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.
298 thoughts on “#470, #471 and #472: Correcting Names”
LW#1, please tell your friends! I’m sure most of them are using your nickname thinking you prefer it, and would be happy to call you your actual name if that’s what makes you comfortable.
I sort of put a friend in a similar situation. I have a bunch of dorky pet names for her that sometimes I absentmindedly use in front of other people. One of our mutual friends (Friend B) noticed and now exclusively uses my pet names to refer to Friend A, which makes Friend A extremely uncomfortable. Friend A is extremely blunt and will tell Friend B to knock it off, but whenever I forget and use a pet name in front of Friend B her feelings are hurt. At first I felt bad, but now I feel like it’s not my problem. People have different levels of intimacy with each other.
I take it you mean B’s feelings are hurt? If A’s are, that does seem like your problem.
Ooh, this is timely for me. My genderqueer sister just decided to go from “Carlotta” to “Carl” – except he didn’t actually tell anyone other than changing it on Facebook. I found out from our father. “Carl” just gets annoyed when someone uses the feminine name or pronouns, but he’s not actually ASKING anyone to please use said name or pronouns. I’m going to remind Carl to use his words.
#471 sounds like a classic narcissistic mother. Distance was my best friend when dealing with my NM… emotional distance.
You might be right, and reading resources on narcissistic parwnts or difficult parents may help, but there is a site policy against diagnosing strangers through the internet.
I had a close relationship with someone like LW471’s mother, and found it pretty exhausting and damaging, and one of the things that helped me was reading some resources for people involved with narcissists. I don’t know whether my person is a narcissist, or whether they could be officially diagnosed with anything, but I know that reading about the behavior of narcissistic people and how to protect myself and respond to that behavior made a huge difference to me.
I have always gone (apart from a brief stint in junior high) by the full version of my name, and I invariably come across a couple of people who tend to use the diminutive version, which I…well, I hate it, to be honest. I hate the way it sounds, and I really don’t think it suits. Usually, I tell them that I prefer my full name, and it’s fine. Some people decide to poke at it, and I remind them what my name is, and they insist on being dickish. We don’t speak. And then there are people I tell, and they just…don’t seem to get it. It isn’t a power play or anything, they just don’t get it right, which is when I’m reasonably okay with letting it go/limiting the time we spend together. All in all, I’ve found it useful. YMMV, but this is the space I’m cool with.
I have so much sympathy. My last name is something pretty similar to LongName-McHyphen, and it’s a name I’ve chosen. (One parent’s last name is LongName and the other is McHyphen, one of these used to be a middle name, etc.) I love my name, yet I find myself apologizing for its length all the time.
It turns out that it is very, very, very hard to be firm about your name and what you want to be called without apologizing for the inconvenience of it. But if you can manage to be firm, you make the person who *wilfully insists* on calling you the wrong name look like a jerk. See: Quvenzhané Wallis, who told a reporter, “I am not Annie. I am Quvenzhané.”
I want to stress what she said for two reasons.
1. The emphasis on what/who you ARE and not just what you’re CALLED will, I suspect, be compelling to some of the haters.
2. No apologies.
Another good tactic – and this one is only for the people who you’ve told and told and told – is to respond “Who?” anytime someone says “OldName.” If you have allies who will do this when you come up in conversation, it works especially well – and takes some of the load off of you. So:
Friend #1: I hung out with OldName yesterday.
Friend #2: Who?
Friend #1: OldName.
Friend #2: I don’t know any OldName. Do you mean NewName?
Yes. Really good advice here.
Good advice and also I just love Quvenzhané Wallis so goddamn much.
As a person who chose WierdPronunciation-McHyphen as a married name, I appreciate this advice. Sometimes I explain why I made the choice I did, if it’s a person I interact with regularly, but it is certainly not a requirement.
High-five. Someday we should have a McHyphen family reunion.
Yup yup yup. I changed my name for genderish reasons, and the first time I did it I was super-timid about it. “Well, I’d prefer Levi, but you can still call me OldName, it’s okay.” I also gave my partner a pass on calling me Levi in private, because I actually didn’t mind when she used OldName. I introduced myself to people as Levi, but never corrected anyone when they called me OldName.
ASTONISHINGLY… this didn’t work at all. A few months later, no one was ever calling me by Levi. I had to put my foot down. If someone said “I went to the store with OldName and got cherries,” I’d reply “Levi. And yeah, weren’t those cherries great in the pie?” I also ask my partner to stop calling me by OldName. I think a lot of acquaintances had forgotten my name anyway, or figured they’d misremembered.
I didn’t make a big deal about it, and so neither did anyone else—with a few asshole exceptions. There will always be that well-meaning (and sometimes not-so-well-meaning…) dumbfuck who asks “Is that your REAL name?” and “What’s it short for?” They don’t need (much less deserve) a response beyond “This is my real name.” and “No, Levi’s not short for anything, haha. What would it be short for—Lavinia?”
LW#470, I hope you the Captain’s excellent advice will help you to tell people what you prefer to be called and introduce yourself as that when you meet new people.
Here’s a story: my grandfather, who when he turned 80 and asked if he had regrets in life, said that he never much liked being called by his middle name’s nickname (Reg, for Reginald), he wished he’d been called his first name (Tom, for Thomas) instead.
HE WAS 80!! I’m not even sure people knew he had another name! (To be honest, though, I’m not sure why his parents bothered with his first name … on the census when he was three he’s listed as Reggie.)
TL;DR – tell people what you want to be called!
My mom has a beautiful first name, but (the story goes) when she was young, her brother started calling her by a semi-common diminutive for that first name. Maybe he couldn’t say on the whole name, I don’t know. Anyway, for 60 years she’s gone by the diminutive. I found out a few years ago that she’s never really liked it – but she never got out from under it.
Also, my name can only be shortened by turning it into completely different names, and I hate those other names (for me; they’re fine for other people). So what I try to do is correct people once and then not answer if they call me the wrong name again (usually; there was a very intimidating boss who I let call me the wrong name one summer because I was, well, intimidated).
That’s too bad for your mom. Maybe she can reclaim it now with new people she meets?
(Different family branch, I had a great aunt who was called Doff by everyone – including me, that’s how I knew her. Eventually I found out her name was Dorothy. NO ONE called her that, to my knowledge. I don’t know if she liked it or not. I know she didn’t like ‘Doffles’, which her brother-in-law called her. When I think about this I feel badly for contributing to it! I wish I’d been more aware at the time.)
She does have some friends now who don’t call her by the diminutive, I think, which is good.
I also had a great aunt whose name was Dorothy. Everyone called her Dot, though. I don’t know what she thought of that, though, I was too young to consider such questions when I knew her.
I am starting to wonder about my current friends, though. Am I calling any of them by names they dislike? How would I know? How would I find out? Hmm.
Put a link to this post somewhere on your social media and ask? Of course now everyone who does that will be assumed to be @Blue.
You could put links to those articles on “Lets talk about names” and use those as springboards instead.
It’s a good idea, but I don’t actually use much social media (so if anyone links to this with that question, it’s not me! :). I may just bring it up in conversation the next time I see my friends, specifically the ones whose names are or seem to be diminutives.
I feel like this kind of nickname used to be more popular in a different generation. I found an old high school yearbook from the 40s once, and the little paragraphs next to the senior photos had a ton of nicknames. Almost everyone had a nickname, and sometimes it was logical (like Bertie for Roberta), but sometimes it was totally mystifying, like, I don’t know, “Spider” or “Buzzy.” (My own grandma was Elizabeth but went by Bush to her friends, which came from a sibling mispronunciation.) I feel like these days it’s more common to just go by your first name.
Sometimes it will even work! Even most of my aunts and uncles call me Virginia now, except for the ones I hardly ever see.
My mom said to me once, years ago, “I tried, but I just can’t. You’re my Ginny.”
For some people, it’s a battle worth fighting. It’s not for me. And to her credit, after years of my correcting her when she introduces me, she *does* introduce me to other people as Virginia.
Good luck, LW!
–Not Really the Ginny Type
I was having dinner with a friend last night who goes by the shortened version of her name, and has done so for 40 years. Her mother has always called her by her preferred name – but now she has dementia, and has started using her full name, the name no one has used since my friend was 6. So I guess in some part of her mind her daughter was always that name, even though she respected her preferences.
Names and what our braisn do with them are so fascinating.
Oof, that’s hard and beautiful. Now I am thinking of the images of us that our loved ones keep in their heads, and how for some mothers that must be amplified. I know I carry a strong internal image of the little girl who swam in me for a while, even though she didn’t stay and I never got to meet her. It makes me feel tender toward parents who struggle with the contrast between the mind-child and the person standing in front of them.
Well, our parents are the ones who name us. I can easily imagine a parent choosing their favorite name in the world for their kid and then being hurt or disappointed when the kid goes by something else, even if they do respect the kid’s decision. The blog The Baby Name Wizard often writes about this stuff.
I am delurking just to say that I adore this post. Thank you very much, Captain, this advice is great and timely for me!
I also agree 100% that people who refuse to use your chosen name are not people you want in your life, if you don’t have an established relationship with them. I’ve run up against a lot of these. They tend to either suggest nicknames that they’re more comfortable with (because a stranger needs to be more comfortable with my name than I am, right??) or put me down for believing that what I call myself matters.
Good luck in the future to all three LWs!
I am often grateful that my real name is so awesome, because I am firmly convinced that my personality would be slightly different if I didn’t have such a cool name.
When I considered changing my last name for marriage, I experienced a sensation like “name dysphoria” – which is slightly co-opting the term “dysphoria” – perhaps a better term would be “name anxiety.” I wasn’t going to change my name to “Elodie Husband” because that described a completely different person; that wasn’t me; it sounded terrible, looked worse and certainly would have changed me. The idea of putting it on an ID and pretending it was me was repulsive – even though my husband has a lovely last name, beautiful and evocative. I wish I could say that I’d kept my name for kickass academic/feminist reasons, but it was purely this feeling of name-identity and name-anxiety.
It is an absolutely real feeling. And messing with your name should be treated the same way as any other anxiety-provoking, annoying behavior.
I LOVE the term “name anxiety”. Changing my name was never an option for me–feminism was certainly a factor, but the reason I couldn’t even seriously consider it was the near-panic the idea inspired. And I love my husband! And his name!
Of course we still get mail to “HisName & MyName HusbandsName,” or worse, “Mr. & Mrs. Husbands1stName HusbandsLastName.” The latter I won’t even open.
My mother writes charming, formal correspondence, and she always writes: Mrs Elodie Glass-Husband & Mr James Glass-Husband. Who are those people? We don’t know.
She is the only one: it is the only way she can cope. Possibly because her handwriting is amazing – like a Catholic Elvish font – and she gets carried away doing loopy bits and can’t stop.
That handwriting sounds awesome. And I do know someone who honestly does follow the rules of formal correspondence – if she addressed me as Mrs. My Name it’s because I’m a widow!!
I lived with my male spouse before we got married, and even though I made it clear (I thought!) that I was not changing my name, we get mail addressed to every combination of names, including:
-Mr. and Mrs. [His First Name His Last Name]
-Mrs. [His Last Name]
-Mrs. [My Last Name]
-Mrs. [My Last Name] and Mr. [His Last Name]
My personal favorite was one that read:
-Mrs. and Mr. [My First Name My Last Name]
I tried to make it obvious, and got return address labels (on the wedding invitations and the thank-you cards) that say:
[My First Name My Last Name & His First Name His Last Name]
but I still get stuff to Mrs. [His Last Name]. Mostly from older family members, so I try not to get to upset about it even though it does bother me.
Our friends just send stuff to [My First Name] and [His First Name] at our address and that works fine.
I’m still trying to figure out Ms./Mrs… what I need to do is get a PhD then just be DOCTOR My Last Name. 🙂
And marriage equality kicks the whole thing over!
Someone wrote Miss Manners in a dither, not knowing how to address a note to a lesbian couple who’d just married; Miss Manners gently suggested asking them what they’d chosen to do with their names, and hoped that sie was doing the same with all newly-married couples of hir acquaintance.
She also made a plea for the return of “at home” cards, mailed out after the wedding, to let everyone know the new address (so that people knew where to send the gifts they hadn’t bought yet) and what the people involved were calling themselves.
That may not actually work, haha. My mom’s been a doctor — and my dad’s been a stay at home parent — for literally decades now, and they still get mail addressed to Dr. and MRS. Surname all the time. Not nearly as frequently as in the 80’s/90’s, but at least once a week. Sometimes it’s even addressed to Dr. ObviouslyFeminineName and Mrs. ObviouslyMasculineName Surname! Amazing.
Like Kat says, that frequently doesn’t work – my mother’s title is Dr. and I can’t count how many times she’s been addressed as Mrs. [Mum’s Last Name] (or, for that matter, how many times my father’s been addressed as either Dr. or Mr. [Mum’s Last Name]). Funnily enough, she is only very seldom called Mrs. [Dad’s Last Name]. On the bright side, if a person on the phone asks for “Mr. or Mrs. [Mum’s Last Name], I know they’re almost certainly a telemarketer (at best… more often they’re calling from “Microsoft” about a “virus”), and we can say, perfectly honestly, “I’m sorry, there isn’t anyone living here who’s called that.”
I have to say that this is one thing I adore about my undergraduate alma mater: on their correspondence after our marriage, we are always very carefully listed as Dr. Myfirst Mylast and Dr. Hisfirst Hislast, which is the correct version. That they’ve bothered to respect not only my preferences but his is what charms me.
Sometimes I think I got the damn doctorate just so I could sign myself “Dr!”
I hang up on anyone who addresses me as “Mrs.” It makes me utterly IRRATIONALLY angry. I also tear up the mail, with great satisfaction. Students get one stern talking-to about how my marital state has NOTHING to do with the classroom, and if they are unable to refer to the syllabus, they should use, “Ms.”
I just have the most incredible mental image of your mother writing a letter right now. Alongside one of Sauron being all “I just wanted to engrave it with ‘One ring to rule them all’ but the lettering was so pretty and now the whole poem’s on there”.
I dunno, I think “name-identity and name-anxiety” *is* a Kickass Feminist Reason. Because I suspect that at least some people who change their names feel these things and shrug them off. (A friend who regrets changing her name – and who ultimately changed it back although she remains happily married – has talked about this.)
Thank you! You are right, it is a feminist choice in that I kept it – an act in itself. But the reason was, as the Captain puts it, “primal stuff” – too personal to really name. (Ironically, naming the feeling “name anxiety” makes it seem more like a Real Thing That You Can Have.)
I’m sure that if I had been less possessive of my name, I might have come up with some good feminist/activist reasons to keep it, and would have weighed and measured and justified the choice. But as it was, it was such a personal, primal feeling that I didn’t even get to those!
Interestingly, I don’t meet too many other women who have kept their name because they feel so strongly about it being a part of their identity. I know many people change their names happily, and many people who love moving into a new family, or who feel pride in taking a beautiful or historical name – people who feel like they’re upgrading. And that’s great! But I keep my “maiden” name close to my heart, like in a fairy tale. It’s nice to know that other women feel the same way, although I am sad that your friend regretted it.
*fistbump of name-is-my-identity solidarity*
I changed my name legally about 5 years ago. When Mr. mintylime and I started talking about getting married, I made it clear that I had *no* intention of changing my name because this one was *mine*, thank you very much.
We do occasionally get letters for Mr. and Mrs. HisFirstName HisLastName. Cue eyerolling. If I’m Mrs. HisName, he’s Mr. mintylime and I use that in places where I prefer not to use his actual name (like FB, since he doesn’t use it, and privacy, eh?).
The letter was clearly intended for your husband and his lady-clone. Do they fight crime? It could be important.
I’m like you. It wasn’t so much that I minded becoming Mrs. Husbandname, and I don’t get huffy when folks whose connection to me is as his wife assume I have his last name. But I did not like the idea of no longer being Myfirstname Mylastname, having been her for 26 years and having an initial-based nickname. Where the feminism came in was in allowing me to slough off anyone’s problems with that.
My mom initially resisted, and mailed me things to Mrs. Husbandslastname. (As, less surprisingly, did my M-I-L). But after a while she admitted that she liked that I had kept our nuclear family’s last name.
Interesting! When I got married, I ended up deciding on Myfirstname Mylastnamebecamemymiddlename Hislastname, because of similar feelings I think.
My mummy is the same as you. Her name is so personal and important to her but when she married my father the only thing she could do was hyphenate it (they could also have taken her name as a family name, but the reason she decided not to take that step was because she thought my father would feel invalidated – the bad thing is that he really would have felt that way -__-) which she didn’t like at all but went with it because me and my sister also had his name and thus she felt connected to us in that way. So when my parents divorced in 2007 one of the first things my mum did was get her birth name back and she’s so, so happy with it because she can finally “feel her identity” again.
What still annoys the heck out of me is people calling her by my father’s last name when that was never even her name to begin with. I can understand people knowing only me or my sister or my father and thus assuming that her name is the same as ours, but she actually always introduced herself by her hyphenated name and yeah, not cool.
Also, I’d have loved to take her birth name, too, but sadly wasn’t allowed. Should I marry one day and the guy doesn’t have an extremely strange name I know that I’ll take his name because I just…don’t “feel” my name very much. It’s my name, alright, I don’t like it super well but also don’t hate it, but it’s the name of That Man and I do not want to share it with him or even sound like I’m connected to him at all.
I feel the same as you. My own last name is such a strong part of my own identity, I cannot imagine changing it to someone else’s name without feeling a little repulsed. It’s mine, it’s me.
