By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler
I hate my name. Well, parts of it anyway. Let me explain …
Several years ago, I asked my mother why she chose the name Jennifer for me. She responded this way: “Well, I was going to name you Jessica. But then I knew some ‘dumb jerk’ would start calling you ‘Jesse.’” I don’t know about you, but I can’t quite figure out why my mom thought naming me Jennifer would be much better as far as name butchering. That name has given people endless possibilities, and apparently license, to call me whatever version they wish–many of which I don’t like!
When I started school, I was called Jennifer until the first year of middle school in the fifth grade. It was the first day of school our well-meaning homeroom teacher said to let her know if we have a shorter version of our name, or a nickname we prefer to be called. This teacher also lived near my family and knew us well, and she knew the affectionate nickname my family had given me (no chance I’m sharing–sorry!). So when she began roll call and called out the name of another Jennifer in the class, that girl said she liked to be called ‘Jenny.’ So, Jenny it would be. When she called my name, however, I said that Jennifer was fine. Yet it didn’t end here. The teacher then asked me if I was “sure” I didn’t have another name I wanted to be called. And … she didn’t let it go until my nickname was “out there.” I was absolutely mortified. My life was ruined. From that point forward I was called that nickname – and I’m convinced that moment was my social undoing as a tween!
When I switched to a private high school, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to be Jennifer again. Yet it was not to be so. My new class was very small–17 of us in all–and coincidentally there ended up being another Jennifer in it. On the first day of school she marched up to me, put her hands on her hips and declared, “My name is Jennifer too. I was here first and go by Jennifer, so you can be Jenny.” Completely intimidated, there I stood once again–my name being imposed on me. So Jenny I was. Over time, I got used to my name and the other Jennifer and I became close friends. I even played with spelling variations of the name–writing it first Jenni, and then Jennie.
As I got older, my mother and siblings started calling me Jen, yet I never cared for it. On occasion I have hinted that I don’t like to be called Jen, yet to no avail – that shortened version of my name has already taken hold. Now I am also called Aunt Jen by my nephews. In all correspondence and voicemail messages, however, I refer to myself as ‘Aunt Jennie.’ Has no one picked up on this? Ahhh–that name is now being passed down to younger generations!
When we started dating my husband and I discussed the many variations my name has taken, and I told him I’d never been satisfied with any shortened version. It was then that he came up with Jenna–and I was sold! Soon, his whole family began calling me that and eventually, if I developed a new friendship that became close, I asked my friend to call me Jenna. Whatever “a Jenna” is as opposed to “a Jen,” I’m not sure. What I do know though is that I feel most comfortable being Jenna among those with whom I am closest.
Over the course of my life most people have taken my name Jennifer and chopped it down to ‘Jen’–without my permission. This has happened in my social circles and professionally. In recent email correspondence with a newly introduced colleague, he began addressing me as Jen, even though I never signed my name as such. In my professional life, I go by Jennifer only.
I cannot understand why people take liberty with other’s names and think that’s okay. It’s not–it’s rude. I believe a person is entitled to be addressed how they wish. And, if at some point they ask to be called by another name, I think that effort should be made by others. That’s just basic respect.
A couple of years ago I reconnected with a former high school classmate for whom I now work. For his privacy, I will change his name … In high school, he was introduced to me as ‘Sammy’–the shortened version of his name, and nickname by which he was called. When we got back in touch, I learned he was now going by ‘Sam,’ and figured he just found this change to be more socially mature for his age, or a more professional sounding shortened version. I’m really not sure why the change, and I did find it hard to make after being used to calling him Sammy for so long. However, I made the change out of respect for him. I’m still not quite used to it, but if he wants to be called Sam, then Sam it is. Besides, Sam is now my boss so he can be called whatever he likes!
Addressing someone by the name they prefer shows respect for that person. Imposing a name on someone that you choose does not. The following is a list of etiquette tips for addressing people which may be used in social situations, as well as the business world:
- Address a person using the name by which you are introduced – unless and until they tell you otherwise. For example, a new employee at work is introduced to you as ‘Michael.’ You shake hands and continue to address him as Michael until he says, “Please, call me Mike.” Then, Mike it is!
- If you are unsure as to what name a person would like to be addressed, ask.
- Don’t make assumptions. Because one person goes by ‘Mike,’ not all Michael’s wish to be addressed as such.
- In regular situations, it is best to use both a person’s first and last name when making introductions. To use only a first name is not introducing the total person.
- In a professional setting, keep the forms of address equal. If you use Ms. Smith, you must use Mr. Brown. You should not say, “Mary, this is Mr. Brown.”
- Mention something about the people you are introducing. This will give them a starting point for their own conversation. “Mary Smith, this is Joe Brown. Joe shares your alma mater.”
In Part Two of “What’s In a Name?” I will share how to make proper business introductions. In the meantime, feel free to share any name butcher or blunder stories you have and how you’ve handled it! Have your experiences affected name(s) you have chosen for your children?