Time for another good ole rant. It’s about names. Names seem to have a magical quality to them. People become very attached to their given names, or they change them to show they have created a patriarchal family unit for tax and procreational purposes (just kidding, marriage). Other people go right out and choose all-new names when the one they started out with doesn’t seem to fit (I chose Suna at some point as a young woman, for long-obscure but spiritual reasons).
Throughout the history of the people I mostly descend from (ye olde English, Scots, Irish people) many names have shortened or informal versions, which we are all aware of: Bob for Robert, Bill for William, Meg for Margaret, Kate/Kathy for Katherine, etc. This is just dandy for anyone who likes to use these time-honored naming conventions.
Now, naming conventions do change, even among us English-American types. There are many people whose parents name them the shortened version of a name. I know folks named “Bill” who aren’t Williams, for example. Other people do NOT like the shortened versions, like my late friend Robert, who only let immediate family and close friends call him “Bobby.”
What to Do?
Well, my general guiding principle is to call people by the name by which they are introduced to me. I’m gonna call Pamela that, not Pam (which will make IRL friend Pamela-not-Pam very happy). If someone introduces themselves as Robert, I’m not gonna gush, “Hi Rob, nice to meet you!” I met a Burton a while back, and there was no way I was gonna Burt him until I found out it was okay with him.
This shouldn’t be controversial. People deserve the respect to be called the name they prefer to go by. This has been true for years and years, and is not some new-fangled concept like asking people their pronouns. (I’m she/her.)
What’s Bothering You, Susie?*
Well, what’s common sense to me, and what’s worked most of my life has recently stopped working well. Normally, I introduce myself as “Sue Ann” and depending on the context, I’d say, I also go by Suna. Lately, more and more, the response to that it, “Great! Nice to meet you, Sue!”
DID I SAY MY NAME WAS SUE?
No. I did not.
I do not identify as a “Sue.” When someone calls for Sue in a crowd, I never think it might be me. Or Susan. Or Susie. I am just a non-Sue. I think I’m a little different, and so is my name, I guess.
Nonetheless, every single new coworker that’s shown up in the last couple of months has begun calling me Sue. Master Naturalist Students? 50% Sue. Folks around Cameron? Yep.
And woe is me, even when I fill out my whole name in online forms, it’s Sue Sue Sue Sue. All these texts trying to be all chummy with me from a certain annoying presidential candidate, as well as the car wash people who screwed up so badly that they should literally be groveling…greet me with a chipper, “Hi Sue!”
By the way, for people I meet in person, I do say, when I can get a word in, “I go by Sue Ann.” I sign every blasted email I send with Sue Ann. If someone did that to me when I called them the wrong thing, I’d notice that signature and fix it.
I know others who have it worse, like my husband Lee whose real first name is Ernest (of Earnest as the local newspaper calls him). But he knows to expect that, as did my whole family of origin, who went by their middle name, except for me, the two-word outlier. Once they explained it, people called them the right thing.
It used to be that I knew a phone call or email was from someone who didn’t know me if they addressed me as Sue. But now people who do know me keep doing it. And I hate to say it, but it makes me like a person less when they do that, even when they are otherwise fine.
I’m attached to my name. I like it. It’s been me over 60 years (other than two years in my first marriage). When I get postal mail addressed to my spouse and me, I get an irrational response when I see something like “Suna and Lee Bruns, Jr.” as I got just last week. Who are those people?
I guess everyone has their hot buttons, and now you know one of mine. I’m not like the great poet, the unwashed phenomenon, who once said,
You may call me Terry, you may call me TimmyGotta Serve Somebody, by Bob Dylan
You may call me Bobby, you may call me Zimmy
You may call me R.J., you may call me Ray
You may call me anything but no matter what you say
Still, you’re gonna have to serve somebody…
Call me Sue Ann or Suna. I’ll call you whatever you would like to be called. I think that’s respectful. Names matter. We all deserve the respect to be called the name we want to be called.
You got any stories?
*There are about three people who can call me Susie. Dad could, but he’s not available to talk anymore.