This is exactly how I felt when I got married! My husband was disappointed, but I just couldn’t give up this huge aspect of my identity. And to Elodie…I do think that’s a feminist decision. You are not sublimating your own anxiety just to follow a patriarchal rule and make everyone else happy. What could be more feminist?
My parents divorced in the mid-70s, and my mother is still using my father’s last name. And a more deeply, intensely in-on-the-ground-floor-of-the-movement Feminist you will never meet. She kept it at the time of the divorce out of a combination of convenience – continuing to have the same name as me to avoid confusing my teachers & such; and emotion – she didn’t care much for her family name (and had some issues with her family in general), and in many ways she was and remained closer to my father’s parents than her own. And nothing about the divorce ever changed the fact that she was part of that family. (It’s possible that my parents had the most civilized divorce ever, a fact that I am grateful for every day!) Mom has never legally remarried, but even if she did, I can’t imagine her ever giving up “my father’s” name. It’s been her name now for more than 40 years – it has become her identity in a way her maiden name never was. It was absolutely the right choice for her.
For me, I can’t imagine ever giving up my family name, because it IS so much a part of my identity. That was the right choice for me. Feminism and identity come in a lot of flavors 🙂
Back in the 60s I married and changed my name. I’d been doing what all the high school girls in those days did — trying out married names by pairing our bf’s last names with ours in various combinations — Mary Sue Smith marries John Doe, should she become Mary Smith Doe? or Mary Sue Doe? or even Mary Sue Smith-Doe?
Nobody had warned me about the identity-dysphoria that immediately resulted from routinely changing my surname to his, putting my birth surname in the middle.
For months I struggle to answer ‘name, please?’ questions, stammering and stuttering over the obvious. My dreams were different, my daydreams were different. Some of my adulthood goals became sharply different (though of course that had lots of other antecedents, including some marriage issues, a crisis in my family of origin, etc etc etc).
When that marriage ended after 5 years, I kept my married name – I’d grown accustomed to it, and besides, now I knew for sure how much hassle was involved in the paperwork. On everything!
Then I remarried. Okay, I thought: am I going to change my name Yet Again?
I’d always hated my birth first-name anyway. This seemed like the perfect opportunity. So I changed both first and last, made it official, and then refused to take his name in marriage.
40 years later, I still like the name I chose for myself. I’m still glad I didn’t change it again (especially since I’m now 30 years into marriage #3).
What’s really freaky is that I occasionally wish I had lifelong name-continuity. Maybe someday I’ll finish the novel I’m writing; will I publish it under my birthname? as a pseudonym?
I think name anxiety or dysphoria is a good term to describe what I used to feel. My birth name never sat easy on me, and I never quite felt like it was me. I started begging my parents for a new first name when I was 11, started going by my self-chosen first name when I was 15, and legally changed it when I was 18. I feel so much more comfortable with my new name, even though people regularly mangle it.
I know exactly what you mean! I have a weird, hyphenated last name (given to me by my parents) and even though it has at many times been inconvenient, it is ME. I just could not fathom being MyFirstName HusbandsLastName. That wouldn’t be me! It just really freaked me out, this identity thing. (The feminism element was there, too, but it wasn’t the central thing.) So I didn’t change it. And now I confuse the heck out of people, having a hyphenated name of which neither half belongs to my husband.
Interestingly, my parents both share my hyphenated name, but that wasn’t true when they first got married. My mom changed her unusual last name to my dad’s fairly common one, but ended up regretting it, feeling like she lost part of her identity with the name change. So they gave me a hyphenated name when I was born, and then went down to the courthouse to switch both their names to match mine. I guess “name anxiety” runs in the family!
I changed my last name to my husband’s for the simple reason that the name that I choose to go by and my birth surname go horribly together. I liked my original surname (except that no one can pronounce it), and have kept it as one of my middle names. I had a freakout a few weeks before the wedding about it. But I just couldn’t take the annoyance of the two names together.
Hah I know that feeling. I know a lady, last name Ortega. Her father wanted to name her “Aurora”. Just try saying those together.
I sort of miss my original surname. It changed when my mum remarried when I was three, but I have a longass memory and I still remember being ‘derrykate’. My ‘new’ dad legally adopted me as soon as he was able, leading to me getting a bonus second birthday every year, which was great! But do you know, I have never, never felt like my present surname suits me.
Trying to reconcile that name-anxiety with the knowledge that my first father was a violent abusive man that we are all better off without, and also with my deep love and affection for my proper dad who raised me from the age of three, is really hard. Feeling as though my original surname fits me better feels like rejecting my wonderful dad whom I love very much, in favour of an allegiance with He Who Shall Not Be Named. (Seriously, my mother wouldn’t even speak his name. If I’d suggested reinstating the existence of his surname in our family while my mum was still alive, she’d have probably had a panic attack.)
I guess that’s why, in spite of being a staunch feminist, I’d prefer to change my name if I ever marry. Even after a quarter of a century, the surname I have now still feels like a strange appendix that doesn’t really match who I am, and it’ll be a relief to wave goodbye to it for a ‘legitimate’ reason that nobody can be offended by.
And Elodie, your real name is indeed made of awesome. For some reason I feel like it matches your hair but I can’t think why? o.O
And I think your Griffyness is deeply cool – though if you were a character in a story I was writing, I wouldn’t have picked it for you. When my mom was an adult she took her own mother’s (famous, literary) maiden name as her last name. Perhaps, if you find that your future partner is even more Griffy than you are now, you can pick something you both like, together, and change it by deed poll!
I probably just match my hair to my name 😉 But thank you so very much.
I too love the term “name anxiety.” I’m getting married soon, and I’m not changing my name, and even entertaining the idea feels wrong. Not because it grosses me out or anything, but, well, my name is my NAME. It’s a vital part of me!
There are also the feminist reasons, and the practical career reasons (existing publications in my real name) but honestly, the “feel” reason is my biggest reason. I just wouldn’t feel like myself with a different last name, and I too love my husband’s name!
‘Name anxiety’ – that’s a really good description. And of course, it’s entirely on women. The closest to equality that we’ve got so far is that some men (or even most, in my country) don’t mind if their wife keeps her name. But the decision, the anxiety about it, the repercussions either way, those are on the woman. Sigh.
Oh, and also, it’s women who have to justify their choice at every turn, whichever choice they make.
Actually, some friends of mine recently had their first (deeply adorable) child and decided that they’d like to all have the same surname. They’re fairly anti-marriage so they came to the decision that the guy would adopt the woman’s surname because his own was fairly common. He also loves his partner’s family as much as they love him so he felt like it made sense. I realise this can’t happen everywhere but I thought it was really touching: this burly, working-class guy giving zero fucks about what anyone thought of him taking his partner’s name because he’s just that happy and secure in their relationship.
I have 2 good friends who both changed their names to hers-hyphen-his when they married. Elegant solution, I thought. I’m not sure how his extremely traditional family took that news, but after all these years presumably everybody has gotten used to it.
I know a few couples who have taken a new surname altogether. I think it’s a neat idea, and the decision is obivously made together. So there are options.
If I had it to do over, I think this is what I would have liked to do. I felt very attached to my last name, but with both my family and my in-laws, you *had* to change your name to your husband’s when you got married. Literally everyone would have been angry/upset with me, and I did not (do not still?) have the ability to deal with that. With my in-laws family being enormous, there are now 4 people who could go by “Mrs. Lastname”! Myself and a couple of my unmarried sister-in-laws go by “Ms. Lastname”. But I’m taking gleeful solace in the fact that when I finish grad school in a year, I will be the ONE AND ONLY “Dr. Lastname”. But it makes me a little sad anyway, because prior to getting married I was looking forward to becoming “Dr Birthname” like my dad and uncle.
PetPeever – I know some couples who took new last names by combining their names. One did HersHis (capital letter included) so it’s obviously a combined name, and another did Hershis so you’d never know it had been changed. In fact, I didn’t know until someone who knew him before came and called him by his former name.
I like the idea, but it worked because all their names were short. My last name is three syllables and already looks like a combination of two names. Combining it with yet another name would look and sound silly (Hello, My Name Is Blue Kirkpatrickjefferson!).
I know someone whose surname is a compound word, e.g. Colornoun, and married someone else with a compound name. They split their names in half and merged them so they could both change their names: Color1noun1 + Color2noun2 = Color1noun2.
To floridagal, above:
You can change it again? It’s weird for a little bit, and you will get some backlash, but if it makes you unhappy you can.
(Where I live, you’re allowed to start using your spouse’s name once you’re married, and can even have it on paperwork (bills, driver’s license, etc.) without it being a legal name change; a legal name change involves changing the name on your birth certificate, and I could not do bring myself to do that. But I used his last name for everything *but* a legal name change, and he just kept getting frustrated that I wouldn’t legally change it, and I felt guilty, and I’m not sure what tipped the balance but finally I gave up on trying to use his last name on anything official.
Now I use his last name socially (except for with my family members; mail to them has my last name on the return label, mail to friends has his last name), and my last name for anything remotely official–work, bills, identification. There was some initial grumbling about how this was not the Victorian era, but it dropped completely after a month or so, and that was several years ago now.
We have friends where the husband took on the wife’s last name, because he liked it and her family, and because he’d always had a strained relationship with his own family.
So while it’s largely a woman’s issue, it’s not entirely one.
I have heard men say that they get flak if their wife doesn’t change her name–usually from other guys implying that he’s weak, emasculated, “whipped”, or that his wife doesn’t really love him. FWIW.
I think PetPeever was making the distinction between women, who choose whether to keep or change their name; and men, who would obviously NEVER change THEIR name.
Both men and women who emigrate to a new country with a new language will often face pressure to change their surnames to something that the new countrypeople find easier to pronounce. I think that in the 21st century, Americans can handle long European names (and not insist that Mr. Stankovich has to become Mr. Stan), but I’d be willing to bet that people with Middle Eastern names get all sorts of pressure now.
I really appreciate this conversation. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. While I’m not thinking about getting married particularly soon, have gone to a ton of weddings lately and my boyfriend and I think this is the Forever Relationship, so it’s a bridge I’ll have to cross. From all the weddings I’ve gone to, I know for sure that if I was ever introduced (especially at my wedding!) as Mr. and Mrs. Boyfriend’s First Name Middle Name Last Name I would break out in hives. Gah, that’s so grating–like your whole identity is subsumed by your marriage. Not what I want.
I think for me, I might to hyphen…. but I don’t know. Honestly I’m not that opposed to changing MY name, but I want my Hypothetical Future Children to have MY family name! Like… I birthed them! They came out of my body! They are from my family! They are a product of both of us and should have both our names.
This happened to me… it was a courthouse wedding, and while I didn’t change my name, the sweet, elderly Justice of the Peace who married us apparently didn’t read the paperwork carefully and introduced us as Mr. and Mrs. Boyfriend’s Last Name. His mother gushed and thought it was all so sweet, even though she knew I didn’t actually change it. Not cool, lady.
A friend of mine who married and didn’t change her name supports your theory – it’s a running not-joke with her husband that all the babies that come out of her body get her last name, and the ones he gives birth to can have his! Hyphenation would lead to World’s Longest and Most Punctuated Name Ever in their case.
[laugh] Now, that’s one way to handle the baby surname conundrum. 🙂
As a surnames-don’t-match married couple, Mr. mintylime and I decided (before we found out the sex) that girls would get my surname and boys would get his. A bit gender-binary, I’m afraid, but it seemed the best balance to us (and if Teen mintylime comes to us someday and says “haaaaaate! my name. want to chaaaaaange!”, I’ll support hir in that).
It’s so interesting to hear these stories! Especially because I had the exact opposite reaction to you — when I was contemplating getting married and having children, there was NO WAY I would have changed my name (MINE!), but I couldn’t have cared less if the Hypothetical Children had my husband’s surname. It was the *change* that I had a problem with.
I thought I was totally cool with the baby having my partner’s surname, because my parents double-barrelled (I have ShortUnusualSurname-LongUnusualSurname) and it has always been a pain. Then a couple of weeks before she was born I had a sudden OMG THIS BABY IS COMING OUT OF MY BODY THIS NEEDS TO BE RECOGNIZED and the baby is now Firstname Middlename LongUnusualSurname PartnerSurname. (I prefer LongUnusualSurname to ShortUnusualSurname because of family disliking reasons and also because the long one alliterates with my first name!) She can go by whichever she likes. Or none of them!
Interestingly, since having this baby, I have realised that were Partner & I to marry, I couldn’t give up my name. I *am* the woman with the ridiculously long surname – and like others have said before me, the thought of being Francesca PartnerSurname is repulsive. I am tempted to triple-barrel though! 😀
I’m honestly thinking my ideal solution is that for every day purposes, introducing myself to people, writing my names on various things, etc. I would be happy to go by DFTBAwkward Boyfriend’sLastName and would be happy to have the Hypothetical Future Children go by Boyfriend’sLastName when they write it on their worksheets at school–but legally, on their birth certificates, on my professional correspondance, etc., for us all to be (minus boyfriend) Firstname Boyfriend’sLastName-MyLastName. Officially but not necessarily colloquially. I don’t think that would be too confusing.
Added wrench is that DFTBBoyfriend is known/called by his last name to like, everyone but me. To the extent that I was hanging out with some of our mutual friends recently and told a story about him where I called him by his first name and his friends for YEARS had to stop me and ask who I was talking about! So it’s this HUGE part of his identity and I know this will be tricky for him to figure out, too.
I’d say that IS a totally valid feminist reason – you are your own person, you have your own identity and your own name
carolyn hax once said something interesting on the married-name subject: that keeping your own name is less of a feminist choice than some people think, as often it’s just a choice between taking your husband’s surname, or keeping your father’s.
i think people should do whatever they feel is right – there are a lot of good reasons for keeping your name, and many good reasons for changing it as well. it’s a matter of preference.
i absolutely, 100% appreciate being corrected when i am wrong about someone’s name (spelling, pronunciation, nickname, surname) because i would hate to be addressing someone incorrectly.
I actually kind of hate that argument. By that token almost every surname that exists is a male’s surname because even if you use your mother’s maiden name it was originally your grandfather’s so you’d have to make something up out of thin air to qualify as making a “feminist choice”. (Also it doesn’t take into account that not everyone has their father’s surname.) And it completely negates the fact that your “father’s name” is usually the name you’ve gone by for your whole life. It’s not a contextless choice where you suddenly have to choose between two brand new names to indicate which male owns you.
exactly – i think CH’s argument is that making a choice to change your name (or not) isn’t necessarily a dichotomy between feminism and male-ownership (which is why i said “often it’s just a choice”, rather than “always”, because yes, obviously many people don’t have a surname that was passed through male lineage).
she said this more in a context of responding to someone who insisted that taking your new husband’s name is an anti-feminist choice.
This. I may have acquired my last name from my dad’s side of the family, but it’s still MY name.
My name, though, isn’t just my father’s name. It’s my name, and it is also that of my siblings. My dad is dead and gone but we are alive and this is our name.
I think Hax was basically consigning ownership of names to men and maleness and that is just not the case.
I have so many feelings about my name(s). Name anxiety is a good way to say it. I have now had three different legal names, and I have terrible anxiety about the whole thing.
I married my first husband at the end of the 1990s, and I was still young enough and insecure enough to still be trying to please my parents. It had been the better part of a decade that I’d been listening to my dad rant about “MS. RODHAM” in about the tone the all-caps implies. And I’d internalized the idea that keeping my original name when marrying was something that I couldn’t possibly do if I wanted his approval. So I changed it. I didn’t expect to ever get divorced, but we did. In the divorce decree I changed my name back to my original name.
Then a couple years ago I married my current husband, I felt like a precedent had been set, and I would be doing something wrong by not changing my name for the second marriage when I had changed it the first time. This time I changed it to [FirstName] [MaidenNameAsMiddleName] [HisLastName]. (The other time had been [FirstName] [MiddleName] [HisLastName].) And I still feel so much name anxiety about the whole thing!
If I could go back in time and change any single choice I’ve made in my entire life, it would be not ever changing my name. Even now, if I were to change my name legally back to my original name, I would always have those other names hanging over me on forms under the “other names you’ve been known by” section. It can never ever ever be undone or fixed, and that causes me lots of anxiety.
I so hear you. Nobody tells brides how disorienting it can be to change one’s name … and even moreso if she’s doing it because she thinks she must.
My surname is so unusual and awesome that there was never any question of me changing it. To stave off being called Rachel Robinson (she sounds creepy), when we sent out our wedding invitations this spring, we stamped “the future Mr & Mrs Scotland” on the envelopes.
Naturally, there was more than one frowny-faced email. Asking “but what about the extremely common name Robinson! It might die out without your contribution! It’s not like Partner has four brothers [he does] or it’s one of the most common names in the country!”
On the plus side, I will be throwing anything addressed to Rachel Robinson post-wedding (just typing it gives me icky-goosebumps) straight in the bin – either it’s junk mail or it’s from someone whose letters I don’t want to read.
Maybe it’s a little bit feminist, because otherwise you wouldn’t have felt anxiety over changing your name to your husband’s?
/never changing my name
I definitely experienced name anxiety and a sense of not having any set identity for a little while when I changed my name at 18. I did this the second I legally could to shed the last lingering connection to my awful father and get some sense of belonging to my mother’s side. They were my only family but I looked different AND had a different name. Once I adjusted tho’ it became so normal I couldn’t imagine it any other way, and neither could anyone who hears I used to be called something else. I don’t regret it for a second, but I do tell people talking about changing theirs for whatever reason that it is a strange morphing process and doesn’t necessarily sit right straight away. Or at all for some. Depends on your reasons I think.
