Names: The Point of No Return?

The other day I had a conversation and shoved my foot so far in my mouth I’m still trying to remove it.  You know those moments where you say something, and then immediately you know that it was the wrong thing to say and can’t fix it.  When that happens to me I agonize and stress and think about sending long and apologetic emails which would only make me seem crazier than I feel.  So in this case I did nothing, I’m just going to turn it into a blog post.

A few months ago hello giggles had a great post about names.  The poster talked about how she never thinks people will remember her name so she finds creative ways to slip it into conversations.  I feel kind of the same way.  Especially because my name seems to be next to impossible to pronounce.  Its Lah-ra, like Tomb Raider.  Like pretend you’re British and then say my name the way it is spelled.  For a long time I went by La-ra like a in “ate.”  That was easier for people to say, but ultimately not what my South African parents named me.  I’ve come to terms with the fact that people can’t say my name, I’m not so quick to correct them anymore.  I tell the people at Starbucks my name is Laura (which it is DECIDEDLY not! I will correct you if you call me Laura), and I always kind of assume that no one is going to get it/going to care/going to know my name at all.

Which leads me to the gigantic open-mouth-insert-foot moment.  I was walking with my Zumba teacher and she was saying how she always feels bad that she doesn’t know everyone’s name that takes her class.  I told her I didn’t think it was that big of a deal.  I didn’t think anyone expected her to know everyone’s name.  Then I proceeded to tell her how annoying it was to me that my pilates teacher on Mondays doesn’t know my name.  It was a face-palm moment for me because there are a lot of things I didn’t say in this conversation.  I didn’t say that it would be impossible for her to learn everyone’s name because people are constantly in and out of the class.  Maybe she should know the names of people who never miss a class, but the rando people who come in and out, she’s not responsible for.  I also didn’t say that I don’t miss pilates classes and I have introduced myself to the teacher at least three times and there are maybe 6 people in the class on a regular basis.  Not to mention that she actually refers to people by name during class, but never me.  I didn’t explain the difference to her and so, while I was trying to make her feel better, its possible, if she thought about it as much as I have, I may have made her feel worse.

In my case, with her, I did work pretty hard for her to know my name, at least I felt like I needed to (see: second paragraph).  I slipped my own name into a conversation, we exchanged emails, but it wasn’t until I heard her refer to me by name in class to someone else after we had even been out for coffee that I was sure that she even knew it.  But that doesn’t have anything to do with her necessarily, that has to do with me and my insecurity.

So to summarize: I expect my pilates teacher to know my name, but I wouldn’t expect my Zumba teacher to know my name unless I forced her to.  I’m honestly not sure if any of this makes sense.  Maybe, because I’m becoming friends with my Zumba teacher I see her as more of a person and less distant so I’m willing to cut her some slack.  The bottom line is, I can’t figure out what the expectation is when it comes to learning someone’s name.  Not to mention the fact that, once you reach a certain point, how do you ask or tell someone your name who should already know it.

Any opinions out there? Do you assume people do or do not know your name? How do you tell them what it is without embarrassing them or you?

Should I still be stressing about this 5 minute conversation that took place almost a week ago?


4 thoughts on “Names: The Point of No Return?

  1. For some odd reason, it’s very common for people to mistake my name, “Jennifer” for “Jessica”. It happens constantly. (popular 80’s names are interchangeable?) I have emailed people, clearly had my name in the signature, and had them respond “dear Jessica”. I usually don’t correct people if it’s someone I’ll never speak to again.

    However, when I was 15, I had a riding instructor who after several weeks of private lessons started calling me Jessica. I NEVER CORRECTED HER! It went on for weeks. I don’t know why I was so afraid to just say “it’s Jen”. Maybe because we all identify so strongly with our names that it’s awkward when someone gets it wrong that we think it’s rude to correct them?

  2. I’m probably wayyy outside the norm on this, but I always, ALWAYS correct people when they mispronounce my name. Which they do, more often than not. I think Dana (pronounced like Day-na) is a common enough name that people have generally heard it before, yet they almost always think it’s “Dina”, “Dena”, “Gina”, or “Donna”. Or any other similar sounding name that is, simply, not my name. This occurs for myriad reasons, all of which I’ll probably never know, but usually it seems to be for one of two reasons: 1) I speak with a weird pseudo-New York Jewish accent and my voice is just nasal enough that I can’t even pronounce my own name clearly enough to distinguish it from “Dena”, 2) The person is old, and therefore either hard of hearing or accustomed to hearing other names that are similar to mine more often, and therefore hear (or don’t hear) what they want to hear. Whether it’s my fault, their fault, or the fault of too many parents naming their children “Dena” or “Donna” in the 1950s, I like to clarify the true pronunciation and, sometimes, spelling of my name. I feel I owe it to myself and others as part of a society that places enormous emphasis on the importance of names, both for posterity and matters of individual identity. However, I try to eliminate any shame or embarrassment from the conversation when I do this, and frame it more like “this is an opportunity for you to actually hear my name so you don’t feel stupid when you call me the wrong thing later on, because that sucks and I don’t want you to have to go through that!”. I hope that others will do the same for me!

    I’ve always LOVED and obsessed about names, reading baby name books and imagining what I would name my future children (“Lucinda” and “Celeste Lilac” topped the list at one point) since I was about 4 years old. Parents spend hours, days, maybe even years pondering what they will call their children, these perfect new people they’ve created. People probably agonize over what to call their pets almost as much. So, why not clarify our names, which, as Jen said, we identify with so strongly, so that we can give others the chance to know one of the most important details about us from the beginning? And if they can’t remember your name, well, maybe they need a little reminder. 🙂

  3. I totally agree with both of you guys (and I also think its hilarious that names like Dana and Jennifer are as hard as Lara). But do you ever feel like you’ve past the point where you can remind someone of your name or should we all just get over that? If I feel like someone doesn’t know it, maybe I should just tell them.

    Social etiquette is weird!

  4. Pingback: It’s Only Awkward if You Make It « Think well. Love well. Dine well.

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