Saturday, November 15, 2008

What's In A Name?

Growing up, my mother always expected our friends to call her "Mrs. Ourlastname." I never really thought much about it and always called my friends' parents "Mr. and Mrs. Theirlastname." ( The only exception being my former best friend's parents, whom I called "Mom" and "Dad," and she in turn called my mother "Mom.")

It took nearly a year of my going out with one boyfriend before I was comfortable calling his parents by their first names, which they pretty much had to insist that I do. Even my in-laws...whose own son calls them by their first names (which I'm still rather incredulous about)...after more than 12 years I still bristle at the familiarity of using their first names (although, I would feel even more uncomfortable calling them "Mom" or "Dad"...I've always felt that the people who married into my family got off lucky, because my mother's name is Nancy and she is Nana to all of the grandchildren...so the in-laws just get to call her "Nan" and it has a way of not seeming too familiar, but very familial - if that makes any sense).

Essentially, I was raised to be polite, but to also expect politeness in return.

Last week, J and I were watching an episode of Doctor Who and the crux of it was that a group of witches (who had been unwittingly summoned by Shakespeare in his grief over the death of his son) could only be banished if, initially, they were named and, ultimately, as Shakespeare found the right words to send them back into exile. It made me think about the power of names and how I absolutely hatehatehate it when someone I don't know uses my first name. It's so uncomfortable.

When I used to work in retail, and later in a bank, they encouraged us to use the customer's first name as often as possible. I had a hard time with it, I'll admit. At the bank, it was a little easier because we did have regulars who came in, sometimes on a daily basis, so it seemed more logical to be more familiar with them. In retail though? I just couldn't do it. Nothing like taking someone's check or credit card and awkwardly glancing at the person's name and trying to work it into "you have a nice day, enterfirstnamehere" without it seeming forced. Once, at Sam's Club, they had a little plastic sign hanging beneath the cash register that said something along the lines of "This dollar is yours if I fail to call you by your name!" I told the cashier that I would give him a dollar to not call me by my first name. He didn't quite know what to make of that, but he didn't use my name.

Call me "miss," call me "ma'am," hell, you can even call me crazy; but, unless you know me, please don't call me Heather.

1 comment:

Scott said...

At the one bank I worked at we were required to use the customer's first name as much as we could. The other bank I worked out you were under no circumstances allowed to call them by their first name or even sir or ma'am.