I love “name dysphoria” because I also have facial and body dysmorphia, and suspect that the same disorder is related to my ambivalence towards my first name. I just can’t identify with it. It’s a collection of syllables that don’t mean much to me, and I often don’t notice when people are addressing me by name. However, my last names are tied with family and cultural baggage, so I do identify with those. It’s like my brain has something to connect them to, so those sounds have meaning. If I had to give them up and take my spouses name, I think my head would explode.
I think name dysphoria and name anxiety are two separate but related things, with dysphoria being more “don’t feel like the name you have” and anxiety being more “FEELS about name changes/selection/telling people what to call you”. I don’t think either thinkgeither one is appropriative or coopting.
There’s so much racism, classism and sexism bound up in our names, from Quvenzhané Wallis being attacked at the Oscars for insisting on her – not-white-sounding – full name to the constant battle over whether people should change their names when they marry. Names are important.
Good luck, LW’s, in enforcing your boundary about how you want to be addressed.
Yes, and all the ugly business with The Onion. Would that have happened to a white child? One can wonder.
or a male child?
Entirely unfounded on the part of the press’add well: if they can pronounce “Hermione”(spoiler: they can), then they can damn well also pronounce “Quvenzhané”. Both names have the same stress pattern v and number of syllables.
Reminds me of that chapter in Freakonomics about how people allegedly imitate the naming conventions of rich people but change the spelling so that by the time a name trickles down to the working class, the ‘misspellings’ contribute to bias against them. Interesting theory, except that they framed the research question as “Why do black parents give their children names that will disadvantage them later in life?” instead of “Why do people choose particular names for their children?” Flames. Flames on the side of my face.
I composed medium-long reply nattering about possible Mom-feelings if my son changed his name, but really, it all boils down to: None of which excuses LW471’s mom’s behavior.
I think what may be going on with parents who resist a name change is that back when they named you, they had a vision of who they wanted you to be, and they picked a name that went with that vision. And much of the point of the name change (unles you just think their choice was ugly) is that you associate that name with their vision, too, and that’s not who you are or want to be, which is precisely the reason you have decided to choose a new name. So the turf battle really isn’t just about a label, it’s about your whole identity. As much as you have a right to do that, you need to understand that by asking them to call you something different, you’re forcing them to acknowledge that their baby isn’t who they thought he/she was going to be.
Parents who instinctively understand that a child is not a possession, who think part of the coolness of parenting is watching your kids find their own unique way to be wonderful, and who revel in the ways their kids surprise them, may find that an easy thing to accept. For others, it’s going to be a major adjustment — perhaps the thing that forces them to come to terms with the fact that kids aren’t possessions, and that there is a point at which kids are going to be who they’re going to be, and they as parents no longer have much say in that.
None of which is to say you should put up with crap. It is your life, your identity, your name. Your parents got their turns with their lives, identities, names — or if they didn’t, it’s because they did not claim theirs. This one is yours. I’m just saying, don’t be shocked at the resistance. There’s more than a name-change at stake. Which is actually why you need to hang tough.
That being said, do distinguish deliberate resistance from good faith but not very successful efforts. I know two people who have changed their names, and it was hard to retrain my brain to the new name. The association of that person with the old name was pretty deeply ingrained. Imagine someone tells you “chocolate” is going to be called yumfloogle now, and you’re not to call it chocolate anymore or someone’s feelings would be hurt. It’s hard!
Again — you absolutely do get to ask people who care for you to do something difficult, which involves brain-retraining. Just understand that even folks who are genuinely trying may flub it sometimes.
So, here’s the thing: I know that my mom would transition over to calling me by a new last name if I got married and changed my name without a fuss (and with apologies if she got it wrong). However, despite it being 6 years since I legally changed my first name to the one I’d been using since I was a teenager (I just turned 34, for reference), she continues to refuse to call me by my new name and responds to gentle correction when introducing me to others (ala the Captain’s suggestions) with an “I will call you by the name I gave you!” rant.
That is not about trying to cope with changes to my identity, not merely because my name is decidedly not new, but also because that’s actually normal and expected (as with the married-name example). That is about me failing to hit arbitrary milestones that mark adulthood in her mind (specifically getting married and having kids). So I’m not going to be particularly forgiving of such behavior, although I have been and will be the rational adult in the room when she throws a tantrum like that.
I wasn’t suggesting it was difficulty brain-retraining in your Mom’s case, or that forgiveness is in order there. Clearly, that’s a case of digging in the heels, refusing to respect your decision.
And the overall point was that name is a symbol of identity (who she wants you to be vs. who you are, and her disgruntlement about that), which is why she will not effin’ relent. It’s about whether you get to decide who you are, or she does.
I was just saying that as to other people, a little slack may be in order, as they aren’t necessarily disrespecting your choice so much as taking a while to reprogram.
This is also what I was thinking. Sometimes parents have a really set-in-stone vision of who their children will be, and the derailing of that seems to have really sent your mother off the deep end. Of course, her behavior is completely unacceptable, and you don’t have to tolerate it, but there’s nothing magical that you can say to her so that she will be happy about this.
Since you previously had a good relationship with her, I have a practical suggestion: Can you write out an email asserting your boundaries with this (I need you to call me X, and to not do Y and Z), asserting your desire to continue to have a good relationship with her, asserting that your discontinuation of using your given name doesn’t mean you are rejecting HER (the person who gave you that name), and that you are only willing to have positive interactions with her (or say whatever you feel, that is just what I gather from your letter). Save this email as a draft, and send it every time she sends you an email with hurtful content. You then have it at the ready, and you don’t have to pour over each email that she sends and agonize about what to say back. By doing this, you also are not cutting her off in any way. You are responding to her each time, and each time you are opening the door to having a good relationship with her. Each time she acts out, she is greeted with both boundaries and love. And you don’t have her unanswered angry emails hanging over your head all the time.
Actually, in one of his books Terry Pratchett kind of makes fun of this idea that a name determines the kind of person you become. He tells the story of the Carters, who name their daughters after virtues and give their sons names like ‘Bestiality’ and ‘Anger’. Of course, the children all end up being the exact opposite of their names – Chastity becomes a ‘lady of negotiable affection’ and Bestiality is very kind to animals.
Personally, I had a nickname that I hated – it has way too many B:s for me to feel comfortable with it. (It also kind of sounds like ‘Baby’, which, eugh.) I did manage to get people to stop using it IRL, but then I stupidly went and put it as my username on YouTube because everything else I could think of was already taken. To this day, many of my online friends know me as B-Nickname. Moral of the story: if you want to get rid of a name, don’t use it ANYWHERE, if you can help it – not even online. You never know when an account with that name will become too imporant to delete.
Ugh, this reminds me that my thesis advisor keeps mispelling my name in all her emails. Both my first and last names have equally common versions (spelled and pronounced with a different vowel) and she writes the wrong first name all the time. Every time she does I know I should correct her, but it’s hard to fight back the brainweasels and do it. (Plus, I think, my name is right there in the header!) It’s especially hard since she’s awesome and wonderful in every other way, so I feel like she’ll think I don’t like her.
People with non-English names are often bemused at how hard I try to memorize the correct spelling and pronounciation of their names, and say, “Oh, forget it, I’m used to being called the wrong one.” But goldurnit, I’ve been called the wrong name my entire life, so I hate doing it to other people.
My name is non-English, but relatively simple otherwise. Although part of me is very much, “That’s okay you pronounced/spelled it wrong, it’s more common than not,” when someone pronounces it correctly on the first try without any prompting from me (these people tend to have some knowledge of French), it’s seriously a bright spot in my day.
Slightly off-topic, but I used to live in France and I LOVE a lot of French names, especially names like Thibault and Thierry, but I am American and will feasibly live in Anglo countries forever, so I came to the conclusion that for a future potential son’s sake I should probably not give him a name the majority of folks in his native language wouldn’t be able to say correctly.
On the other hand, when we lived in France my family found out that our very boringly English surname is actually a mild slang term for penis in France, which made roll call in school hilarious for me and my brother!
i made nearly this exact choice – after living and being pregnant with my son in ireland, i chose a very common irish name and the traditional spelling of it. back home in the US…he gets a lot of aural double takes.
but, i think it’s a beautiful name, and now he’s old enough to explain it himself whenever anyone asks.
I gave my daughter a name that’s not uncommon for males in England, but almost unused in America. Oddly, despite us being American, people assume she’s a male most of the time.
My romantic interest and I are from two different cultures, two different native languages, and were we to ultimately work out, could conceivably relocate to a country that speaks neither language officially. Naming hypothetical children would be interesting 😉
I keep thinking my non-English name is relatively simple and straightforward, but then people start looking at me in terror or find incredibly inventive ways to misspell my surname (it’s four letters long how do you even-). Bonus points for the fact that I stutter and always always *always* block on my own name, so people already have trouble understanding me + feel asking me to repeat myself would make them a horrible person. Introductions frequently end up turning into a black hole of awkward; I feel especially sorry for the Starbucks baristas.
I get the same “It’s five letters long, people!” bafflement. My last name is an extremely common word in the English language, but an extremely unusual surname in the States. People are just convinced that it must be pronounced some unusual way and they’ll stumble over it or I’ll get “Miss *loooongpause* Firstname”.
There are two ways to spell my (short, one-syllable, not particularly uncommon) first name: the French way and the Irish way. (I think there’s theoretically a third way to spell it but that seems to be rare.)
I’m of predominantly Irish background. My last name is a Fitz- name. I have the Irish super pasty white skin and generally “look Irish,” with a square face and sort of button nose and all that. I grew up in a town with a decently large Irish-American population and currently live in goddamn Boston.
Invariably, people spell my name the French way.
The only time I can remember someone getting it right the first time was a friend of mine in middle school who was dyslexic, and as soon as she wrote my name down her brother promptly “corrected” the spelling.
I identify with this comment for several reasons. (I do insist on my name being pronounced correctly in face-to-face interactions, but via email it just seems such a lost cause…if they managed to spell it wrong despite it being RIGHT THERE…)
Noooo! Correct this! If she’s a nice person, she wants to get it right, and probably just doesn’t see that she’s getting it wrong.
Plus, this is a person who is going to be involved in your academic career for the forseeable future, so you need her letters and emails on your behalf to be spelled correctly.
As someone with a first name that is very commonly misspelled, the way I usually handle it is in a P.S. in a friendly email about another topic, something like this: P.S. My name is spelled with an e, not an a. Thanks! That typically generates an apology to which I say “no worries — it happens all the time.” And then my name is right from then on.
A defensive reaction is really unusual in my experience, and can be a sign to look for other red flags about this person. (One woman said to me “but I like my spelling better, don’t you?” yeah, she turned out to be a horrorshow.)
Especially when this happens in e-mail or in Word docs, it can also be a dastardly autocorrect issue. By all means bring it to her attention, and repeatedly, and also mention the possibility that it’s the software getting her into trouble.
This does two things: it gives her a graceful excuse, if she’s the one getting it wrong; and it flags the possibility in case the software does it, so she can actually attend to getting it corrected before the final version goes out.
Especially because her professional comments will follow you quite awhile, I hope you will get this fixed.
I think this all goes for changing gender pronouns too. And people should respect those changes as well.
Yes, absolutely! Sadly, I found that I got a LOT more pushback on pronouns, even from people I was really close to, than I did on my name.
I’m having a harder time with the pronouns in regards to the sister I mentioned above, for some reason. I have little trouble remembering to call him “Carl”, but more trouble remembering to use “he”. Just this comment I had to correct myself twice.
Maybe he could be your brother instead of sister? I don’t know if that’s what he wants, but I bet I would have a very hard time fixing the gender in my head if I was still thinking of him as sister.
Still, good on you for trying.
Yeah, you’re probably right. I don’t think I’ve quite wrapped my head around “brother” yet.
This may sound obvious, but what REALLY helps, I think, is practice. Make sure you’re enforcing pronouns in your internal monologue, think about specifically mentioning him by pronoun in conversations both written and spoken, etc. Any time I’ve need to change the name or pronouns I use to refer to someone I’ve known for a while, I just spend a lot of time on consciously examining my words as I’m thinking them and as I’m about to speak. It’s a habit that gets a lot easier with practice.
Would saying “my sibling” work for you? It’s a non-gendered term, though it might be a bit official-sounding or even bloodless, and I suspect “my sibling has just changed his name to Carl might be easier to get your brain around than “my brother has,” and more comfortable for him than “sister.”
Just chiming in to say what a useful entry this is. Names are such a fraught subject for a lot of reasons: n addition to being tied to identity and self-determination, as the Captain points out, names and nicknames are markers of the level of intimacy one shares with others (which can vary within friend groups, as Smilla notes).
I’ve always been ambivalent about my name because it was weird/uncommon, no one could spell it correctly, and never seemed to me to have obvious nicknames that derive from it. When I was a kid, my parents had silly nicknames for me that were sort of tangentially related to the name “Meredith,” and I remember mentioning one of the sillier ones to my friend’s mom when I was 9 or so. For whatever reason, the silliness of it really tickled her, and she went on to call me that nickname, plus even sillier variations of it for years. I really hated it, but as a conflict-averse 9-year-old “good girl,” I never corrected her. I felt bad about it but couldn’t work out the logic–if it was ok for my dad to call me that, why not my friend’s mom? The answer, which I can now articulate 20 years later and with the help of reading a lot of Captain Awkward, is that every relationship is different and all behaviors/habits are not transitive.
So to the letter-writers, definitely know that its totally reasonable to want to be called what you want to be called and normal to have bad feelings (anger, resentment, annoyance) when people call you something else or ignore your wishes to be called by your real name. I co-sign the Captain’s advice to give yourself permission to be assertive about your name, even to the point of ceasing contact with those who won’t respect your requests/desires. Good luck!
It occurs to me now that this is one of the myriad of problems I had with a new girl at work.
She asked me several times, “Can I call you nickname?” and then proceeded to completely ignore each response of “Please don’t.”
The assumed intimacy when I was trying very hard to send out professional coworker not friend vibes was … nettling. (thankfully, she only lasted about a month.)
Correcting a nickname after a long time can really work.
A related family story I have always found charming: My very accommodating father was introduced to my mother as Jim. They dated for a year or so and then got married, all the while my mother and all her family calling my dad Jim. After the wedding, on their wedding night, he finally said “Actually, I prefer James.” And as a team, they retrained everyone! I never heard any relative call him Jim. So it can be done!
After the wedding! I love it. You go, James.
Someone I email at work fairly frequently always gets my name wrong. I have ummed and ahhed about saying something – it’s not very important as I’ll probably never meet with them, but it is annoying.
Good luck to all of the LWs. I hope you all get people to use the right name.
LW1 – your story reminds me of how we all thought my Grandad loved turkish delight, and so every time we went to see him and for every birthday and Christmas we’d get him some turkish delight.
Until one day he revealed that he hated turkish delight and he had kept all of it in a cupboard.
My dad bought my mum a pack of jelly babies on their first date, and Mum made a show of being pleased because she was touched that he brought a little gift. He bought her jelly babies every year for their wedding anniversary as a romantic commemoration.
When I was a teenager, my mum told me that she hated jelly babies, and swore me to secrecy. Dad never did find out!
Something similar happened with my boyfriend’s sister and their mother. Mother gave us all jelly beans for Easter, and the sister mentioned in private that she doesn’t like them at all, so would we like to eat her share? Later their mother told us how glad she was to find Jesus-themed jelly beans (yes, this is a thing) in bulk because of how much her daughter loves jelly beans. Jesus beans for everyone!
Haha…this is hilarious! My sister works for a company and gets stuff from them at discount. Every year for Christmas we get TONS of the stuff she gets. I don’t have the heart to tell her I really don’t like it, I’m very particular about the brand I use (not hers) and I give most of it away to friends.
I sympathize with the first LW especially.
Growing up, I did not have a nickname. There is a very common nickname for my name and I HATE it. When people ask if I go by that name, and they often do, I will politely but firmly say that I go by (my full name).
I had a nickname in high school that I embraced. It’s the first syllable of my name, and I liked the idea that my friends had a familiar thing to call me that wasn’t the dreaded nickname.
In college, my friends (a whole new set) once again naturally default to my high school nickname. At first, this is fine. But then, people start to introduce me that way, which bothers me. Right around this time, my friend Patrick tells me that although everyone calls him Pat, he hates that. I tell him that I also prefer my full name. We immediately began calling one another by our full names, and do so to this day, 17 years later. The rest of my friends… eh. Most of them couldn’t make the transition back to my full name. I wasn’t bothered enough by it, then or now, to try to change their habit. But I always call people by their full names unless it becomes very clear to me that they prefer or enjoy a nickname.
LW1, if the nickname is unusual enough that it doesn’t sound like a name, like Blueberry , it’ll easier to go, “actually, my name is X” or “that’s just a silly nickname. I prefer to go by X.”
And chances are, if it’s an uncommon sounding thing, some people’ll ask anyway, so that’ll be an easier segue way.
But if they’re, say, shortening Catherine to Kate, then it might be a little difficult. Go for the name correction while you’re shaking hands (if you’re shaking hands)
And tell your friends! I have a friend who prefers to be called a diminutive by her friends but her full name by acquaintances. She told me a year or so into our friendship but I couldn’t always remember, so I solved it by starting introductions and pausing to let her step in with whatever name she preferred that person to call her. I honestly didn’t mind – it made me feel special to her. Say, “Hey, that’s name’s just a group thing. I love/am okay with/don’t mind that you call me that, but I’d rather the rest of the world know me as Xena, not Blueberry.” Then just start stepping in with the name you’d prefer during introductions if you think they’re not going to remember.
