Already half way (or more) through my brief consciousness of this earth, and I still cannot quite wrap my head around what I must now conclude to be normative or perhaps even inevitable behavior. I see this exchange (or one very much like it) played out almost every day of my life. Imagine two people introducing themselves. Social context does not matter, neither does the medium–this could be in person or on a video call or by email.

“Hi, my name is Richard.”
“Nice to meet you, Dick. My name is…”

Were dick red and richard black, I could make a tidy fortune at roulette. It’s the near mathematical certainy of this outcome that is perhaps so perplexing to me. If you have followed the gentle ebb and flow of my musings and so far not apprehended the conundrum, that is no doubt further evidence in support of the argument for socio-normative behavior. Yet, still.

The simplicity of it confounds me. Richard presents their name, “Richard”. Person B, without any hesitation, immediately begins speaking back to Richard using a name that is not “Richard”. To me, it seems intuitively obvious that when I present some other person with a name and an assignment for that name, e.g. “Hello, here is this name ‘Richard’, and I assign this name to myself by way of saying ‘My name is Richard’. So you now have a covenient label by which to refer to me, specifically, and distinguish that reference from all the other things in this room or the universe at large about which we might want to speak.” I posit that many (if not most) people would find an exchange like this somewhat untennable:

“This wall needs to be painted viridian.”
“Great, I’ll go get some green paint.”

Generally, labels are not loosely interchangeable with each other and in the course of normal human interactions, we assume that we can rely on the shared vocabulary and grammar of our peers to converse. We might disgree about whether or not this particular color is viridian, but we generally agree that having colors named things like viridian and vermilion can be useful when it comes to talking about what to paint walls or cars or houses. I think it then follows that if I were to ask for a wall to be painted viridian and that if that wall were painted some other not-viridian color, that I would be in the right to say the job has not been completed.

There is, of course, the very nuanced issue of nicknames and diminutives. For example, a common familiar name for “Alexander”, “Alexandra” is the gender neutral “Sasha”; however, it is reserved for use by close family and friends, and not a name that would be used in any professional context without explicit permission. Permission in the form of, “Hi, my name is Alexander; but you may call me Sasha.” Similarly, in many languages the second person pronoun “you” is biforcated into formal and informal words (think “thee” and “thou” of old english), never the two streams to be crossed. In my opinion, english suffers greatly from the convergance of all second person (singular, plural, informal and formal) into the single obsequious “you”, but that is a rant for another time and place.

So it is. While I have more or less resigned myself to a fate of forever being called “Chris”; that no matter how many times I present my actual name “Christopher”, the echos always whisper “Chris”; I still do not like it. I often wonder what it is (if anything) that passes through someone’s mind when they hear me say my name, “Christopher” and then immediately switch to a diminutive.

  • Did they mishear me pronounce my name?
  • Are they mispronouncing my name accidentally?
  • Have they confused me with someone else?
  • Were they explicitly taught to truncate names?
  • Are they trying to assert some kind of dominance by butchering my name?
  • Is it a power play to see if they will be corrected?
  • Are they just being intentionally rude?
  • Do they somehow not realize what they are doing?

It just boggles. I don’t know if I subscribe to any generalizations about the nature of humanity, but I do think that most people will not go out of their way to hurt other people. I suspect that most of the day to day injuries we experience are a result of lethargy. When trash and recycling containers are ubiqutous, most people do not litter most of the time. I know of myself that I will sometimes (perhaps even frequently) succumb to the morally dubious paths–on those cold or rainy days, sometimes the tempation to leave the shopping cart behind the car instead of putting it back correctly overwhelms me.

As someone who has difficulty remembering names, I spend a lot of time thinking about introductions. Repeating someone’s name aloud helps it stick a little, so I find myself repeating this pattern:

“I’m Javier.”
“Javier? Did you say, Javier? Nice to meet you Javier.”

So, it is perhaps my hyper-attention to these little moments that raises my awareness of and sensitivity to these abberations in patterns that may be imperciptible to others. I do not know.

All I can say with any certainty is that I pay close attention to how people introduce themselves and how we name each other. How a person sees themself, identifies and names themself, opens the doorway ever so slightly into a view of their world, from their perspective. I think it valuable to be thoughtful and delibrate about the words we use. Flowers with beautiful petals will always be beautiful in themselves, but it’s not nothing to know that they’re roses either.