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25 July, 2008

What's in a name?

Location: day-to-day travels
Mood: connected and disconnected

When I go to a restaurant, I want to know my server's name. Not so I can be one of those annoying people who say things like "Tiffany, could we please have a couple more napkins when you've got a sec?" It's not that I want to make some awkward connection, or try to validate them in a way that is probably unsettling for them. I just want to know. And I will not do this by asking. I will do it by examining my bill, because it almost always says the server's name.

I am sure some of you think it is because I am a bit lecherous and pervy, but in this instance, that's "true, true, and irrelevant". The real reason is I want to put a name with the face. I really don't like to have an interaction with someone, and come away without any "identification". To further support my assertion that this is not a subtle form of flirtation, I am just as interested (okay, almost as interested) to know the names of male servers, too. The name makes me feel it was a more complete experience.

On the converse, I am not thrilled with hearing my own name. When people put that label on me, it feels like I become some type of character, or stereotype. But as much as I don't like hearing my name, I am quite protective of it, when people decide to call me by another nickname, or my formal name. Then I really feel "out of my skin". I dated someone who wanted to use my formal name because they had a negative memory associated with someone who shared my nickname. They also introduced me to others this way. And although it is my name, it made me feel like I was always "not myself" in that relationship. Like I was an imposter, or my identity was not acceptable.

So there's a weird mix of not being comfortable being called any name at all, while not wanting people to make their own choices about what to call me. But, there are some exceptions. A couple of friends refer to me by other versions of my name - and I am okay with it. The label and the identity became acceptable because of the relationship. And that speaks to the issue of using names at all. Using a stranger's name, when presented to you in the passive context of a name tag, seems like a violation of personal space. There needs to be a certain degree of connection before you do it. Because once you do it, you are somehow closer to the person. At my favorite cafe, it was a big deal for me to ask the barista her name. I did it because I have had months of friendly banter with her. And she provides a happy start to my day. It felt like not knowing her name was becoming awkward. But it took many months to get there. And now, we say hello by name... usually.

When I hear my name yelled in the street, it is always startling, and disconcerting if it turns out someone is calling another person by the same name. Whenever I meet someone with my name, there is a strange dance that occurs, as if we both need to figure out "What kind of Mick is this one?" In those cases, I am much more comfortable if they happen to go by another version of my name. That way, they're not crowding my "territory".

My fellow blogger, Jane Somebody, inspired this topic, with her blog Say My Name. She brought up the point that among friends and lovers, we rarely use names except for specific situations - e.g. humorous emphasis, or to get attention. So when we use a name, what are we really doing? Are we recognizing and acknowledging the identity of the other? Or are we elevating the self-awareness of the other? Maybe those are different ways of saying the same thing?

1 comment:

  1. People rarely call me by my name. I have a zillion nicknames they use instead and some people who know of me through my friends first, don't even know what my name is until they meet me. When someone does say my whole name, Natalee, it feels personal and special. I don't particularly LOVE my name or dislike it, but because it's used so infrequently, it catches my attention and as your fellow blogger noted, gives an impression of "I see you."

    You had mentioned someone calling you by your full name, instead of the more common shortened version - I know a guy who married a girl who refused to call him by his name, shortened or in full. His name was William, tho we knew him as Bill. She had bad associations with both names and only refers to her husband now as Gerald, his middle name.

    I think she's fucking cuckoo. If you are okay enough to marry someone, I think it's time to get over yourself and your "bad associations" from the past. Move along and move on.

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