I have a frustrating and similar story. Actually, two, now that I think about it. First, background – my parents bestowed a perfectly common name upon me at birth, and then immediately began calling me a not-obvious diminutive of that name. Subsequently, EVERYONE knows me by that name.
My first grade teacher REFUSED to acknowledge any students’ nicknames. She would only refer to us by our legal names. Parents called, spoke with the principal, it didn’t matter. It was very upsetting to me at the time, but I couldn’t have articulated why.
Now my university email is set as “legal name”. I have tried to change it, but the changes don’t take. When I contacted the computer services people, they said that the email is automatically forced to our legal name, and there is no way to change it.
So professors get emails from me, and if they don’t pay attention to how I sign them, don’t connect the messages with myself. At the end of last semester, one professor, whom I had 2 classes with and emailed semi-regularly, finally ASKED me what was up with the email thing. It’s SO FRUSTRATING.
UGH to your teacher–how are we supposed to teach children to value consent and the feelings of others if adults won’t even respect their wishes regarding their own NAMES? It sends a very mixed message: “you don’t get to call Johnny a poophead, but I get to call you whatever I want.” BOO-URNS.
I’d imagine that first-grade teacher was not good for her students in other ways than imposing legal names. But you’re a grown-up now. The university, and subsequent employers, will keep on using your legal name, because well it’s legal, therefore they kind of have to go by that if you’re having an official relationship. But you’re a grown-up now, why keep that legal name? Where do you live? Check it out, it may be as easy as in California, simply filling out a name-change form at the driver-license place, or you could get help from a legal clinic to file for a court order.. Not many countries are too difficult about name changes. Even hyper-bureaucratic France lets you use a “usual name” legally, if you can show you’ve been using it systematically for a few years. They key is just using it as much as possible.
I know a fair number of people who have work and university emails under nicknames, pseudonyms, or web handles. It’s about the willingness of the system to acknowledge that it’s dealing with real people, not just about people making themselves more easily classifiable.
I went to school with a lot of Asian students who generally chose a “western” nickname for convenience. The professor would say “Xie?” and the student would say “I go by Betty.” and the professor would make a note and that was that.
Actually now that I think about it, there was a lab partner I had one year from Guatemala. She went by “Juana”, but her name was “Xihwin”. I never did manage to pronounce it right despite being a linguistics major.
Exactly. That’s been the first day of class for me ever since I can remember. I wonder what their email displays? I guess it depends on the school, but I hope they get to choose it.
When I lived in Spain, the East Asians followed this same custom but used Spanish names. I thought, “Why are they going by Rosa / Juanita / Valeria…oh yeah, we’re in Spain. They’re not going to go by Jennifer or Stephanie or something.”
Some Thai friends of mine go by nicknames because no one outside of Thailand can pronounce or spell their names correctly. For one of them, a lot of mail even cuts off her first name by one or two letters because it exceeds some sort of character count. One uses her middle name (which is English), another truncates her name to something that English-speakers can pronounce, and the other uses a shortened version of the name’s meaning’s translation into English. However, that new name is quite lovely and poetic in English, but that word in turn means something totally different in German, which is also where their last name comes from. They lived in Austria for four years and the whole time every person she ever met pointed out that put together, her first and last names are an idiom for an untrustworthy friend.
Only tangentially related, my classmates and I really enjoyed picking out new names in Arabic when we traveled. Mine means ‘queen.’ 🙂
One of my friends in elementry school had an east-asian language name legally, but went by a western nickname. On the first day of grade 8, as the teacher called out names alphabetically, we looked at each other as he skipped over where her name should be. And when he got to the end, he said, “Did I miss anyone?” Which allowed her to introduce herself as she wanted to be called. If she’d gone with her legal name, it would have given her the chance to demonstrate the pronunciation.
My university has a record of students’ official names and also ‘preferred name’. I suspect it began because we have a lot of international students with non-Western official names who’ve adopted a Western name, but anyone can (and does) use it.
While my relationship with [legal name] has not always been positive, I’m not interested in severing all ties with it. I asked the pastor to use it in my wedding ceremony, and my diplomas all say [legal name]. I LIKE it for formal occasions, but 99% of my school emails are anything but.
Oh great good gravy. If you’ve got the strength for it and can get some support from a couple of professors, smack the programmers at your school with this and tell them to get their heads out of their backsides.
Good point! I emailed my department head to see if he knows who I can talk to; he’s one who has responded to [legal name], and later been chagrined to realize it was me!
+1 Internets to that link. For True. (My name breaks things because I have two middle names, for example.)
I’m a teacher and this is why I always ask the students to give me their preferred name on the first day, along with preferred email address. So they don’t have to go through the “Nope, let me correct you..” rigmarole every time…
Yeah, I learned that my first semester teaching. I was calling roll and came upon a really unusual name and was completely lost. Now when I teach, I go down the row and ask “who are you?” in a friendly voice. Most of the time, that question elicits the student’s preferred name with the surname, and I can make a note right then.
Good for you for making the effort. My kids are friends with a couple of kids of Thai descent. And yes, the family’s name has 5 syllables and does not sound at all like an English word. But each of those syllables is perfectly manageable individually, and when you put them together you get the correct pronunciation. It totally pisses me off when the school principal flubs their names at an awards ceremony, for example; it totally indercuts the message “you are important” not to get a kid’s darned name right, turning a “you should be proud” moment into a “you are not one of us” moment. Grrrrr! And guess what? It may be a Thai-descended name, but it’s an American name now!
“It may be a Thai-descended name, but it’s an American name now!”
This. So much this.
And sometimes, after correcting people politely for years, you lose your temper and start returning mail with the wrong name on it. Then you aren’t invited to this person’s parties any more, which is a bonus!
The Brom’s mother had a complete meltdown over my polite refusal to change my name when we married; she also held a grudge over not getting to throw us a huge church wedding (we’re both humanists), make me several elaborate meringues of gowns (oh dear FSM NO), and our declining to move back to the Upper Midwest (we DID waist-high snow and the Mosquito Dance, Brom’s Mom!). We haven’t spoken in a couple of years, after her fuss over the Brom’s sibling’s first child led to her saying “It’s good to have a REAL grandchild” where the Acorn could hear it. It’s lovely not to dread Christmas cards with “Mr. and Mrs. Brom” on them!
I did this with my Alma Mater. I got married to another alumni of that school and it was in the alumni newsletter (small school). I didn’t change my name and the announcement read “L Mylastname and J Hislastname married on…..”. Well, all our mail from the school (primarily soliciting funds) would come addressed to J and L Hislastname, or worse, in separate envelopes to J Hislastname and another to L Hislastname. They usually come with postage prepaid donation cards, which I have taken to returning with feminist rants, after politely asking them to fix my name in their system with no luck.
AKA “You can’t get my name right? No money for you!” It doesn’t say much for their educational abilities — but a lot for institutional inertia — that a polite request for correction should be so roundly ignored.
As I wrote further down, a complication in my case is that I prefer to be addressed by my surname — which is also used as a gender-neutral given name –as I’m coming to terms with being genderqueer; it started in a social group where five of us had the same given name, and kicked off a train of thought that led to some surprising places. Names are important, y’all!
Yes! As I noted above, my alma mater’s getting both our names correct on all correspondence – unprompted and without needing correction – after our marriage is one of many things I appreciate about them. It can seem like a little thing, I know, but it’s not.
One thing I am very proud of is that when I was only about 8 years old I demanded that my parents stop using my nickname and started using my real name (which has since changed several times and would have been changed there and then if I’d known that people could do that). I got rid of that nickname! I was 8!
Unfortunately, the nickname returned seven years later when the latest sibling was a toddler.
Unlurking here to say I did the same thing when I was 3. I decided that my nickname was a “baby name” and did not want to use it any longer. I also insisted that nothing about me was to be referred to as “cute” ever again. I am now 28 and my immediate family has respected both those decisions ever since. It was an important step to help me feel that I could be taken seriously and my parents understood that. They helped me to correct my extended family (who often forgot these rules) whenever there was a slip-up. It took a few years for the entire extended family to be consistent, but I haven’t heard that nickname since I was at most 10.
I hope the LWs get success with their name corrections. I know how the wrong name can feel like someone is seeing you as the wrong person and that stinks.
Is this an appropriate place to ask for some advice from the commentariat? If not, please delete.
I’m pregnant for the first time. At a family event, my mother-in-law took my husband aside and whispered to him how much she did NOT want the baby to have a hyphenated name. When he asked why, she offered an obviously fake nonsense reason.
This has given me ALL THE FEELINGS. I didn’t change my own name (it wasn’t even a consideration), but I hadn’t decided on an opinion regarding baby names and frankly wasn’t attached to the idea of hyphenation either way (mainly I’m worried if I don’t hyphenate I might regret it later). However, there’s a big difference in my mind between “this type of inclusion might not be very important to me” (my feeling) and “this specific thing, which has the effect of excluding you, is very important to me” (her feeling).
My husband’s preference is not to hyphenate, for various emotionally valid family reasons, but he respects my feelings and is open to the possibility.
Now I feel a bit stuck w/r/t forming my own opinion. I wanted to decide based on my own feelings–which I wanted to be able to separate from my feminism, a tricky enough task on its own. But my MIL has awakened Rebellious Demon Spirit and I’m worried I’ll end up making a decision inspired by contrariness and anger.
I know her feelings are not my problem–certainly not if she won’t even express them to me directly. However, I can’t unknow this knowledge, and it’s messing with me. Thoughts?
First, if you haven’t read the essays linked to in the Captain’s original reply, I would strongly encourage you to do so: there are a lot of different choices, and no “one true way”.
Personally, I was fine with the Acorn taking his biological father’s surname; when I married the Brom, there were three different surnames in the household, which occasionally led to Wacky Fun Times at Passport Control. (When it came up, I handed over a notarized letter from his biodad that said “Yes, I know he’s out of the country with his mom, it’s cool” and on we went.)
We got a LOT of pushback from our parents’ generation. I explained that I’d gone through the vexation of changing my name once and then changing it back, and I wouldn’t be doing that again; that the Acorn’s dad would raise holy hell if he changed his name, if he even wanted to, which he didn’t; and that since what we did as a family was a lot more important to our cohesiveness than what everyone had on their passports, it was just going to be a little weird, and that we were okay with that.
Nearly everyone dropped it after that; the ones who kept trying to make it weird were politely told to mind their own business.
Aw man. That would set my rageasaurus to stomping, too.
Your MIL is more your partner’s problem to handle than yours, so if she won’t approach you with her vile egotistical pressure, then maybe just leave her out of it? It might be a good idea to ask your partner to NOT pass along any of her future thoughts on the subject, so your own opinions don’t get any further clouded by rebellious rage than they already are. He is welcome to say something like ‘We will be naming OUR baby as WE see fit, thanks Mom, but you had your turn and this is our decision’.
Then, if MIL brings the subject directly to you, you can shut her down with the same rhetoric. Let it get dramatic if it needs to – expressed rage will dissipate, but silent simmering rage will hang around for ages, getting in the way of you figuring out what YOU want for your child.
Have you considered including your own surname as a middle name, if you don’t want to hyphenate? I have a couple friends whose parents did this. Good luck with your decision-making process, and congratulations on your impending small person! *jedi hugs*
Or indeed, including HIS surname as a middle name, and giving the baby YOUR surname. #badfeministshame
Yeah–someone’s surname as a middle name could be a nice compromise, if you’re interested. My brother has my mother’s maiden name as his middle name, and his full, three-part name sounds wonderfully regal. 😉
You already acknowledge that your feelings contain useful information that should inform your actions. That is entirely awesome, I really wish more people got that.
The thing is, I can’t figure out how your feminism would be separate from your feelings – it’s all part of the same mindscape, and these things do inform each other. I also don’t see how contrariness and anger at your MIL’s comment is not a member of the set of “your feelings” – it’s not the only thing going on in the feelings department, to be sure, but it’s good to know what side your rageasaurus is coming down on.
Just some food for thought.
More options (which you should feel free to completely ignore):
* You could give the baby *your* last name without a hyphen. And then very sweetly tell your MIL, “We wanted to respect your dislike of hyphens.”
* You could also give the baby some sort of blended (and hyphen-less) last name, or some completely different last name.
‘You could give the baby *your* last name without a hyphen. And then very sweetly tell your MIL, “We wanted to respect your dislike of hyphens.”’
Oh gosh. I would love it if you did this and then reported back to us with a detailed description of the look on her face.
I’m with your MIL on the hyphens. Works for one generation: your kid will be N1-N2, which isn’t too cumbersome. But think of the grandchildren! Poor little N1-N2-N3-N4, and the great-grand N1-N2-N3-N4-N5-N6-N7-N8.
We went with blended and hyphenless.
*shrug* If the parents are happy with N1-N2-N3-N4, it’s no business of mine. Or anyone else’s.
Some places have double surnames where the baby takes the first surname of each parent. No problem.
Yeah, in Spanish-speaking cultures children are named:
[First name, Middle name if desired] [Paternal Surname] [Maternal Surname]. They don’t change their names when they get married. Many drop the maternal surname when referring to themselves informally.
As an example/random anecdote, Shakira’s whole name is Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoll. She took a class at UCLA undercover and went by Isabel Mebarak and said she was a visiting student from Colombia. When I heard that I thought, “She must not have had any true fans in that class, wouldn’t have fooled me.”
I worked for a genealogy firm 20+ years ago and got schooled on Spanish naming conventions right quick!
In Mexico, the woman adopts her husband’s name in addition to her own, but the husband does not take hers. She ends up with [First Name] [Middle Name] [Father’s Surname] [Mother’s Surname] de [Husband’s Surname] but will usually go by [First Name] [Father’s Surname] in most situations.
I’m really torn about how many names to use because my father is Mexican and my mother is American. I get along with my father’s family but not my mother’s, so I’d rather my name reflect my Mexican heritage, but the irony is that in order to do that, I have to include my mother’s surname.
Oh, that’s a rough one. The spouse and I kept our respective names when we married*, and before we married, we actually talked about child-naming procedures, because I have some Strong Opinions on that. Namely, boys get mom’s last name, girls get dad’s last name.** I don’t think our parents on either side would object, because we’re the weird ones for our respective families, but you’ve got the situation of someone already objecting.
Which would sure be making me see red, especially with the built-in assumption that the alternatives are Hyphenation and Father’s Last Name. Clearly she doesn’t think Mother’s Last Name is even on the list! Which is, again, what would be upsetting me most of all.
…I am contrary enough, in my mind, that I’d consider that a great reason to just give the kid your last name. But. You’ve implied you don’t want to do that. Which is tricky if you didn’t already have an opinion formulated beforehand, strong or otherwise. Like you say, you can’t unknow.
So my recommendation would be to talk it over with your spouse, and pretty much ignore the “What MIL thinks” part of things entirely. Like you say, her feelings aren’t your problem. So if you talk over the decision until you’re bored with it, you’re more likely to come to an exasperated “Yeah, fine, let’s go with this!” that makes you happy in the long run, instead of something driven by immediate emotional reaction.
…but as I said above, I am totally with you on the “Okay, no hyphenation, baby gets the name of the person who provided the most biological material to its production!” impulse anyway.
* Okay, I changed my first name, which is a whole different story. My parents still call me by my old name, but I don’t actually mind, so I’ve never fussed about that.
** Partly because much as I am attached to keeping my last name for Reasons, it’s one of those obvious playground mockery names for a girl. (I mean, “Manley.” Really.) And partly because I like the idea of inherited names, but don’t like the “everyone gets dad’s name” thing and we needed a way to split it up, but I didn’t quite want to reach for a whole “boys are important to men and girls are important to women” implication either. Anyway.
I love the fact that you all are putting such thought into this stuff. I love the fact that you all can put such thought into this stuff. I don’t mind my birth name, but I find it kind of mind-boggling that my mother actually got it kind of by accident thirty-mumble years ago.
She and my father weren’t legally married until I was a toddler (and then it was for health insurance! ha!), but she started using his surname when I was born. The hospital, she says, didn’t seem to have any trouble comprehending ‘parents not formally hitched’, but for some reason it threw a spanner into the works when they realized she wanted the baby coming out of her body to have his last name. It hadn’t occurred to her, and she was not really in any state of mind to give them any kind of logical argument, being in labor and all, so she finally just went FINE and started signing everything Hername Dadsname so that she would get the right baby back.
I so feel you on the rebellious rage. So I’m just saying: so long as the name is something that a stranger can repeat back and write down with minimal help, I think it’s actually pretty okay to name a child something out of spite (to other people. Do not name the child out of spite for the child.). It makes a great family story. Family names are in many ways about the total messiness of trying to get along with people we just happen to be related to. I believe in embracing that.
Seconded. Additionally, I am generally of the opinion that the person who lends out their organs for nine months (and will be raising the kid) is fully justified in insisting on their chosen name, particularly over the objections of nosy family members or friends.
My brother was weirdly invested in my husband and I not hyphenating, and he expressed this to my mother in an email, which she FORWARDED TO ME. It was clear my brother was just venting and NEVER intended me to see the email, so thanks SO MUCH, Mom.
But it messed with me for a bit.
And both the husband and I loathe hyphens, but I was dead set on our kids having a name connection to me — it could be middle or last, but it was going in there come hell or high water.
What we ended up doing was giving our kids a non-hyphenated dual surname, and so I am Preposterice, husband is (hm never came up with an online nick for him, let’s go with…) Hypotenuse, the kids are Preposterice Hypotenuses, and as a family we go with “The Preposterice Hypotenuse Family” .
