my thirties and do not live at home. Prior to this, my relationship with her was OK, although there were some problems.
Before Christmas I told her that I wanted to change my name to a gender-neutral one. Since then, things have gone downhill between us. I understand and accept that she feels hurt at this decision, however I do not feel her behaviour is reasonable and don’t know how to deal with it.
We communicate via email, and almost every reply I receive says how much I have hurt her, how sad she is and what was wrong with my last email. Sometimes there is bonus nonsensical statements mixed in as well which come out of nowhere.
What hurts the most is that she does not listen to what I say. She makes up her own reasons for my decision (which have no basis in reality) and accuses me of doing things I’m not and then getting hurt at them (such as wanting to disown her). If I say how I feel, I get long emails telling me why I am wrong and why my feelings are wrong. I am always the one in the wrong!
If I call her out on anything, she says I have “misconstrued” what she said if there is proof, or out right denies saying it.
Briefly some of the other things she is doing is acting like I am responsible for her feelings, being passive aggressive, refuses to tell me how sick family members are doing, blaming me for her health problems, threatening to sue my doctor, telling me I can not be gay because of my disability, refusing to use my new name, sending excessive numbers of emails (5 in half an hour last night!), saying she would never hurt me because she loves me, etc.
I have seen a counsellor, read books and have been trying to phrase everything correctly/politely/assertively, but it’s not helping. I no longer feel anxious when checking my email or panicking when I see an email from her but still spend hours pondering how to reply to each email.
I am not the best at this sort of thing as I’m standing up to her for the first time. I tend to avoid conflict and admit I do not answer every email. Sometimes they are so offensive I can not think of any response other than incoherent screaming.
I want to remain in contact with her if possible, but it feels it would be so much easier to refuse any contact at all. Please help?
Dear LW #471
Hello, this is a rough one, because mother-child bond and what someone is named is primal stuff, and it will take some time for things to be okay (or to find a new normal) after she has treated you so poorly..
However, an ironclad boundary exists:
Your mom’s complex feelings about your name change are not your problem, and you can exempt yourself from taking care of her around this.
Stop explaining why or trying to convince her. Let her feel how she wants. As long as she processes those feelings away from you, and as long as she addresses you by your name, let everything else go. She doesn’t have to like it. She doesn’t have to “accept” it, or whatever. She does have to call you by your name and stop being mean to you.
If cutting off contact is the best way to take care of yourself, then that option remains open for you. And it doesn’t have to be permanent – a break could be what both of you need right now.
If emails are a problem, set up an email filter, and take a break from even looking at it for a good while. Like, a month. Or several months. Or, never.
If your goal is to eventually rebuild a relationship, I don’t think it will work to totally freeze her out, so choose some periodic form of interaction. A phone call every few weeks. A post card in the mail. Keep it short and light. “Hi mom, hope you are well, saw x thing and thought of you, Love, Your New Name.“
And then you reward contact that is respectful (friendly in turn, uses your name) and ignore contact that is disrespectful or overwhelming for you. Delete emails that are mean. End phone conversations at the first mean word. Ignore communications directed at OldName.
Underlying message: “I am trying very hard to stay in touch with you and create a series of positive interactions, even though things are hard between us now.”
The message will either be received and respected, or not, at which point you have the option of pulling back contact altogether or reopening a discussion where you clearly lay out the risks.
“Mom, I am not going to apologize for or further discuss changing my name, and I do not want to hear any more of your thoughts about that. I want to have a good relationship with you and stay in touch with you, but if we keep rehashing this discussion or you keep saying hurtful things (or misnaming me), I am going to have to take a break from communicating with you. I don’t want to do that, but I also can’t keep absorbing the hurtful things you say. Can you agree to use (correct name) and to make the rest of the subject off-limits? I sure hope so, because I love you very much.”
It is unfair and emotionally draining, and a lot of work, so make sure you are practicing excellent self care in the interim. Keep your expectations low – a “win” here is her having an innocuous conversation with you about something else where she uses your new name without scare quotes around it. This tactic of selectively responding to communications is imperfect, but it allowed me to preserve a loving relationship with my elderly Grampa even when his political opinions (and the many-fonted emails) became quite ugly and extreme.
Dear Captain Awkward:
I changed my first name about six months ago for vague gender reasons, and by now I’ve told pretty much everyone I reasonably can. But I still run into acquaintances sometimes who haven’t heard, like people I had class with ages ago or parents I used to babysit for, and they’ll call me my old name.
I usually just say hello back and ignore the name thing, and usually it happens one time and doesn’t really matter, but sometimes I end up running into them again and again and each time it gets more awkward. How should I handle this situation?
Dear LW #472:
Correct them! The first time out, “Hey, I go by _____ now.” The second time out, “I forgot to mention it last time we saw each other, but I go by ______ now.”
They’ll get the picture, and most people will follow your lead that this is happy news and not that big a deal. People don’t want to accidentally call you the wrong name, and they would not want it to be this awkward and worrisome for you. Most of them will appreciate being corrected and go with the flow.
There have been a lot of great writing in the feminist/womanist blogosphere lately under the heading “Let’s Talk About Names” – I’d start with posts at Grace’s site, like Flavia’s beautiful essay, and the posts at Flyover Feminism.
I haven’t read even close to all the posts in the series, but the posts I have read so far remind me how names are tied up with people’s human rights and rights to self-determination. Letter Writers, this isn’t small stuff, so stand up for your names without apology.