Friday, February 24, 2006

What's in a Name?

Y'all, I really debated about posting this, because in doing so I give up any remaining shred of anonymity and, worse, all plausible deniability that I am the author of this blog. Which is not something I'd recommend to any of my clients. Consider yourselves very lucky.

Yesterday I received a refresher course in one of the universe's fundamental truths. Namely, that I Am Not in Charge. (It ranks right up there with other important truths like There Is a God and Wine Is Good for You and Redheads Can Totally Wear Pink and Red, Just Pick the Right Shade, Please.) My boss's boss's boss gave a speech wherein she referred to me as Kate about four times in sixty seconds. And then the CEO of the company hosting this talk, whom I have met on many occasions and to whom I have always introduced myself as Katherine, he referred to me as Kate. From the podium. This wouldn't be so bad, except that everyone I know in my professional life knows me as Katherine. Everyone.

I've had many names (and nicknames) in my life. How you refer to me is a good indicator as to when you met me, or under what circumstances. I was Katie growing up and into college. Liz liked to call me "Katherine Anne" in a fake I'm-yelling-at-you voice, which was funny because even our parents didn't call me Katherine when I was getting yelled at. The neighbor boy across the street would use Katherine occasionally, with the same tongue-in-cheek attitude. ("Hello, Kath-er-ine..." enunciating every syllable.) Only within my family (both nuclear and extended) would anyone call me Kate.

During my first real job in college, I had to ditch Katie. I didn't mind that it was somewhat young-sounding, I was young, and that was part of my appeal. No, I got tired of receiving faxes from people who massacred my name. "Caydee" and "Ka-de" and "K.T." drove me up the wall, as did "Kathy." So I became Kate. It was a little more sophisticated, but still me. Some of my college friends made the switch, some didn't, and I was pretty indifferent. To new people in my life I introduced myself as Kate, for the rest of college and grad school.

Then it was time for a job. A real job. And that meant I had to decide on a professional name. The name that would be my brand for the next fifty years. The name under which I would run for office. The name they would print in the newspaper headlines and the history books. The name that would be synonymous with Really Smart, Tough, Sexy Person You Definitely Want Working for You. I settled on Katherine. It was professional, would be durable my entire career, is splashed across the top of my resumes, etc. I even went to the trouble of changing my voice mail message so prospective employers wouldn't be confused/tempted by Kate.

Being Katherine turned out to be more difficult than I expected. At first, it was just weird, but eventually I got used to answering to it. And, more importantly, introducing myself as such. Nothing says "I'm an idiot" like tripping over your own name. Alas, people still spell my name creatively. And the likelihood of someone calling me Kathy is much greater. Argh! I have plenty of names; please use one from the approved list! (I hate Kathy for reasons even I don't understand. My best friend is a Kathy; one of my best bosses is a Kathy; my current favorite networking connection is a Kathy. [You don't have a current favorite networking connection? What kind of cave do you live in?])

Plus, there's the whole thing of being different names to different groups of people. It wasn't much of a problem when I was one name at home and one name at work/school. But now? It's Katie for old-school friends, college friends, and people I know through the alumni association; Kate for grad school friends and my family; Katherine for work people, Junior League people, Banana Republic people, pretty much anyone I met after June 2002. Even worse is when you put all these people in the same room and everyone is confused about how to address me.

Finally, I never know what name to use with the guys I date. Katherine seems too formal for someone with whom I might have a close personal relationship and could actually be family one day. On the other hand, how do I know he's going to stick around long enough to qualify for the close personal relationship status? But then, how does one achieve a name-switch in the middle of a relationship? It's all so confusing! (I solve this dilemma by simply not dating. So much easier.)

Everyone prefers a different name. One of my friends thinks Katie is just the perfect name for me. Another said, "Katie is, like, a ditzy cheerleader name. That's totally not you." My mother, it turns out, doesn't like Katherine.

Mom: I just can't get over this Katherine thing. Why are you Katherine? It sounds so old and stuffy.
Me: Mom, you gave me this name! Since when do you not like Katherine? And why would you give me a name you don't like?
Mom: I like Katie; that's why I named you Katherine. I just figured you'd go by Kate as a grown-up.
Me: Thanks for telling me now.

As for me? I like them all, but I'm most concerned about that professional name. I just don't see myself doing the Katie Couric thing. But I can handle a Katharine/Kate Graham approach to life. I'm still introducing myself as Katherine, but it'll be interesting to see if (and how quickly) the Kate thing catches on here. Any bets? Faster than the transmission of avian bird flu? (Speaking of name changes, we are now calling it "Avian influenza." Which makes sense, since "avian bird flu" is needlessly redundant.) In the meantime, while we get this whole mess sorted out, you may address me as "Your Highness."


At Sat Feb 25, 04:15:00 AM PST, Anonymous Clueless said...

When I walked into my first 'real job' in the Air Force I introduced myself as "Robert". The response was "Glad to have you in the squadron, Bob." So at my second assignment I introduced myself as "Rob", and the response was "Glad to have you in the squadron, Rob." Then I quit the Air Force and in my new town I introduced myself as "Robert", which was just fine with everyone. I won't tell you what my mother called me, but now "I don't care what you call me just don't call me too late for dinner."

At Sat Feb 25, 10:35:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow. things you never think about when you have a short, but "weird" (well, for nh...) name like Pia...
Katherine (post 2002), whenever I click on your blog, my eyes are opened to another interesting thought.
See you next week!

At Mon Feb 27, 07:10:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So I imagine as history unfolds each name waits to be used by a famous and good person and then the name becomes associated with something pleasant and not ditzy cheerleaders. I think if you want to run for office and carve out a great niche for Kate or Katie then thats wonderful. Right now our Kate's are limited to english actresses and lets not speak of our famous katies (holmes is the first one other than couric I can think of).

So I say it wont matter which name you use but rather who you are. Plus even if the form of your name gives them pause initially, your ability to coordinate shoes and purses and never run out of either will overwhelm them.

At Mon Feb 27, 08:11:00 AM PST, Anonymous lisa said...

I refuse to change. You'll always be Katie to me!

At Mon Feb 27, 04:13:00 PM PST, Anonymous andrea said...

yes -- old habits die hard. Katie it was and probably always will be. I didn't realize it was so ingrained in me until reading this posting and recognizing that I have you bookmarked as "Katie" ;)

At Mon Feb 27, 06:21:00 PM PST, Anonymous Kathy said...

I see your frustration...I will always see you as Katie, unless we are with your family. The same goes that I don't think you will ever see me as Kathryn. Some things are just left better alone for the "big world".


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