Briefly: I don’t think that someone who goes about this in what sounds like a pretty underhanded way is someone whose claim that “this specific thing, which has the effect of excluding you, is very important to me” is something you need to give much weight to.
You aren’t responsible for her feelings. (Or for tuning up your telepathy and guessing her real reasons for those feelings, which she won’t even tell to the person she does talk to, who is not you.)
I tend to be a bit belt-and-suspenders, so I’d hyphenate, but this is *my* reaction to “I might worry about it later if I don’t.” It doesn’t have to be yours. And I know it’s really hard to get MIL’s sneaky complaints out of your head when you make the decision; I’m sorry for that, and wish I could help.
Crap, hit “post” too soon. After finding myself in a situation where five of us had the same given name, close friends started addressing me by my surname (which is also used as a given name); I found I preferred that, and started telling people so.
Some of my close friends often call me by a diminutive of my first name, and I love it. I’ve deliberately encouraged its spread in a few small ways, which LW1 may be able to use in reverse. Obviously the situations are very different because I’m not trying to discourage use of my full name, but I hope these suggestions help at least a little. They’re confrontation-free and require virtually no emotional energy.
I respond VERY positively, in the moment, to friends who use my nickname. I smile, I’m affectionate, I’m extra-engaged in conversation, etc.
I let people hear me identify myself with the nickname. This includes: using it to sign emails; saying “Hi, this is Diminutive” into people’s voicemail (which reinforces the nickname with both the person I’m calling *and* anyone who overhears me make the call); using my nickname when telling a story or talking about myself in the third person (“and then I thought to myself, ‘Diminutive, get a grip!'”).
I also agree that if you can get just one ally on your side, it really helps. When a friend told me in private that he didn’t like how we’d been calling him by his last name, I immediately started using his first name exclusively and often, and others followed suit.
Names really do tend to be imbued with so much identity. My best friend, whom I’ve known since we were in elementary school, lives in the same city as I do. It’s about three hours from our childhood hometown. This friend spent her life through our highschool years going by FIRSTNAME, but after her transition to university and a series of abrupt, personality-shaping life-changes, decided to begin going by DIMINUTIVE-OF-MIDDLENAME. It’s a beautiful name that fits her perfectly as she is now, and all of her college friends, employers, professors, and acquaintances in our new city know her by that name.
When we go back to Hometown for visits, most of our friends, family, and acquaintances flat-out REFUSE to call her by her new name! They stubbornly insist that “You’ll always be FIRSTNAME to me!” Even (especially!) her parents act this way! It is frustrating and hurtful to her that so many people cannot respect the fact that there are parts of her past she would like to symbolically put away… especially when it is something as simple and easy to do as this.
My husband or I will occasionally slip up and refer to her by FIRSTNAME, especially when we are talking to friends from Hometown, but we always correct ourselves quickly. She has stressed that an occasional slip-up is perfectly okay; what matters is our intention to honor her and her chosen identity. This is such an important concept, and one that I wish more people understood.
“You’ll always be FIRSTNAME to me!”
= We will never respect you!
That’s EXACTLY how I read those conversations. My grandmother said that exact thing about my birth name and my response (in my mind; I didn’t respond to her nasty letter with one of my own) was “ok, then you clearly don’t respect me and I will never again feel close to you.”
That is pretty much the gist of it, IME. Not respecting my choice of name is symptomatic of a lack of respect for me in other arenas. My ideals, my politics, my sexual orientation, my parenting choices and abilities, my stance on any and all family related issues, ad nauseum.
I have a buddy, a very dear friend from way back, who gets the only pass on this response.
When I emailed him (he lives overseas) to out myself as genderqueer, I admitted to being a little anxious about how he would react.
His response was almost perfect: That he still loves me, that he’s happy I’m happier, that he will always support me. And then “You’ll always be my Becca*.”
Not exactly what I had meant, but not really a refusal to use my chosen name, just obliviousness. 🙂 It’s also typical of his personality, to get it… almost.
But usually, yeah, that’s one of my least favorites. I’m going to be having this chat with a co-worker, I suspect, who not only calls me Rebecca (the name they put on the schedule at first) but referred to me recently as “Becky” which is a name I do not like for myself. People only call me that if they’re purposefully trying to make me mad.
I once had a friend tell me that she calls everyone by their first name, and that she had known that the name introduce myself as was not my first name, she would have called me by my first name. I was offended. She was trying to be conscientious by not defaulting to unwanted nicknames, but utterly failing but not listening to the preference of the other party.
The name I go by is a shortened version of a very common name, which is not my first name. I have to correct people pretty frequently when they call me the very common name. I have to do it every time, or it will stick. It’s a tad annoying, because that is not how I introduced myself, and usually requires explaining of my nickname. However, I’d rather they get it right, so I’ve got it on automatic response.
I was unbelievably annoyed when I said my name was “what I go by”, and someone corrected me and said it wasn’t my name, it was my nickname. It’s what I’ve gone by for over ten years. It may not be my legal name, but it is my name nonetheless.
I’ve actually debated changing my legal name. I’ve gone by Cat for close to 20 years now, and it’s jarring when someone uses my legal name, or starts into “But that’s SHORT for Cathy, Catherine, Katrina, Kathleen, Caitlyn? Right?” “But what’s your REAL name?” And I find that rude. It doesn’t matter if I introduced myself as Fried Chicken, that’s what I want to be called.
This. My legal name – and the name I generally go by – is often a nickname for another name. (It’s not Rob, but let’s say it is, for the purposes of illustration.)
I had the following infuriating encounter with a classmate some years ago.
Classmate [in email]: “Dear Robert…”
Me [in email]: “Dear Classmate, My name is Rob and I would appreciate you using that name when you address me.”
Classmate [in email]: “Dear Robert, I don’t like nicknames, so I am going to continue calling you Robert.”
Me [in email]: “Dear Inconsiderate Jerk, 1. I don’t respond to Robert; 2. My full legal name is Rob. Would you like to see my birth certificate?; 3. Even if my full name were Robert, it’s intensely disrespectful to directly ignore someone’s request about what they’d like to be called.”
My partner has the same issue as me, and he has it even worse than I do. I feel all of your pain and then some.
You must give us the last email in that chain (which I love). Was he chagrined? Did he just never speak to you again?
This is my pain! Fortunately, few people go as far as your classmate, but it is incredibly frustrating.
The end of the story’s not interesting. Basically, I called him “Inconsiderate Jerk” for several emails until he decided he should probably just call me by my name, and I avoided him to the extent possible. This is ten years ago now.
One of my aunts is legally named Katie. When she was in kindergarten, her teacher insisted repeatedly that Katie must be short for something. It took my grandmother marching down to the school with Katie’s birth certificate to resolve.
My mother and all of her sisters, plus her mother and her mother’s sister, have names that are commonly used as diminutives for other names. People occasionally try to guess what the name is short for (“Is it Katherine? Kathleen?”) but no, the birth certificate actually just says “Kathy”.
Knocked us for a loop when doing a family tree to find out that the great-great-great-aunt we thought was really named “Nickname” was unfindable, because all of her legal ID was under “Fullname” — which we probably would have guessed, had it not been for the family tradition.
My college group had several girls with the same first name, and we nicknamed all of them at the time for convenience. I found out years later that one (my best friend) actually hated her nickname and had finally decided to tell me! It was quite difficult to make the switch and even now almost 10 years later I sometimes slip up, but I care about her feelings and so I continue to try.
Basically, people will mess up if you ask them to call you something else but if they aren’t dicks they will make the effort. It’s never too late to ask them to switch.
Oof, timely post, timely questions.
I changed my first name some 25 years ago– when I was 17– because I was trying to eek out my own identity and was sick to death of the derivative nickname people insisted upon attaching to me. It took more than 15 years for my own sister to call me by that new name. None of the rest of my family accepted it even though I’ve been *three letter name* now for significantly longer than I have been *four letter name* and yes, I consider my old name a four letter word.
Further complicating things…
I was born X_lastname. When I was wee, my mom remarried, and although her new husband did not adopt us kids, we were still enrolled in school under stepdad’s Y_lastname, which is what I was called for the next 11 years. I married freshly out of high school and afterward my family had no problems addressing me as ex-husband’s Z_lastname (although they still insisted upon calling me by my old first name). We separated soon thereafter but didn’t divorce for about 10 years, the whole period of time, I went by Z_lastname. Then I divorced him and the shitstorm started. I wanted to go by my birth name but that made Issues. Issues with school transcripts, issues with family resentment, issues all the fucking way around, so I lit upon a compromise: I’d go as a hyphenate!
For 12 years I have been X_lastname-Y_lastname, and I have also been partnered to a great guy I call Spouse. How does my family get around this compromise that I thought I’d made for their benefit? By first addressing me as four letter name + Spouse’s last name, and then when I said something about it, by sending mail for both of us to his name only! Basically, because I chose what I want to be called and insisted upon how I want to identify, I ceased to exist. They erased me. Or, at least, that is how it feels.
Erm, I’ve got bupkis for advice. Just wanted all LW’s to know that the boat they are in, they’re not alone.
Man, do your folks have issues. Switching last names with ease if it is related to a change in Manstatus, while determinedly sticking to the four-letter first name, is obviously deliberate and rude.
Sorry they’re so obnoxious and hurtful.
Issues is an understatement. Spouse and I aren’t even married, and if we were, I wasn’t planning on taking his name anyway!
My mom sent me a birthday check a few months ago that was made out to Spouse. That’s her “compromise” on this, I guess, sending me a check which can be cashed by someone in our household rather than sending me an un-cashable check made out to a person who doesn’t exist (four letter name plus stepdad’s last name) and hasn’t for 25 years. I can’t fully unpack the levels of fucked up that is, try as I might.
I feel like from their perspective everyone has a claim to stake on what I am called *except* me, everyone has valid feelings about my name except me. Which makes no sense to me because my mom’s parents named her one thing they called her another and she’s always hated that, so why wouldn’t she be able to understand?
Don’t even get me started on the Manstatus part. *headdesk*
Wow. Sending a check meant for you, made out to another person, just so she doesn’t have to use your name? That’s seriously effed up.
Hmm, I didn’t really think about it being an issue but I can see that it is now. My bf was first introduced to me by a name he hates. As soon as we were alone he told me he preferred X name. I had no problem with it and have called him by X name ever since. In fact it takes me a couple of seconds to respond when people call him by the name he hates. It takes him a couple seconds too! Unfortunately my family, who are very good at ‘teasing’ when they see you don’t like something, have since found ways to shorten and otherwise use X name to annoy bf. Although I have repeatedly told them to call him by his full name we both try not to show that we are annoyed because it just makes them do it more. *respect fail* Thankfully through encouragement from this site I have been setting stronger boundaries with my mother, who is the main instigator of that sort of thing. One step at a time, right?
That is my problem. The family and acquaintances who insist on using the nickname I discarded almost 20 years ago are using it expressly to bug me, and if I show it bugs me, they do it more. And then they wonder, all hurt, why I rarely see them.
I love how they just ‘don’t understand’ why you are upset with them. Ug.
Yeah, that is just awesome. Why am I so difficult?
An acquaintance of mine had success with entirely ignoring people when they called them by a hated nickname. 20 times *wrong time* got ignored, 1 time *right name* got an immediate reaction. This was also a situation where people were using the wrong name to tease. Eventually they figured out they wouldn’t be able to talk to acquaintance if they didn’t use the correct name and so it worked.
I have mentioned before that there was a girl who worked for my husband, who had pantsfeels for him, who decided that she would cut me down to size by refusing to refer to me by my actual name, and instead, referring to me, to my face, as “T’s Wife”.
It got bad enough that other employees picked it up, and other managers thought they were being cute when they referred to me as “T’s Wife,” despite several polite corrections to the contrary.
The only thing that got everyone except the girl with pantsfeels (and I might add, my husband never encouraged her pantsfeels, she had those on her own, and came close to going full Single White Female) to finally realize that I would not tolerate being called “T’s Wife”, well, actually, it was two things:
1) I had a moment of cold hostility, and snapped, “My name is Katyisbutthurt, not ‘T’s Wife’. That has NEVER been my name, and I will no longer respond to it. My name is four letters long, I’m pretty sure that all of you who can memorize a menu can remember my actual name. From here on out, if you refer to me as ‘T’s Wife’ to be ‘cute’, I will ignore you. I have an actual name, USE IT.”
2) I actually ignored people who thought they were being “cute” (or in the case of Pantsfeel Girl, being outright hostile) by calling me “T’s Wife”. They got all butthurt, and I ceased to care. My feelings are just as important as anyone else’s, and attempting to dehumanize me by not even referring to me by any name at all was not going to fly.
So, to the first LW, I say make it known that these nicknames are NOT YOUR NAME, and then don’t respond when someone makes it a point to call you by the nicknames. Your feelings matter, too.
I recently had to, after twenty years of marriage, directly point out to and retrain my husband that I really do prefer my full name.
However, since the time our daughter started kindergarten through at least middle school, to most of her friends I’ve been “Mrs. Kid’sfirstname’s-Mom” That, I didn’t mind so much at all 🙂
Delurking to offer jedi hugs to LW #471. 😦 Your situation sounds really, really horrible and painful. My heart really broke reading this in particular:
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.
Nooooooo! You don’t have to go to therapy for your mother! You don’t have to spend time, effort, and spoons trying to whittle yourself and your communications down to the least offensive stub of yourself possible! You don’t have to chase after the “correct” response that will make someone stop being enormously awful to you! I don’t mean to lecture — I’m sure you understand these things already — I just feel that it’s so, so unjust that you’ve been through all this, and it makes me so sad that those “responsibilities” were dumped on you.
I hope the Captain’s advice helps you remain in contact without too much pain, but I just wanted to say… your pain is legitimate and it is awful and unnecessary and meanity mean mean for anyone to inflict that kind of pain on anyone else. The wise captain may be right that your mom has “complex feelings about your name change” which she’ll need to process (elsewhere) — but they don’t excuse maltreatment in any universe.
I didn’t read that as LW going to therapy *for* their mother; I read it as them going to therapy to learn how to cope with the negative effect their mother’s behavior is having on their mental/emotional well-being. If it has helped them become less anxious about the situation, I count that as a win.
Thankfully, I got into an argument about someone calling me something against my will only once in my entire life (or rather, a few, maybe six or seven, times, but with the same person, so I consider it one big thingy).
That’s probably mostly because my name is only four letters long and in itself an abbreviation of a longer name; there’s really not much to be shortened.
However, that one guy at my part time job, who also consequently hit on me despite being 20 years older and not my type at all (which I repeatedly told him) and dumb as a tree trunk and annoying as hell, took it upon himself to suddenly call me *first three letters of name + i*. Now it’s very common in German to give nicknames to people in either attaching an i to their name or abbreviating their name and then adding in i – the name he called me even exists as another abbreviation of *long name*, but yeah, it’s a different name! Never has anyone called me like that! I didn’t ask anyone to call me like that! But he did and didn’t seem to care that I told him not to. Thankfully (or not), I’m a very angry person and don’t have much patience for behaviour like that so after view times of angrily but still calmy telling him that this is not my name I completely lost it and shouted all kinds of profanity at him and almost threw a big wooden stick I just used for some work at him and that made him stop.
But really, does it need near impalement for you to just fucking stop calling me something I’m not called?!
My experience is that it’s relatively easy to change last names, but much harder to change first names. Truthfully, it’s particularly easy to change last names if you’re a woman, as everyone will just assume that it’s some marriage-related bs and leave you alone about it. But first names are used in conversation much more, and so are much harder to get right, even for willing people.
LW#1 it’s really crucial that you correct introductions right off. First because the new person will immediately get the point that the issue is a sore point for you. Then the offender will also graphically get the point that what they’re saying is not OK, so you’ll be killing 2 birds with one stone. Agreeing to an incorrect introduction is giving your implicit blessing to the whole mess.
I think it’s easiest if you think of it as learning a foreign language – repetition is key. If you never answer wrong-name by anything other than “actually my real name is — and I’d like you to use it”, even the most forgetful will eventually get it. Do it every time, for everyone, and in time you yourself hardly even have to think about it. However some people will still resist, most likely because of some issue with your identity rather than the name itself. Those I find are best dealt with eventually by mangling their own name in their hearing “that’s what Bob said last week. Oh, Ed, Tom, how can anyone remember those meaningless US short names…”. Assorted when they eventually protest by a “you never bother to get my name right, why should I remember yours?”.
But LW#2, while the Captain’s advice is good for generic parental problems, you should pay attention to the fact that homophobia seems to underlie your mother’s problems. How about contacting her local PFLAG chapter, and asking for their help in dealing with her? If someone else than you talks to her about how her attitude is harming both you and your relationship, she may give it more thought than if you (The Child) are the only one saying so. And the local chapter is good, as she’s likely to know people in it, and lose the illusion of anonymity/immunity that is allowing her to continue on her rampages. (I’m assuming that you’re not very close geographically because of email being prevalent?) And of course if you know some of her friends also have queer kids and seems to be dealing with them better, feel free to call them directly and rope them in to help deal with her. It’s not foolproof, I have known many parents who were totally impervious to any arguments, but peer pressure is a good thing and can at least let you off the hook of doing all her education yourself.
To me, name issues are all about the power play. Twice in my life, men in power over me (my 11th-grade bio teacher and the manager at the Stop and Shop where I worked after high school) insisted on calling me by the super-trashy stripper nickname variant of my own name.
I asked politely several times for them to call my by my real name. Finally, frustrated, I discovered a useful strategy but it only works in front of other subordinates. My bio teacher, Mr. Smith, asked if I knew the answer to a question (in class). I said, “Well, yes, Mikey, I do.”
