How I got my name
Personal names are something that we are pretty much stuck with. Our parents chose them. We are legally identified by them. They follow us everywhere.
In the part of America where I grew up, babies were given a first name, a middle name, and the last name of their father, if the parents were married. Mine were. Often the first name for a girl would be chosen from one of her grandmothers’ names. Often the first name for a boy would be the father’s name, making the boy baby a “junior” or “the Third”, etc., with that name.
My first name was chosen to honor my mother’s best friend. In all my life, I only met one other person who had the same name as I did.
How my name became a problem for me
When I started school, the nightmare began. No one had ever heard of my name. (Before you ask about my name – please don’t.)
In many schools, children’s names are printed on paper or card stock by teachers and taped to the children’s desks. In some schools, children must wear nametags or signs draped around their necks with their names printed on them. Children’s school work is identified by their names written at the top or bottom of each page. Children are called on in class by name to answer questions or carry out teachers’ instructions.
In every single school, in every single class, I had to explain my name to one or more people. I soon wished I had some other name – a “normal” name that no one would focus on. I would think to myself: “Before you ask about my name – please don’t.” I hated introducing myself. Children and adults alike made fun of my name.
In the 1950s, there was a popular television show about a hero dog, called “Rin-Tin-Tin.” This was the most common response to my introducing myself. Each person thought he or she was the only one who saw the connection. Ha ha. Very funny.
The “name nightmare” continues
As adults, our names appear on our driver’s licenses, state or provincial identification cards, tax bills, credit cards and loan papers, voting records, mail boxes, and on and on – hundreds or even thousands of documents and forms.
Whenever we try to carry out some intention, the first thing we are asked for is our name. When you apply for a job, volunteer for an organization, ask for an appointment with a doctor, sign up for a class, or even sit down to play cards with people, you are asked for your name.
And that is when the nightmare returns, for me and many others like me who have unusual names or names perceived as “foreign”.
My name is frequently spelled wrong. I have to spell it our, letter by letter, in any official situation where there is oral communication.
Me: Laurinda Porter
Me: No. L-A-U-R-I-N-D-A.
Official: Oh, I never heard of that. Where did you get that?
When I am asked for my name in an informal situation, I reply, “My name is Rin, R-I-N.” I think to myself: Before you ask about my name — please don’t.
Inevitably, I receive the following responses: “Oh, like Rin-Tin-Tin. Ha ha.” “What’s that short for?” “What’s your REAL name?” “Where did you get that name?” “Spell that again?” “Is that a nickname?”
My internal thoughts: “Really? Do you think you’re the first person who ever thought of that? Why do I have to explain my name? Why is it any of your business? Can’t you just accept it?”
It has reached the point in recent years where I avoid new situations because I don’t want to have to deal with it. I am 70 years old. I have been asked these stupid questions since I went to kindergarten 65 years ago. I’m really sick of them.
When people persist, I just go silent, or I say, “Please, just accept it. It’s my name.”
When I go to Starbuck’s for coffee or to a restaurant where you have to give your name to be put on a list for a table, I give my name as Ann. It’s simple, clear, and not unusual. No one asks me to spell it. No one asks me what it’s short for. No one makes dumb jokes about it. I breathe a sigh of relief and wait for my turn to come up.
How I deal with other people’s names
I NEVER ask anyone about his or her name. I just make sure I am pronouncing it right and move on. I assume that someone with an unusual name has experienced the same kinds of stupid questions and dumb remarks from other people that I have.
Why don’t people think before they speak? I don’t know. At my bridge group (which numbers over 50 people), I have to play cards with people I haven’t met almost every week. All of us are senior citizens. All of us have lived a long time and experienced stupidity and rudeness from many sources. Yet, every one of them asks me the same questions every time I introduce myself.
Pretty soon I’m going to become Ann just to get through the afternoons at bridge.
Why it makes me mad to be asked constantly about my name
Why do I become so irritated about it? Because it goes on and on. It’s not just one person doing it. It’s the 65 years, day after day, person after person, singling me out as different, as “other”, as abnormal, that ticks me off.
Before you ask about my name — please don’t.
I don’t like having to explain myself in every new interaction. Why should I have to do this? Why can’t I be accepted without an explanation?
So please. Take my advice. When you meet someone, don’t make ANY remarks about his or her name. Just say, “It’s nice to meet you.”
You will make someone’s day. You will make MY day.