What’s in a name?

Most of the time, especially when dealing with the spoken rather then the written word, someone can use the wrong variant and no-one will notice and/or care. But not when it comes to names (or your own at least).

(Apologies to the people whose hackles were raised by my use of “then” instead of “than” in the previous paragraph. 🙂 )

There are a lot of names that either have different spellings (e.g. Ann/Anne), or are similar to other names (e.g. Davis/Davies), which increases the likelihood of mistakes. This concerns me, because I’m terrible at remembering names at the best of times. I did well at one place I worked, but there I had lists I could refer back to.

People often use variations of my name, which is frustrating. Spelling or grammatical errors I can brush off, but this is not just a word, it’s a representation of who I am. In the same way that clothes and make-up can enable people to present themselves the way they want to be seen, the way someone is referred to is very personal, and it can feel disrespectful to be mis-referenced (you could always respond with “Segmentation Fault!”, but most people wouldn’t understand).

What got me thinking about the topic is seeing a movie trailer for the film Rio 2. The main characters (named Blue and Jewel) and their kids meet Jewel’s long-lost father, and the usual sort of tired tension-with-her-father jokes ensue. In particular, when the kids are introduced, politely expressing “Nice to meet you, sir”, their newly-discovered grandfather says to call him “Pop-Pop”*. Naturally, when Blue later (speaking to his kids) refers to him as “Pop-Pop”, he is given a stern eyeballing and told “You call me Sir.”

Regardless of the illogic of this particular example**, this is doing the opposite of what I described last time: continuing to use stereotypes that really should be retired. In this instance, the grandfather has no reason to be any less welcoming towards Blue except “He took away my little girl!”. Even though he hasn’t seen said “little girl” (now an adult woman… er… parrot) for a long time. It hearkens uncomfortably back to the archaic concept of a marriage as essentially a business transaction between two men. That said, I haven’t seen the whole film, and it could be the basis of an interesting character arc where the grandfather realises that the real focus of his resentment is whoever took Jewel into captivity, and that he’s just glad she’s alright. But it’ll probably be Blue-does-something-vaguely-heroic, thus earning (and I use the word “earning” deliberately) a “Well, I guess you’re alright. But you still call me Sir.”

* It’s good that there are a wide variety of nicknames for grandparents — you should be able to settle on something distinct for each. Otherwise, when you mention “Grandpa”, does that mean Mum’s dad, or Dad’s dad? One of my grandmothers (possibly due to not feeling old enough to be a “Nana” or “Granny”) preferred we call her by her given name. Not knowing anyone else by that name, I spent part of my early childhood thinking it was another word for grandmother. Families are wierd. 😉

** Supposing you were visiting your friend Bob, and his daughter Carla answers the door. It makes more sense to say something like “Hi Carla, is your Dad at home?” rather than “…is Bob at home?”. You certainly don’t call Bob “Dad”, but Carla does, so there’s less potential for confusion.


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