Same thing with the manager, Mr. Jones. “Yes, Billy, I will be happy to close the store tonight.”
Works like a charm.
OH MAN YES. This also works great for old men who call me “dear” or “honey” (which is not common or appropriate in my region)–“Oh sure, sugardoll, I’ll be right over.”
And have you noticed how these same dudes often act offended that you give them endearments? Of course, the fact that I use names like “schnookylumps” and “angel wings” and “sport” may be why.
I AM ADDING THOSE NAMES TO MY REPETOIRE. 😀
They sure wise up real fast, that’s what I’ll say. I’ve never met one that didn’t realize I was saucing the gander and got offended, except for a few petulant, “You don’t need to be rude, you could have just said you don’t like it.” (Which is BS, since these are the same old men who are the worst about it. Something about my grandpa’s social club was suuuper creepy, in retrospect.)
I had 50 yr old male boss who used to call me Jenny. I asked him not to. Repeatedly. Then I called him “Tommy” in a meeting with his bosses, and he was PISSED. I said, “So what I am hearing is that you didn’t enjoy being called a diminutive nickname, then?” and he said “grumble grumble point made” and then we were good.
One of my SCA friends had the best story about this ever. She was our landed baroness at the time this took place, and IIRC she was a secretary in a medical office as her modern-world job.
She has a long first name, which she usually shortens to one particular diminutive. There is another diminutive of the same name that she despises and will not respond to.
So, when someone came into her office referring to her by the latter diminutive, she calmly said, “Please don’t call me that, my name is LongName.”
He responded, “Well, what do your FRIENDS call you, honey?”
She drew herself up to full height and in her Baroness voice, coldly responded, “MY FRIENDS call me Your Excellency!”
(Of course, nobody does. Most of us know her as “Auntie ‘SCA FirstName'” anyway.)
Oh man I know that one. My maiden name was … well I’m just going to come out and say it was very close to the name of a famous time-machine car. I had a teacher who found it hiiiilarious to call me “Delorean” instead of my actual name – first OR last.
Fortunately, there was a model of car in the late 80s that was close to his name too, so I started calling him that.
Tell your friends, just…if they ask why – remember that it’s not always going to be derailing. Sometimes they may honestly be confused. For example, I’d want to know what happened to cause a sudden [to my knowledge anyways] change towards your feelings about what I thought was an affectionate nickname. So I’d be asking because of that, not because I was trying to derail, or because I’d ignore wishes.
Also, and this is just an idea to help drive home the point of “I really really don’t like this, and you should respect that” for stubborn people but if they have a nickname you know they hate, you could try saying something like “Alright, but only if I can call you X.” Not advocating following through with it, and you should tell them that you were just using it to prove a point, but I’ve found that it helps get people to understand *why* you don’t like something, and be more willing to accept it once they do.
This is so relevant to my current life situation! I have changed my name about a year or two ago (for gender reasons) and am now introducing myself as that, though I keep having to interact with family, or family friends, or other people from my old life. Some of them I feel comfortable saying, “Hey, actually it’s Puck now,” but with people who are practically family I’ve had some trouble. My family knows that all my friends call me Puck, but they think it’s just a nickname.
I told my eldest sister recently that I’m thinking of legally changing my name to Puck, and her reaction was very sad and saddening, which basically gave me a preview for how I can expect my parents to react if/when I tell them. This only makes the prospect of talking about gender things with them even more terrifying. I have no idea what to do.
I am so sorry you’re having to struggle with your family like this.
What you do depends on how you close you want to be with your family and how well-supported you are in other ways. You can’t control their reaction — and it doesn’t sound like they’re going to have a positive one — so you can only try to be in a position where you’re minimally hurt by it.
You also have to balance that with the pain of pretending, which can be pretty profound for some people.
It’s hard and it shouldn’t be like that. Do you have local support? The appropriate LGBTIQXYZ social group? A supportive therapist? Are you dependent on your parents for money or health insurance or anything like that?
While you’re thinking about all that, and building your network, talk to the other gender-interesting people you know, or google them up. There’s a lot of people who have been in your situation, and their stories can help you figure out what to do. You’re not alone – there’s all kinds of people who have stood where you are and gotten through it. There’s lots of people standing where you are now, frightened and confused. There’s lots of people who haven’t even gotten far enough in their self-understanding or self-exploration to know that there’s something about their gender that they need to figure out.
I came out about other things to parents who could not accept my behavior. We had sporadic conflict over the years, but we were all invested in keeping our relationship (and I was invested in living my life my way). My parents were not the kind to apply inappropriate pressure, but still there was a lot of pain between us. At my wedding thirteen years later, my mother thanked the person under contention all those years for being there for me. Nobody — probably least of all Mom! — expected that to ever happen. So there is hope that the time may come where you and your family have a pleasant detente about whatever you do that they disapprove of, but you kind of can’t count on that, and you still have to live your life the way that is best for you.
I have all kinds of goodfeels for you and I hope you find all kinds of support to carry you through!
Ah yes, I can certainly relate to the issues surrounding naming. While I have never changed my name, I have dealt with how people pronounce it my whole life. Since I am not originally from an English-speaking country, I don’t pronounce it the English way, and since most people who meet me for the first time have already seen my name in print, it’s been a whole life of “it’s AH-da, not EH-da”. At this point, I don’t bother to correct individuals I’ll likely see only once or briefly, like the receptionist at the dentist, but I always feel awkward when my profs start out saying it the right way and halfway through the term switch back. I can’t exactly interrupt their lecture to correct them, so I let it slide, but argh!
I can definitely relate to LW1. My name’s Jennifer, so naturally everyone tries to shorten it to Jenny, which I hate. And yes, I even sometimes have people introduce me to others as Jenny. I’ve found the best way to deal with it is to just say “Actually, it’s Jennifer” whenever anyone uses Jenny, and then carry on as if nothing happened. It almost always works (the few exceptions are generally the sort of people I try to avoid anyway), and because I don’t make a big deal out of it, just calmly correct it and move on, nobody gets offended or embarrassed by the correction (even when I’ve said it to a senior manager at work!).
This is all fascinating to read. My father’s condition for my name was that it had to be something that couldn’t be shortened, thus ruling out most of my mother’s choices, (which included things like Jerusha and Jacinth so thank you, Papa, from the bottom of my heart). He had that as a condition because his name is Andrew, which of course got shortened to Andy – and Papa is not an Andy. Insistence, first polite, then impolite seems to have worked for him. I’ve never heard anyone try to call him Andy, and it seems it mainly happened when he was a child, but at 35 when I was born he still remembered resenting the nickname so much that he was adamant that his only child shouldn’t have to deal with that. Having read the comments on this letter, I can say I’m deeply grateful!
I’m terribly sorry to double-post, but I’m actually having a related dilemma and I thought I might as well ask here. My question is, how do I keep strangers from being inappropriately familiar?
An awful lot of people seem to think it appropriate to address me by my first name at first meeting. In person, I can try the old ‘I’m sorry, have we met?’ or pointedly addressing them with Title + Surname, but on the internet it’s dreadful because even when I sign things with my full name and address the recipient with theirs (Dear [Title] [Surname],…Regards, [Full Name]), I inevitably get a reply headed ‘Hi, Grace’. Signing myself with Initial+Surname has been tried, but my full name is attached to my e-mail address so people just take the first name from that.
Short of getting snappy and actually saying ‘I haven’t asked you to call me that’ (which I suppose may be a possibility, but obviously I’d like to avoid it if I can), I can’t think what to do. It’s just so wretchedly disrespectful, and puts my back up no end.
(I’m so sorry if this is going off topic, CA – I just thought it was worth a shot).
I’m curious about the context and what kinds of relationships you have with these individuals.
I ask because in most professional contexts I would be deeply uncomfortable if someone called me anything other than my first name after the very first message. On the other hand, when someone in a store decides to call me by my first name after looking at my credit card it annoys me.
In general, though, I can think of very few contexts in the US where adults call one another reciprocally “Title Surname.”
So far, it’s been things like contacting the local archery club to ask about membership. As I start making my way into the ‘adult world’ (I’m a uni student in England), it’s going to come up more often and I want to be prepared.
For me, it’s like tutoyer-ing someone: you wait to be asked before switching to the more intimate form of address, e.g. ‘Please, call me [First Name]’, the reply to which in the vast majority of cases will be ‘Of course, and you must call me [First Name]’. Ugh, tradespeople/salespeople calling me ‘Grace’ straight off the bat puts me right off, probably because it comes across as faux-intimate and forcedly chummy. That’s Miss M&mdash to you!
Yup, in England this is a bit more awkward than in US-land. At work, people tend to firstname each other, but I’m so uncomfortable with firstnaming clients, particularly those I’ve only had brief professional interaction with.
But I think it would be odd if I were the only one Mr Lastnaming
people, so…I don’t know, essentially.
As for my own preferences, I hate being “miss Lastname”d because I am not your Miss, goddamnit. But I’m not so fond of my very feminine first name either.
It’s really going to depend a lot on the situation. At my workplace (I work for a federal agency), pretty much everything is done on a first name basis, even with people I have never met. Generally, for business communication, email signatures with full names (and full contact info) are so common that people don’t look there for social cues and probably won’t notice them at all unless they’re looking there for the spelling of your address, so they’re not likely to even notice how you sign your email (first name, full name, or initial + surname). If you address them as Title + Surname, I really think it just wouldn’t even register, or would register as “Grace is being unusually formal”, rather than “Grace wants me to address her more formally”. If your situation is like my workplace, then you would have to be much more explicit to get anybody to notice what you are asking them to do. Doesn’t have to be “hey, I never gave you permission to call me by my first name”, but would have to be as direct as “I would appreciate it if you would please address me as Ms. Lastname.” Honestly if someone in our workplace did that, people would generally shrug their shoulders and respect it… and then sometimes forget and address you by your first name without intending offense but simply because that’s the norm for the group.
Of course your situation may be totally different from what I am describing. You may not be talking about the workplace, but I’m assuming you are since it seems like a likely scenario for having to deal with lots of emails from strangers.
I’m not in the workplace yet, but as a uni student I occasionally have to foray into the ‘adult world’, and I’m finding this first-name-basis-upon-first-meeting thing distressingly common. As far as I’m concerned, there is only one group of people who can be directly addressed by their first name without them asking you to use it, and that’s children.
In a workplace in which everyone used first names as a matter of course, I wouldn’t mind at all being called by my first name and calling my colleagues by theirs – but I wouldn’t call them by theirs unless they asked me to (which would almost certainly lead to me asking that they reciprocate and use mine) and I’d appreciate the same courtesy.
It’s like switching to calling people tu in French: it can be done after years or at first meeting if you like, but you don’t do it without permission.
It may depend on your location to a certain extent. In my country (Australia) it is generally accepted that email communication is less formal than snail mail communication. So in a business environment hard copy letters are addressed “Dear Title Surname” while emails would be addressed as “Hello Firstname” especially between colleagues. There are some complications (e.g. if you are emailing a customer for the first time it would probably be “Dear Title Surname” but thereafter probably “Dear Firstname”) but this is the general rule.
I think if you don’t like being addressed by your first name, you should probably make that clear to the people you are communicating with rather than assume that people will pick it up based on how you sign off your communication. If you’re replying to an email that has addressed you by your first name then something like, “I’d prefer it if you addressed me as Title Surname in future correspondence.” In other words, “use your words” as the Captain so frequently reminds us.
Yeah, the internet does break some boundaries. On the Francophone ‘Net, for example, everyone addresses one another as tu in a sense of camaraderie (bit of a shock when it first happened to me!) – but not in business e-mails unless you know the person.
That’s my issue: I have no objection to being addressed as ‘Grace’, but a stranger to whom I’ve only just been introduced has no business addressing me as such until I ask them to; I would naturally afford them the same courtesy.
That little ‘I’d prefer it if…’ example is excellent – formal, but not cold. Thank you!
This totally irks me as well (I’m glad to find I’m not the last person out there to still be spending time writing ‘Dear Title Surname’. Sadly I’ve come to the conclusion it’s a losing battle. I soothe my ire by congratulating myself on my politeness *g*.
Hurrah, another dinosaur! It’s such a small thing, but it has such large (unfortunate) implications. I’m going to try the suggestions above to see if I can put them into practice, and in the meantime console myself that at least I’m sure I’m in the right XD
I find that really interesting. I’m a NZer, and I haven’t met anyone under the age of 60, who isn’t your school teacher, that expects to be called by their title.
If someone I met asked to be addressed that way I would respect it, but be uncomfortable enough to probably avoid using any name at all (remarkably easy to do). I am strangely uncomfortable with EVER calling anyone “Ms Smith”, or being addressed like that.
Seconded. To be honest, if someone corrected me using their first name by insisting I call them by a title and their last name, I would assume they were someone I wanted absolutely no interaction with and would avoid them at all costs. I would feel as if *I* were being disrespected and treated as a child if someone told me I, a fully grown and capable adult, wasn’t allowed to use their first name, as is standard between adults in every culture I’ve ever lived in. (Not to say it is “more right” than a culture where this isn’t the norm, just that this is so much the norm to me that unless I was living in a culture where it was explicitly pointed out to me otherwise, I would be offended by it.) Yeah, that makes me feel really icky to think about.
I also HATE being called by my first name by people like my lecturers/customer care/people I’m applying for jobs with. It just feels weirdly informal and wrong! I’ve had some success continuing to sign myself ‘X. Lastname’ but so far people seem not to get it for the most part. Maybe we should start mailing people fancy-pants ettiquette guides?
I’m afraid you’re doomed. I don’t especially like being called by my first name by people I don’t know, either, but that is the way of the world now. Even the Japanese people of my acquaintance want to be called by their unadorned personal names when we’re speaking English.
I hope you can find a way of getting people to use your last name that works for you. I was also raised to call adults by their last name, and when I became an adult used last names unless the person introduced themselves by first name only. But I quickly noticed that everyone else at work used first names, but no one explicitly said that was the custom. It made me a little nervous having to decide whether to risk calling someone by their first name and seeming disrespectful or using their last name and seeming stiff and overly formal. After talking to a coworker and verifying that first names were the norm, I switched over to first names. I prefer being called by my first name myself, but I do wish we could get our act together as a society and decide what the rules are already. And if we’re going to use first names as the norm, we need people who prefer to be addressed by title+lastname to be able to indicate that and have it be respected.
I actually ended up in the opposite position some time ago. I grew up in a society where people always call each other by their first name, regardless of position or title – I can’t recall hearing anyone use someone’s last name even once.
Then I got a job in a foreign place where I was expected to not only refer to people by their last name, but also adress them as Sir/Ma’m. Let me tell you, that was a bit of a culture shock. I actually had to think of “Sir” as my boss’ first name in the beginning so I’d remember to use that instead of something inappropriate.
Seconding the suggestion of “I’d prefer/appreciate it if you could call me”. Have you tried ending your emails Title Initial Surname? That might prompt them to follow suit.
As an aside, you said you ‘pointedly address them with Title + Surname’ in first meetings if they are being overly familiar in a first meeting. I was just wondering how you know what their title is.
I hope you are able to find a solution that you’re comfortable with.
“I was just wonder how you know what their title is.”
That’s part of what I was wondering, since so many people in this thread have noted their discomfort with being inadvertently forced into incorrect titles/surnames (and, well, titles still so often end up with that whole rigid gender-binary thing).
And, at least in the US, trying to enforce this may result in your name, at least to those people, becoming stuck as your surname. There’s a lot of folks who pretty much can only handle one-and-only-one label per person. An acquaintance of mine experienced this once … moved to another city and tried to recreate the older English custom of using initials for casual aquaintances, surnames among closer ones, and first names only with close friends. Long story short, when it got to people sie was sleeping with calling out hir’s initials during sex, sie ended up just legally changing hir name to those initials. Literally, hir’s name is X Y Lastname (not actually X and Y, but literally just the letters).
Like MamaCheshire, I’m in a group that re-enacts/recreates a historical time period, and I’ve known more than one person who effectively and/or legally changed their name to be their in-group name because that’s what everyone called them, even outside of meetings/events.
Myself, I’m pretty good at handling multiple names for people, but I’d find an insistence on Title Surname pretty off-putting (though Surname alone less so). I suppose I’m part of the less-formal half of the generational divide on this slowly changing social etiquette.
I was just wondering how you know what their title is.
Make an educated guess, take it graciously if you’re corrected. Luckily, if it’s on the web the title tends to be given, and IRL around here the title is almost always ‘Dr.’.
De-lurking to share a related situation that cropped up in my life a couple of years ago. In undergrad I was very close friends with a girl who had the same (moderately uncommon) name as me (we’re no longer friends). Initially this wasn’t a problem, maybe because I was a late transfer student, and had come into the social group/school as Other [name]. Later we moved to a new city together after graduation (and into the same living co-op), and our mutual group of friends more or less without prompting fell into calling me [name] and her [name+last initials]. I think people did this because her [name+last initials] has a better rhythm than my [name+last initial]. She had a huge problem with this, which I understand, and I supported her efforts to get people to call her just [name]. But she also pushed really hard for our mutual friends to call *me* [name+last initial], ostensibly because I had “less of a problem” with it, though she had never really asked me, and because she thought the friend group *needed* a way to differentiate between the two of us. It felt a lot like she was pushing her name anxiety onto me, trying to force me to make a change in myself that she had just explicitly rejected. I also thought that the friend group could manage just fine with two same-named people in it. I wonder what people think about semi-forced name alternations due to perceived “social need,” whether this is a real problem, or if something else was going on there.
