Sunday, June 28, 2015

Say Her Name

“Ugh, I hate when people call me that. That’s not my name.”

For some reason, people think it is ok to be wrong sometimes . . . all the time. I am guilty of saying, “I am bad with names,” just as much as the next person, however there is a difference between acknowledging our weakness – poor short term memory – and just giving up on even trying. I know I am bad at remembering names after hearing them only once. I am bad at remembering anything I hear. I know I am not an auditory learner. Over the years I have had to come up with tricks to try to help me be better. I do not like not knowing someone’s name. I do not like feeling rude.

That is what it is. It is rude. It is rude to tell someone his or her individual identity is not important, not worth the effort to remember. Our names are the most basic outward signs of who we are. They are our branding, our labels. My first name sets me apart from my three sisters. Being called Emma rather than “Fox Girl” makes a difference. Am I proud of the group I belong to? Sure. But I am more proud of the individual I am within that group. When people ask me, “Which Fox girl are you?” I’m ok with that. That means they are acknowledging they don’t remember my name, but want to be better and want to identify me as me. I’d rather answer the question than be called the wrong name or just called “nameless member of a group”.

For my daughters, they struggle with being called the right names because in one case people want to presumptively adjust a nickname and in the other people want to dismiss a name they find too ethnic.

Embracing her namesake.
My older daughter has a hyphenated first name. We were fully aware when we named her that people would struggle with the hyphen, and we call her by a nickname – Sofi.  For some reason, though, people take it upon themselves – no matter how much we tell them what her name is, even spelling it out for them – to call her Sophia. That is not and has never been her name. I understand Sofi sounds like it could be short for Sophia, but it isn’t. Once we have said it isn’t, the mistake should end. The mistake made once is understandable, and we honestly don’t mind the first time we have to correct a person. HOWEVER if we clearly fill out a form spelling her name the correct way or if she makes an effort to speak up and say, “my name is NOT Sophia, so please do not call me that,” then it is rude to use that as her name. To do so is to say, “Even though you put a lot of thought into what you named your daughter, and there are many very emotional reasons for her name being what it is, I am going to decide that MY way of spelling her name is better and that I know what is the best name for her. Also, I am not going to listen to her request to be called something else because, again, my desire to have a name sound and spell the way I am comfortable with it is more important than her individual identity.” Really. That is what is being said. 
Her name is hyphenated because she is also named after this amazing woman - Margaret. Dropping the Margaret hurts.
My younger daughter has a name which is not unheard of in other parts of the world and is in no way “made up” as people like to ask us. In the US, though, it is unusual. Again, we knew when we named her that people would struggle with it at first, but we liked the name. Considering we are the ones who say the name the most, really our opinions are the ones that matter most. Anyway, people had trouble with my name when I was growing up and now it is in the top 5 most common names in America. You never know. In the hospital, the woman who came to fill out the form for my daughter’s birth certificate actually insulted the name and criticized me as a mother for choosing that name. I pointed out to her that her opinion was narrow, the name has significance not only culturally but also IT’S NONE OF HER DAMN BUSINESS WHAT ETHNICITY OUR DAUGHTER’S NAME IS AND WHETHER OR NOT A RANDOM STRANGER LIKES IT. Since then, most people ask us to say our daughter’s name twice, then that’s the end of the conversation. They just accept it, call her by her name, and we all get on with our lives. Most people. About 5% of the people say, “I can’t say that,” and then give up trying (it is pronounced the way it is spelled – Yas-ya), make rude comments about ethnic/made up/uncommon names, or call her Yasha (which is actually a completely different name and is more commonly used as a nickname for boys translating-ish as Jake). Does this bother just me as her mom? Nope. Does she notice? Yes. You better believe it. She has an easy to pronounce third-option-name (Yasya is actually her nickname . . . her real name is longer and is what the lady in the hospital had a hissy fit about) which she offers to people she thinks won’t be able to handle her real name.
Looking up to the man she was named after.
For some reason, the people who can’t pronounce her nickname also tend to be the ones who think her real name is too intimidating, so they won’t use that, and they also refuse to call her by her third option name which is super easy to say. So what is left for her? With that group of 5% she has to deal with being called the wrong name or no name at all. While other people get the dignity of an individual identity, she does not. Not because of anything she has done, but because of that 5%’s comfort level. Have I ever been uncomfortable saying someone’s name? Sure. But I push myself. I need to be better. People deserve better.

I am not just being an overly sensitive woman about this and do not need to just get a thicker skin or accept people will be rude or people will change my daughters' names as they see fit. It is rude. Really. Imagine if someone changed your name and flat out refused to ever spell your name the way you do or call you by the name you prefer to be called. Would you just shrug that off? Really? Not be even a little bothered? At the end of the day, this is about dignity on a small scale. It is about pushing ourselves to do a tiny thing – whether it is easy for us or not – to recognize people as individual human beings. We look them in the eyes, we call them by name. Whether we have heard that name before or not. Whether we would have chosen that name for our child or not. Whether we would use a different nickname or not. Whether that name is from our ethnic group of not. Because opinions should not affect the amount of basic respect we show people. We should be better than that. People deserve better.

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