Thursday, January 12, 2017

What's In a Name?

Hey, Friends.

We're going to ruminate on a rather strange subject today.  I'm talking about names -- more specifically about the use of nicknames.  I know it seems like a random topic to be thinking about. You see, I was recently told that I was "old fashioned" in my handling of nicknames, and I'd like to get some other opinions on the subject.

I have no problem with nicknames.  As someone who was blessed with a first name that 99% of people mispronounce?  I very much appreciate having an easier nickname.  It's not a deep, dark secret or anything.  It's not even all that unusual a name -- it's the pronunciation that throws people. My first name is Tamara. Can we get somewhat phonetic for a moment? You pronounce it like camera, only with a "T" instead of a "C", obviously.  It's not Tah-MARE-ah, or Tah-MAR-ah. That's why I tell everyone to just call me Tammy.  Nobody screws that one up.

Having a name that people have trouble pronouncing makes for fun times.  For example, it's super easy to tell when the person calling you is a telemarketer or the like.  They massacre that shit every single time.  You learn to get over people screwing up your name really quickly, too.  Take my first day of kindergarten as a prime example.  I came home from school that day all upset and told my mother that the teacher had called me Tomato all day long.  Obviously she wasn't really teasing me and calling me names, she was just mispronouncing it. I didn't dare to correct her or tell her to call me Tammy because you are supposed to listen to your teacher.

Why are we discussing this in the first place?  Fair question.

I was talking to a patron at work the other day, and it turns out we had a few mutual acquaintances. The patron said, "Oh, so you must know Chuck then."  (I'm changing the name to keep this a little more anonymous, although the chances of anyone involved stumbling across this post are slim to none.) Nope.  Pretty sure I don't know anyone named Chuck.  She goes on to describe him, and eventually I realize I do know him as Charles. She finds that hilarious because "no one ever calls him Charles".  I explained that I was introduced to him that way, and he didn't offer an alternative. She was of the opinion that I should somehow just know that he would prefer to  be called Chuck and shorten it to the nickname immediately.  I believe the exact quote was, "Well, if you meet someone named Timothy, you just know he goes by Tim so that's what you call him."  I told her that I didn't use nicknames for anyone unless they told me they preferred to be called by one, and she laughed. She found the idea amusing, and told me that it was quaint and old-fashioned.

Am I wrong here?  I don't think I am, Friends.

Why would you automatically assume that someone wants to be called a name other than the way they are introduced?  When I get introduced to someone as Tamara, I immediately tell them they can call me Tammy.  Most people who chose to go by a nickname generally offer it right up front.  If I meet you as Charles and you offer no alternative, then I am going to assume you want to be called Charles. I don't think that is quaint or old fashioned.  I kind of assumed it was the norm to call someone by their name.

Someone might hate having their name shortened, or has such a short name to begin with that they never had the need to use a nickname.  Take the name James for example.  It's not a long name.  Yes, a lot of people choose to go by Jamie, or Jimmy, or Jim, but other people stick with James.

And what about the names where there are multiple commonly used nicknames? We'll go back to Charles, again.  Why I would I automatically assume he wanted to be called Chuck?  It could just as easily be Charlie.  I have an Uncle Will and a coworker named Bill, both from William. I'm not psychic, so I would never assume which variation someone wanted to be called without them expressly telling me.

Personal preferences change as people get older as well.  I knew someone in elementary school who we always called Joey.  Now he's older, and he prefers to go by Joe or Joseph.

Maybe they prefer to use their given name for professional reasons, and have a nickname that they use with family and friends.  They might be Robert at work, Bob to other people, and with family and long time friends they might be Bobby.  You never know.  Why make the automatic leap to a name that might mean a different level of relationship or intimacy with that person?  Hell, maybe their parents always call them Junior because they have the same name as their father.  Parents get to do that.

That's without considering the nicknames you would never expect.  When I was in college my roommate was dating (and is now married to) a guy who went to R.I.T.  We used to spend a lot of time hanging out and partying with the guys in the engineering house there.  There were so many guys named Matthew that they all had nicknames: one guy was Matt, one guy was known as "Matt from Oregon from Arizona" (he moved a lot), and one guy went by his last name.  I dated a guy whose real name was Michael, but everyone called him Flip because he was on the soccer team and did bicycle kicks a lot.  And then there was Bob, whose real name was Dave, but he wanted a nickname like all the other guys so he chose Bob.  You just never know.

I was in a sorority in college.  My pledge name was Zia.  For the most part, we all called each other by our pledge names for years.  There are still people that I think of first by their pledge name, and then I have to think for a minute to remember their actual name.  I'm sure they do the same thing.  It makes complete sense to refer to each other that way, but it would be freaking weird if someone else randomly decided to bust out my pledge name and start using it now.

What are your feelings on the topic of nicknames, Friends?  Am I odd for not assuming people want to be addressed by a nickname or diminutive?  If you meet someone named Gertrude, let's say, do you assume she wants to be called Trudy or Gertie without her saying so?  I always thought it was a tad presumptuous to call someone by a name other than they way they were introduced unless they said otherwise.

Humor me, Friends.  I'm curious.

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