I’m a Jennifer*, and I was in the same class as another Jennifer in elementary school. And the teacher asked if she could call one of us Jennifer and the other Jen (or possibly Jenny). And I said sure.
And I never got the hang of it. I turned around every time she called the other Jennifer, for the entire year. I can’t even remember now which name it was that I was supposed to answer to.
I’ve been in other groups with two people named the same where both were often called by their last name, and neither of them seemed to mind, and that worked. And I’m in a group now where there are two people with the same name, and people often use only that name when addressing one of them, and there’s a little confusion but it mostly works. So I think the name alternation can be helpful, but it’s far from being a strong enough need to justify forcing it on people.
* Legally. I go by Jen now.
I work with another person named Jennifer. We are both comfortable going by Jen, so sometimes we get Jen X and Jen Y (we sit next to each other so there are no directional cues when someone tries to talk to one of us from across the room). But I also go by Jennifer and she does not, so we take a perverse pleasure in labeling things Jen and Jennifer, e.g., the names of our individual folders on the shared computer drive.
In another similar situation I was told that I HAD to be the “Jen” and the other legal-name-Jennifer HAD to be “Jennifer.” We couldn’t both go by Jennifer X because we had the same last initial. (This has a lot to do with the personality of the other Jennifer.) This did not sit well with me and I’m still trying to navigate what name I prefer in what contexts. Calling one person Jen and the other Jennifer at my job now works and is funny *because we both like it* and talked about it first.
A former coworker’s name was Kathleen. We assumed that’s what she went by until the company hired another woman named Kathleen. Kathleen #1 declared that she’d prefer to be known as Kat. This is what she went by normally; she’d chosen Kathleen for work because she thought it sounded more professional.
All was sorted out until the company hired another Kat. Kat #2 went by Kathryn at work until Kat #1 left.
Makes me happy that I’ve never had to work alongside somebody who shares my name. I don’t like any of the usual diminutives for myself.
I’m involved with a meetup that seems to end up with lots of duplicate names. There are multiple people named Keith, Jeff/Geoff, Josh, Dave, etc. And you know what? We manage to differentiate them all without renaming them or giving them unwanted nicknames. Granted occasionally we refer to them as “big Dave” or “Keith, Alice’s dad” or “Jeff, who’s dating Steph” when we’re talking about them (not to them, obviously), but equally often it’s “Josh B.” or “Geoff G.” or “he was at your table last week”. It works for us.
On the other hand, I went to a summer camp during high school which was on a college campus and in one hall of my dorm there were 8, LITERALLY EIGHT boys with the same name. All Johns were known by their last name that summer, because, wow.
Yeah, I think Another Jennifer and Blue Meeple are really highlighting why I was so uncomfortable with the situation. It was almost like my friend was trying to create a battle over name-space without attempting to talk about it first. To which my reaction was more like, “Dude, this is not Highlander. There can, in fact, be several people with this name without causing a rift in the universe/friend group.” But it seemed like there were strong associations of individual person-ness getting tangled up with Former Friend’s position, which ultimately resulted in her trying to make a problem she was having into my/everyone else’s problem.
Also, Blue Meeple: At my school it was Alex. We had SO MANY Alexes at the tiny rural school I went to. They mostly all went by their last names too. Hell, in undergrad, everyone went by their last names by default, so I didn’t learn some people’s first names for months.
Mostly an aside, at best tangentially related: I love your handle. 🙂
Aw, thanks! Yours is also awesome.
I have a potential suggestion for LW #471? I’m in a totally different life stage (college student) so there are high chances that its not that applicable, but I ended up changing my name for gender-related reasons, and my mother pitched a huge fit about how it hurt her that I was doing so and how she couldn’t possibly use [new name] because I’d always be [old name] to her.
…and then I changed it legally. Suddenly, since the whole rest of the world knows me as [new name] and it’d be incredibly socially awkward for her to continue using [old name], she doesn’t slip up even once. My mother was less generally combatant than the LW’s is, but I feel that this may still apply, because changes like this come across as the WORST THING EVER – until they happen, you get over them, and realize they’re not so bad. Forcing that shift can actually sometimes be the easiest thing for everyone involved, though I’m not clear on whether the LW plans to do so legally. If so, maybe getting past it and showing her that you haven’t stopped being family and caring about her even after what she thought was the WORST THING happened could actually maybe calm her down.
(Obviously, take with much salt, as if this goes wrong it could go VERY wrong. I am not normally one to suggest such extreme responses, but I spent so long hedging to make my own mom comfortable and it turned out doing the opposite was better for both of us.)
Oh, names are fun.
My legal first name is continually misspelled if people hear it and mispronounced if people read it. When I went to college, I thought that would be a great opportunity to get out from under my first name, and started going by my first and middle initials. Cue constant confusion regarding my gender from people on the internet, because apparently my writing sounds like it belongs to a gay man, which I’m not. I had several gay men flirt with me and then become very disappointed by realizing that I’m female.
I also spent a lot of time in the SCA, and my persona name has the same first letter as my legal first name, and I respond to it about as readily.
I started using my legal first name again when I went to graduate school, but I have to admit I’m not the fondest of it – it’s a name my mom thought was pretty that is a diminutive for a much more common name in a country where she studied but that has no ethnic connection to my family at all. Except now I’m going through sort of a love/hate reclaiming of it because it is distinctive and may help with my professional aspirations.
Then there’s Spouse, who took my last name when we married and got all kinds of crap for that from people whose business it was not, most notably his then-employer. Then-employer had a couple of floor managers who liked to address people by their last names, and continued to address Spouse by his former last name for months past the point at which he had the documented legal change. That was one of the things that contributed to Spouse leaving that job.
Sounds to me like your Spouse was subjected to misnaming as a form of bullying.
From my perspective this seems to begin with playground name-calling, but in adulthood it still exists.
Two stories from my past (with substituted names):
* As the new-hire in an office of six people, I introduced myself on Day One as “Betsy.” Immediately the office manager said, “Well, we can’t have that, because we already have a ‘Betsy.’ We’ll call you Elizabeth.”
“Wait,” I said, “my name isn’t Elizabeth; it’s actually Bettina.”
To which the manager replied, I kid you not: “Bettina? What kind of a dumb la-di-dah name is that? We’ll call you Elizabeth!”
And Elizabeth I was, for the whole four months I worked there. Long after I’d landed a better job and moved on, I ran into the one co-worker I had really liked, and had to help her learn to call me Betsy.
* As the first woman in the engineering department (mid-70s, this was), I was renamed and nicknamed by my boss, and by his boss. Then I was moved to a production department for a training rotation, and got renamed again. But this time the re-naming superboss was one who had his own nickname-bullying problem; when I replied at once with, “please don’t call me that … Freddy” he stopped.
And then got even, by introducing me at an awards event by the nickname he’d assigned me. (sigh).
May I just say here that Bettina is a very, very pretty name? Because it is. Your manager was a jerk.
This series of letters is most timely to me! I’m Chinese and we go by [surname][name consisting of two Chinese characters which are anglicized].
It always always annoyed me that most western services (which I happen to use a lot) call me by just the first character of my name. They never correct it either, which is annoying as I don’t have Justina [my surname and name] on my ID meaning that sometimes I can’t use Justina[surname] due to stuff pertaining to said service.
The last character of my *anglicized* Chinese name also has a different spelling from the usual anglicized version and I HATE it. It’s always used as a diminutive where as many others would always use [full two character Chinese name] for other people.
Usually [last character x2 as diminutive] is only done among immediate or intimate friends you freaking allow but seriously people who think they’re darned close to me but *aren’t* use it despite my repeated wishes.
I’ve heard all the disrespectful reasons given too and never found the words to express the simple concept of “Quit disrespecting me”.
Even the bf protests with “I knew you as that name and I can’t change now!!” which is bull considering he wants to change his entire name which he hates too.
I plan to get a legal name change once I’ve thought of a name that is ME.
My name can be shortened to ‘Mon’ or ‘Monie’ and while I am happy with the former I *dispise* the latter. The only person who has ever called me ‘Monie’ without me having an apopexy is my Aunti Di. I don’t know why she gets away with it, but she does. Everybody else receive a very stern look and, “you may call me ‘Monica’ or ‘Mon’ – either is fine”.
Prior to getting married, I had every intention of taking my husbands surname, however when it came to the cruch I couldn’t. It just didn’t sound right, and I hadn’t graduated from uni yet and really wanted *my* name on the diploma. Most people are fine with it, but the problems I have are usually with doctors! Our family GP refuses to address me as ‘Mrs’ because I didn’t take his name, and always puts down ‘Miss’ when writing forms/referrals and the like. It’s so weird! If she doesn’t want to use ‘Mrs’ then why not use ‘Ms’??? Also, many doctors/specialists call me by my husbands name because that is the name we gave to our children, even though it has my name written everywhere.
I relate, I have a name that is very common when it ends in E, buy my name ends in A. When I was younger I didn’t correct people right away and then it was awkward to do it. My solution was to repeat their name saying “did I get that right”, then repeat my name with emphasis on the A at the end. It made it much easier to correct them immediately.
Apropos of nothing, i am forever impressed with Jennifer’s ridiculous knowledge, empathy, and understanding. SHE KNOWS ALL!! And I’m glad to be able to read her.
This one hit a nerve with me. Since I have an uncommon name (my blog’s name is my name’s pronunciation), I constantly have to deal with being called “Diana,” “Deanna,” “Deonna,” Dee-YANNA” (ugh, one of the worst), and other jacked up versions of my name. The misspellings are worse—Dieanna (where did that random A in the middle come from?!) and Dienne for examples. The thing that I hate is that people get offended when I correct them. I’ve always said that getting someone’s name right is a sign of respect, and those who continue to butcher it regardless of multiple corrections show me that they don’t respect me.
When I get frustrated at the frequent messing up of my name, my mother takes it as an affront, because she claims that my name was her idea. There were times in the past when I wondered why I was given a name that would make it so challenging for people to get right (though to me it’s hardly a hard name to pronounce).
When I was younger, I wanted to change it to something common, something that people could pronounce and spell right from the get go. I thought about being Sabrina. That’s a cool name. But as I got older, I started to develop a love for my name and its uniqueness. There aren’t too many people with my name (and the ones who have it spelled like mine, I wonder how they pronounce it), so it does help me to stand out more. My name makes me me.
I’m never going to get over it being constantly butchered, though. People who don’t care enough to get my name right make me roll my eyes.
What do you guys think about voluntary first name changes? See, I have never liked the name Elizabeth and I have never felt that it suited me. Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to be named something prettier, something that glides more nicely off the tongue. Something with vowels at the end. Something that is NOT Biblical, as I am most decidedly NOT Christian and don’t appreciate being tied to those roots.
On the one hand, my family would pretty much flip out. Mom and Dad would be upset and everyone else would either be upset with them or be rolling their eyes and deciding it’s a phase I’ll grow out of. And it’s not like I have anything picked out, anyway, and last time I had the opportunity to pick something else (in French class), I got really sick of it by the end of the year. (Of course, I was 12, and I picked something really flowery and ridiculous, but still.) And I’m not super-keen on conflict and I’m pretty sure there’d be a lot of conflict involved. And it’s not like it’s the wrong gender or anything, so I don’t feel like I have a valid excuse.
But on the other, I really am unhappy with my name. I’ve started to kind of get used to it, but I’ve never really *liked* it, and every once in a while I still get a flash of intense dislike for it. I go by Lizzie because at least it has an “ie” on the end, but I don’t like that either. It feels childish, and I don’t get taken seriously as it is. And the one time someone uploaded a picture of me from a DnD game and referred to me by my character’s name, it felt really super nice not to be Elizabeth. It wasn’t even a name I would pick for myself, but I felt it was better than what I had.
What do you guys think? Would it be worth it, if I could find something I liked? Do you think I’d get sick of it in a year or two and end up feeling ridiculous for having tried? Is this a normal way to feel about your name? If it is normal, does that justify continuing to feel this way? I don’t want to go all special snowflake on it, I just… don’t like my name, and feel like (family conflict aside) I’d feel better with something else. Thoughts?
I know two people who changed their first names, unconnected to a gender change (I know several more who changed names while changing gender). In both cases, they took advantage of going to college to set the New Normal and told everyone their new name.
In one case, she later changed the name legally, just before getting married, so that her preferred name would be on the marriage license. There was some pushback from her family but she is much happier about it.
In the other case, some years into it she decided to switch the name back — or possibly switched to a different name, I’m not sure what her parents named her — but she kept her college name as a kind of brand.
I am also aware of various communities that use aliases; SCA, some sexytimes-based communities. Those are groups that have norms about having multiple identities, which makes it easier, but I do know people who have inhabited their “secondary” identity to the extent that everyone calls them by their SCA or scene names. You may not have interests like that, but I mention it so you know that there is precedent.
You can emulate that by choosing an alias online and inhabiting it, connecting it to your face identity, getting some friends to use it, and so on. You can also change your mind later and people will figure it out.
Here, you can maintain consistency by being, like, sofiaonawhim and marciaonawhim and so on!
Thank you so much for sharing! I feel like hearing these stories from you and everyone else in the thread is making the whole thing feel way less overwhelming and scary. It’s less like I’m just being a ridiculous special snowflake and more like I’m doing something completely reasonable that adults have been known to do. I’m especially reassured to hear about the friend who switched it back. Sometimes I feel like, once I make a major change in my life, I *have* to stick with it, or else I’m being weak or silly somehow. Like it’s not okay to be wrong sometimes about what will or will not make me happy. It’s good to hear about people who did change their minds more than once, as it makes me feel more okay with the possibility that I might end up changing mine more than once.
I think if you want to do it then go for it. My sister did this and after 5 years decided she preferred her “old” name. So, don’t change it legally until you are really sure you don’t want to go back, maybe don’t bother at all. Using a different name is sort of a different way of having a nick name if you think about it. I work with people who have done this for years, they have their preferred name in parens in their corporate email so people know who they are, seems to work fine for them.
Like I told carbonated wit, I’m really reassured to hear about people who changed their name and then changed back. I’m also psyched to hear that your actual sister did this and you’re supportive, since it’s partly my siblings I’m worried about with all these. They’re all older than me and I’ve always looked up to them quite a bit.
I felt this way, and I did this. I tried every nickname permutation of my birth name, and none of them worked. The first time I asked my parents for a name change I was, I think, 11. I started going by my chosen name after the first year of high school, and I got it legally changed when I was 18. (Although I did keep my original first name on as a second middle name, to honour it as a gift from my parents.) I’m not going to pretend changing your name for no culturally-recognized reason is not a gigantic pain, but I’m 26 now, and I have never regretted it or felt silly.
Yeah, I’ve been thinking of trying to pick a name that starts with an E, possibly even followed by an L, for the same reason you kept your old name around as a middle name: to acknowledge and honor the name that was chosen for me by parents who love me very much. It’s hard to find one I like that meets those qualifications, though, so I’ll have to come up with something else.
I changed my first name, and honestly, it wasn’t that much of a hassle or a big deal. Get some paperwork beforehand, spend half a day at the courthouse to get the thing stamped by the judge, buy official copies, then go update SS#/Driver’s License/loan-holders/etc. My parents were, I think, a little disappointed, but I don’t mind them calling me by my given name (even if it’s no longer part of my legal name), so it’s not as big of a deal as it might’ve been otherwise.
Overall, I’d say go for it. Aside from the family reaction issues, which do sound more fraught in your case, it’s neither difficult nor hugely expensive in most places. If it’ll make you feel better overall, that’s probably worth the hassle.
Oh! Though for what it’s worth, the name I changed to legally is one that I’d been going by informally for years. As in, everyone I knew other than my family called me by that name anyway. So going by it with friends for a year or so to make sure you still like it isn’t a bad idea. My current name isn’t the one I would’ve chosen if I set out to Make A New Name For Myself–it’s just the result of people making a nickname out of my old username in a few places–but years later, I’m still happy with it. (I’d probably have chosen something fancier, sillier, and even harder to spell if I’d chosen it outright.)
I might be overexaggerating the family reactions. I’m not actually sure how invested people are in the names given to children. I do know that the people in my family, particularly the older generations, tend to be very traditional and very set in their ways, but no one objected when I tried taking my grandmother’s maiden name as a stage name once. Of course, my situation with my last name is such that, well… let’s just say my childhood was a bit interesting sometimes. 😛 And I can picture my mom understanding, if I’m careful about how I do it. She’s not Christian anymore, either (and has undergone a lot of other changes besides), so it’s possible she might be better able to understand that the name she picked out back when she was a very different person might not be the best name for the person her child has become. Plus, she already calls my by a wide variety of wacky nicknames. Not sure she’d mind if I picked out a new one. 🙂
My Dad’s another story. He won’t get it at all. I like to think he’s getting used to me doing stuff he doesn’t understand though. 🙂
I think it’s totally fine! My mom changed her first name when she was about 55. She was getting divorced and wanted to go back to her maiden surname, but she hadn’t been Firstname Maidenname since she was about 20 and she didn’t feel like she was that person anymore. She put a lot of thought into what name she wanted and now she has a beautiful, unusual first name (which is often misspelled!) and her name is Newfirstname Maidenname.
That’s pretty awesome. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone changing their name so late in life before, but it kind of makes sense. After all, at that point, who’s to say you can’t? And her reasons make a lot of sense.
a dear friend suffered a couple of accidents-with-injuries a few years ago. one of the eventual results was that she decided to change her first name – in her late 50s or early 60s!
her husband was uncomfortable at first, but was persuaded by her reply: [oldname] is the person who gets hurt in accidents. [newname] is the person who takes good care of her body.
I had a first name that people always mispronounced, and a last name that belonged to a man who didn’t spend any significant time parenting me. So I finally legally changed both– the last name to a name from my mom’s side of the family, and the first name to one I just picked because I liked it. It was very easy to do in my state.
My mom did flip out, AND roll her eyes, and tell me she was disappointed, and tell me I’d always be her —, and on and on. She got over it. She and the rest of my family of origin still call me by my old name, but I don’t really care as long as they don’t introduce me to anyone by it. When she sends me mail or packages, it’s addressed to my correct, current name.
I felt awkward telling my friends, but it turned out nobody had any problem with it. Several friends who’d known me forever said, “Wow, that’s going to feel strange, I really think of you as —“, and I would smile and tell them that I really appreciated the effort they were going to make. 😀
I love my name SO MUCH now. It was totally worth the hassle getting all my documents redone. I only wish I’d done it way sooner, so I could have my diplomas with the right name on them. But better late than never!
I think I could deal with people continuing to call me Lizzie if they absolutely must. I’m actually even considering trying for a name where Lizzie might be a plausible enough nickname to not cause too much confusion. Again, though, it’s even harder to find the right name if I put these kinds of restrictions on it, so I don’t know. We’ll see. And the way you handled it with your friends is totally awesome! I’ll have to remember that response. 🙂
I started thinking about changing my name at the age of 14 (for reasons not related to gender), but didn’t find anything that really fit until about 6 months ago (I’m 24 now). I never gave any hint to my parents that I didn’t really like my name, and just put up with it, and it’s only now I’ve changed it that I realise how disconnected I felt from it. When I told my parents I wrote them a letter explaining that it wasn’t about rejecting them, I just didn’t feel feel like the name they picked out fit me, and they shouldn’t feel bad about it because they couldn’t have any idea of the person I’d grow up to be when they gave it to me. Even so, they were shocked, and didn’t talk to me for a couple days while they processed things, and there’s still a lot of ‘Oldna-Newname’ but they’re mostly ok now.
Before I changed my name legally I tried out names that I thought I liked when I signed up to new websites, which might be an option if you don’t want to mention anything to people you know yet. As far as your concerns about regretting it later go, I only found the name I wanted to go by a couple of months before I filled out the paperwork, and only waited that long so that I could give it a test run with a group of strangers that I probably won’t see again, or if I do then it’s unlikely that they’d remember me. There is something very different about introducing yourself to strangers by NewName rather than people you already know, and the warm fuzzy feelings I got from it cemented that yes, this name is right for me.
Remember it’s you that has to use your name, and any reason you have for wanting to change it is good enough.
P.S. If you’re looking for a name I found the Incompetech name database very useful. You can search for names by meaning, sex, language/origin or containing XYZ.
Incompetech, huh? I’ll check it out. I’ve been using 20,000 names and behindthename.com. The former is organized by meaning on part of the site and the latter allows you to do a really complicated search where you can search by stuff like meaning, pattern, syllables, and language of usage, and — best of all — you can *exclude* factors you don’t want! I’ve been doing a lot of searching by “Language of origin is *not* Biblical”, since that’s important to me.
It sounds like things went relatively well with your parents. I’m glad to hear they respect your decisions so much; I only hope I can convince mine to do the same.
We got to use French names in my French class eons ago when I was in high school, and I picked Nadine since it’s an anagram of my name. No one ever called me it though…bummer.
My feels on voluntary legal given name changes is: Do What Feels Right For You.
Full Disclosure: I am on my third legal given name. Like you, my birth given name was Christian in origin (even more so than Elizabeth) and that pretty much always made me twitchy because I’m just not Christian (and even my mother hasn’t been since I was very young!).
In both changes, I used the new name for a long time before legally changing it. The first effective-not-legal change was while I was in college and so was pretty easy (if occasionally awkward to explain that name I signed on the lease). The second one was in a work context (customer service, they actually wanted people to use not-their-actual-names). I do recommend the try-before-you-buy approach, even with the awkardness.
I must say, reading all the comments on this post has given me a fresh appreciation of the support my parents and siblings and friends have given me over the years as my name has changed. My mother might’ve briefly freaked out over the first one, but that was over 15 years ago so I’ve forgotten. I’ve had a very few friends tell me that they they still think of me as PreviousName (because updating set mental labels can be hard! I understand!) … but they all *call* me mintylime, so that’s ok.
My brother’s legal name is a diminutive of a much longer name. Like, it is on his birth cert. Well, my granddad was well pissed back in the day and tried to tell my mother she couldn’t call him that. Her response was something to the effect of “I’m the one that pushed him out, I’ll call him whatever I want.”
We do get a lot of people asking what his name is short for though.
I don’t have problems with my own name, but I do have a cousin who changed hers and my mother simply will not use her new name. It’s always Oldname-Newname. Very odd, but I think it’s about her not the cousin – she also weirdly frames new words like “this aspartame stuff” and “what do they say, mesclun” for years and years, as if learning a new word is just too hard on her.
I must admit I’m sorta kinda on Suzy’s grandfather’s side – though giving orders to the baby’s Mum is obviously right out. But the trend of giving children cutesy nicknames instead of real names is troubling – they are not toys, they will grow up one day, and most likely not want to be called Honey-Boo-Boo any more. Kitti and Billy may actually prefer to be Katherine and William when they’re older, or Kathy and Liam or whatever.
I think it depends what kind of diminutive it is, though.
My name is Lisa, it’s not a nickname, it’s my real official birth certificate name, but it’s also obviously historically short for Elisabeth. However, it changed over time to become it’s own name and does, IMO, not sound more cutesy or funny than Elisabeth or even like an abbreviation at all.
I have difficult to pronounce non-English first name and last names. Most of my friends who also have difficult non-English names have a “Starbucks” name which they use for short interactions – which can lead to awkward situations if you run into the person again. I’ve always been too stubborn to use a fake name, so I go with my own which means most initial social interactions (at a restaurant, doctors office, cocktail party) have some awkwardness because people ask me to repeat myself. But I’m sympathetic, because I experience it with other names [apparently having a difficult name doesn’t make you better at pronouncing other difficult names, it just increases awareness of the mispronunciation!] I just found this site (www.mivoko.com) which can attach to email and people can hear me pronounce my own name which I’m thinking will be helpful for folks who I’m emailing with (assuming they’re interested in saying my name correctly). That way, they can practice on their own without having to ask me multiple times to say my name again. I’m thinking of asking the college students I teach if they want to record their names so I don’t mangle them, in addition to asking their preference of what they want to be called.
Ah, the “Starbucks” name… a friend of mine had recently relocated from China, where she grew up, and adopted Sarah as a “Starbucks” name. Unfortunately at this particular coffee joint, because she didn’t look or talk the way the barista thought a “Sarah” should, she got confused looks as if she was trying to steal someone else’s coffee when they called her name! In California, no less, where people really should know better.
The e-mail attachment is a fantastic idea, by the way! Almost makes me wish my name was difficult enough to try to use it. I always do my best with other people’s names, though, so I would definitely try it out if it were sent to me.
Oh, your email attachment idea reminds me of a former colleague who had his name’s pronunciation spelled out in his signature file. I appreciated that because I wanted to pronounce his name correctly but I’d have gotten it very wrong just from looking at it. His sigfile was like this, only I’ve changed the name:
His first name is a really common name but he included it in the pronunciation guide, which I thought was a nice touch.
Starbucks names, yes! It’s amazing the names people have trouble with. I know an Amelia who is Emily for caffeinated beverage purposes… except that sometimes they have trouble with Emily too.
This isn’t about getting people to call you the right name, but it is about being called the wrong name and reacting to that:
I love my name, but I get called Lisa a lot since it’s a much more common name than Liza. I politely correct people and go on, but I used to get *so mad* about it even though I tried not to show it. Eventually I decided that getting mad about it wasn’t going to make anyone more likely to get my name right, it just made me have to deal with being mad, so I decided to make it into a game: every time someone calls me Lisa I get to have a Lindt truffle! And it amazed me how fast I stopped being mad about being miscalled.
(Now I try not to eat Lindt truffles the rest of the time so they stay special for this. But if they ever get un-special to me, I’ll find a different treat.)
I wish I had time tonight to read all the comments, so if this is a duplicate, I apologize.
After more than 10 years of marriage, I finally asked my husband to call me by the nickname I’d chosen for myself decades before, and not by the short-version nickname our mutual boss gave me around the time we met. He tried a few times, then for a long time didn’t call me anything — not even an endearment. Eventually I pushed, and he explained that, in his head, I’m still short-version, and he’s known me too long to change.
I pointed out that my mother, who named me something completely different from my name now, had been willing to change how she addressed me — twice! — and I didn’t think it unreasonable to ask my husband to do the same.
Within weeks he’d learned to call me chosen-nickname. This stuff works!
Good advice here.
I was about 10 when I realized that I absolutely hated the nickname I’d been given at birth, and it was definitely hard for me (as a child) to train everyone who ever knew me since I was born that my name was now nickname2. It took a ton of reminding people that my name was nickname2, not nickname1. It took writing my new name on every paper I turned in at school, on everything I signed. It took years of reminding them and not answering to nickname1…but eventually it stuck. Now no one refers to my original nickname, unless it’s my mom and she’s obviously joking around with me. It can be annoying at first, but it’s worth it to take a stand for who you want to be.
Speaking of names, my grandmother named her twins (my aunts) the same first name, different middle names that started with the same letter, last name. So not only were they both named firstname lastname, they had the same initials and birth dates. And looked identical enough to swap places. I didn’t even know they both had the same first name until I was in my teens because they went by their middle names to avoid confusion.
That kind of thing is just mean sometimes. I’m reminded of the time I had to go to a government office for a piece of ID, and to get it I had to give them information on where I was born, where my parents were born, what my grandmother’s maiden name was… One question was, “Are you a twin or triplet?” and I said, “No, but how is that possibly relevant?”
“Tax evasion,” the guy said. “If the system doesn’t know you’re supposed to have a twin, they’ll assume you’re faking a social insurance number and you’ll spend your whole life getting audited.”
I’ll have to ask them if they get audited all the time. Although they’re married now with different last names, so it probably stopped? I don’t know.
They told me a funny story of one getting called to the principal’s office in school and the conversation went “Firstname Lastname, please come to the principal’s office”, and they both showed up. The secretary was like “I want Firstname X. Lastname” and they were like “Yup, that’s both of us”. Then she said “Well I want the one born on X date”. “Yup, we both were born on that date – and we have the same address too”. I think they finally had to figure out which one to talk to based on which classes she was enrolled in haha.
I had a name issue when I taught high school a few years ago, and I’m curious to hear how other folks would have handled it because I don’t think I handled it very well. I was trying to be respectful and proactive and ask all the students what they preferred to be called, and most of them took that as intended and gave full names, nicknames, middle names, whatever. But I had two students who gave names that they clearly chose for their silliness with the intent of putting me in a bind – on the level of “Miss Sunshine” and “Miss Moonbeam”. (I can’t prove this, but if you’ve worked with students, you probably know how it can be). I handled it by using those names matter-of-factly without acting as if they were at all unusual, but every time I had to use them, the nearby students would snicker and it would be disruptive. Eventually I just stopped using them without warning and switched to the names on the student roster, which they answered to. I don’t feel good about how it went, but I’m not sure where the best place would have been to change my reaction.
I am a high school teacher, too, but only for five years so far, so take this for what you will. For me, it would probably depend on other aspects of the situation that are difficult to relay through a forum response like this one. If it happened to me, I probably would have pulled each of the students aside separately and discussed with them their name choice (also, if they were really names that they would prefer to be called, they may have asked other teachers to address them this way as well, so you could ask them). If the students were sincere in their desire to be addresses as Miss Sunshine and Miss Moonbeam, then it becomes an issue of other students laughing at their choice of nickname, and you have a completely different situation to deal with (discipline with the laughing students). If they were not sincere about it, then it is an issue with those students making jokes about nicknames in class when you were asking in order to respect your students, and it is a respect/boundaries situation with them and you. I hope that makes sense.
Up until 2005, when I changed jobs and moved to where I am, most people called me by the common diminutive of my name. Everyone I’ve met since then calls me Cynthia, and I have completely switched to introducing and thinking of myself that way. That is what my peers and current friends and my students call me. But then I have old friends and family who refer to me one way and new people who do not, sometimes, together in the same room! And it’s weird! There is cognitive dissonance! I do not know how to explain it but it’s sort of like stepping on something you thought was solid and it’s not. The only time I actually get offended at misnaming is if someone in my professional circle (especially an older man) shortens my name when they have been formally introduced to me as Cynthia, but I can’t really bring myself to tell my old friends and family to stop thinking of me the way that they think of me and call me something else. Although I recall that I was able to do it with too much difficulty when my younger sister switched from being Jenny to being Jen, and I even enforced that name choice for her with my parents quite a bit. She shifted hers when she was much younger, though — I somehow did not until I was in my late 30s and now the kiddie nickname is entrenched with certain people.
A couple of friends have changed their first name — one for gender reasons, the other not. My brain didn’t handle the change well. For some reason it was really, really hard to think of them as their new names.
How I handled that: During the period of brain-twisting difficulty, I didn’t call them anything. In person or over the phone it didn’t make a difference because I wouldn’t have been calling them by their names anyway. In e-mail, I’d greet them with “Hi” or “Hey there” — something I often do with friends anyway.
I don’t know why this helped, but it did. Eventually I was able to say/write the new names. Hopefully my friends didn’t even notice the transition period.
tl;dr: Your friends and family aren’t bad people if they have an emotional resistance to calling you by a new name, but they can handle it without making it your problem.
Oh, LW 470, I feel your pain! Until I graduated from (the local equivalent of) highschool, I went by a nickname I’d chosen as a toddler because I was unable to pronounce my full name.
However, after that I started introducing myself by my full name, but since it’s 5 syllables I’ve also accepted “Eva” (pronounced with an “E” as the Italians do). 14 or so years later, most of my old friends as well as my brother still slip up, but I generally let it slide – unless they introduce me to new people by that ancient nickname.
I simply smile and say “actually, please call me Evamaria or Eva – it’s been that way for over a decade” – it embarrasses my friends, but really, more than a DECADE, and they usually do try not to repeat the offense! (Btw, it does not work with the significant others of the worst offenders – I keep having to correct my sister-in-law as well as my best friend’s boyfriend.) It does work in my favour that at least in group settings it’s become quite normal for people to introduce themselves to one another instead of going through the common friend – with the worst offenders, I tend to do so loudly, making sure they hear it yet again…
Hope never dies, right? 🙂
(Finally delurking, because I love pondering names and naming)
My handle actually works for this: let’s say that growing up, people thought my name was Ramona, and my school was full of Ramonas and Ronas and Romis. And I never felt very connected to Romana anyway- at 11 I wanted to be Ruby Rose. So when I left for college I started introducing myself as Fred. I actually still have some people who think of me as Fred. (For a while afterward I was calling myself River, but that was because of a Darth ex). Now I’m back to Romana, but I’m still not sure it hangs on me well. The thing is, though, I’m trying to be a professional screenwriter, I need to have a name to submit under! What to do, what to do?
Also, O Captain my Captain, thank you for all of your advice and sanity. Glad to know I’m not the only one out there saying “Use Your Words!” when things get hairy.
I grew up with a shortened name; hated it. Switched to the long version in college. Like others above, I’ve had problems with people trying to poke me about it. Interesting that the meanest douches that tried hard to push the old name on me invariably had a name adaptation they hated, which I immediately tried on them (Kent became “Kenny” and Clay became “Clayton”). Each one immediately dropped their efforts when they felt the effect of their own hated name.
The ones who don’t get it are harder. Sometimes they just need reminding (they remember something close, right?). But one somewhat uneducated guy told me “for me [the two names] are the same thing.” The only thing that I have found helps is thinking of myself as the new name, so that I don’t answer to the old one.
Is correcting names by text ok? I’m ok with correcting in person as conversation is more fleeting and has tone of voice so it’s easier to make it into a no big deal kind of correction that no one dwells on, but I have a friend who nicknames me inappropriately by text (and only by text) and I worry that a ‘please stop calling me that’ reply by text would be too full on.
It’s totally ok to do, but I see what you mean, it takes long enough to text stuff anyway. If you didn’t want to bring it up in text, you could always mention it next time you meet in person. “Hey, I was just thinking…” It’s not as in-the-flow as it coming up naturally in the conversation, but might be easier than typing it all out in a text message.
Thanks for the reassurance. I think I’m worried because I’ve seen far more overreaction to and obsessive poring over of texts and one line throw away comments on facebook than I have when similar comments are spoken in real life. I’ll see if there’s a good moment for the ‘Hey, I was just thinking…’ line next time I see them.
I have been reading this blog for about a year. I am posting for the first time to say people reading this thread may be interested in the essay Blank Slate: http://coloradoreview.colostate.edu/features/blank-slate/#
It’s a personal narrative about what a name means for a transgendered person, choosing a name that reflects evolving identity, and sharing the name with family and friends.
When I was a young girl, I learned that my mother’s birth first name was truncated when she became a newly minted citizen (eg. Lee Ann to Lee.) The guy making up the documents said he couldn’t fit both her full first name and ethnic middle name on the line, which it utterly bogus, since none of it was very long. But she was scared her citizenship wouldn’t go through if she insisted. “Everyone just calls you Lee anyway, right?” Well some people did, but not everyone. My mother made peace with it, and nowadays, the only time I hear her complete first name is from her old high school aquaintances, but I was so outraged on her behalf when I learned this about her.
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