“What race is that?”: Whatever you want it to be.
August 3, 2015 12:44 PM   Subscribe

The Reactions I’m Assuming People Want When They Comment On My Name.
“Were your parents hippies or something?”: My parents met on an ashram high in the hills of Darjeeling, troubled souls looking to find their ways. Instead they found each other. One night they dropped acid on a train ride to Calcutta and made passionate love before bidding a silent farewell the next morning at the train station. My mother named me Jaya, meaning “Victory,” in memory of how hard she boned.
Previously on Other names and the persistent terror they invite, the consistent labor they require.
posted by Ouverture (253 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
For what it's worth, I worked with a man whose father was an Indian linguist. He gave all of his children names that were specifically designed to sound like traditional names but were outside of the caste system. He loved meeting other people from India and watching their puzzlement from his name.
posted by plinth at 12:49 PM on August 3, 2015 [34 favorites]


Nothing about how her name sounds a lot like a DS9 character?
posted by maryr at 12:50 PM on August 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


I had a dear friend in college who identified as mixed race thanks to a series of transcontinental marriages on both sides of her family. Whenever she was asked about her race, she would cheerfully answer "100 yard dash."
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:52 PM on August 3, 2015 [23 favorites]


All I want is for you to repeat your name slowly and then spell it slowly. You have an accent denser than tungsten, are speaking at a rate of approximately twelve thousand words per second, and are calling from a cell phone that I suspect is inside a garbage can which is in turn inside the Lincoln Tunnel. I'm just trying to write your name down accurately! Is that too much to ask?
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:58 PM on August 3, 2015 [22 favorites]


Over the last 20 years, more than 20 different cards referencing the character "Jaya Ballard" have been printed in Magic: the Gathering. The way forward is clear: creators of sci fi and fantasy properties must bid on decreasingly exotic names in order to ensure an even mix of cultural representation and appropriation, and so that these categories of interaction can be supplanted by something far more cringeworthy—"Wait, how do you spell your name? J-A-Y-A? Wow, just like my favorite character! So how much do you love fire?!"
posted by jsnlxndrlv at 1:07 PM on August 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


I have an unusual and difficult-to-pronounce last name.

Well, it's unusual for where I live now: it's not that strange where I grew up (much less the country where it is native).

Well, and not that hard if you notice that half of it -- the tricky part -- is the same as a famous figure in the new a few years ago.

Well, and it's not that hard if you actually try to pronounce it. But if it is still difficult for you, I can reduce it to five letters (three sounds!), the way my sister did when she was a school teacher. And if it's still too hard for you to figure out, after six years of working for you, as you lay me off, well…maybe it really is you and not the name, eh?

But living with these same remarks has made me notice names more -- and if I spoke to this woman on the phone, I would very likely mention that her name is unusual and appealing, and that I like it a lot. *shrug* "Unusual" is vacuous, but "unusual and appealing," from someone in the same boat, is just commisseration.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:21 PM on August 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Unusual" is vacuous, but "unusual and appealing," from someone in the same boat, is just commisseration.

No they're both vacuous, but the second one is vacuous and kind of creepy.
posted by griphus at 1:26 PM on August 3, 2015 [16 favorites]


How about just saying, "That's a pretty name."
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:27 PM on August 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


Meh. I used to have a job where part of being effective was being able to quickly learn, recall and then repeat a name back to the person within a five minute conversation, and would literally have to do this hundreds of times a day. Remarking that I've never heard a name before isn't judgment, it's part of setting it into my memory. I'd also probably ask what it meant, just like how mentioning that "Melissa" means "honeybee" helps me remember it.

(I have an extremely uncommon last name, and a first name that has become trendy every decade and a half or so for the last 30-some years. I can count on one hand the number of times a stranger has gotten my last name right on the first try.)
posted by klangklangston at 1:30 PM on August 3, 2015


How about just saying, "That's a pretty name."

Or how about not mentioning the name at all? Exoticism is tiring.
posted by sparklemotion at 1:30 PM on August 3, 2015 [38 favorites]


Or how about not mentioning the name at all? Exoticism is tiring.

Is it always exoticism to say someone has a nice name?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:32 PM on August 3, 2015 [22 favorites]


We need to add it as an etiquette rule, right up there with "never assume a woman is pregnant," that you should never make small talk about a person's name. Whatever you want to ask or say is something they've heard a thousand times already. Even if they've gone and named themselves Optimus Prime or Trout Fishing in America, just don't, until you've gotten to know them.

I learned this relatively early in life, because I had a friend whose last name was Montoya, and he had had it with people's jokes well before he turned eighteen.
posted by Countess Elena at 1:33 PM on August 3, 2015 [26 favorites]


"Klangston" is not that hard to pronounce.
posted by HuronBob at 1:35 PM on August 3, 2015 [10 favorites]


Is it always exoticism to say someone has a nice name?

For the purposes of this conversation, yes, yes it is.
posted by griphus at 1:36 PM on August 3, 2015 [15 favorites]


Is it always exoticism to say someone has a nice name?

It is if you'd say it to a "Jaya" but not a "Jenna." And the Jayas of the world have no way of knowing whether you'd to the later, so to them there's a good chance that it's just another othering.
posted by sparklemotion at 1:37 PM on August 3, 2015 [21 favorites]


I have a very unusual name. I would say approximately 80 percent of the time I introduce myself to someone, they respond with "Wow! That's a pretty name." Like, just like that, verbatim. Part of me always wonders if what they really mean is "Your name is fuckin' weird," but I always say thank you, and I really mean it -- I think it's a nice compliment and it feels good to hear. I might be too vulnerable to flattery though....

On the other hand, screw anyone who says, "Wow, where did your parents come up with that?" I dunno. They just thought of it one day, okay?
posted by the turtle's teeth at 1:38 PM on August 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


Is it always exoticism to say someone has a nice name?

No, but as someone who goes through this issue on a regular basis, why take the chance to annoy someone? Why take the chance to be perceived as ignorant or sheltered?

What's the payoff?
posted by Ouverture at 1:38 PM on August 3, 2015 [9 favorites]


Whatever you want to ask or say is something they've heard a thousand times already.

Yes, we all look forward to the day we can all stay in our little apartment-caves and never ever have to interact at all with those stupid stupid morons out there who do horrific things like try to make pleasant passing conversation. What a paradise!
posted by aught at 1:38 PM on August 3, 2015 [38 favorites]


Celebs: they're just like us! Louis CK's actual last name is the Hungarian stalwart Szekely. "CK" is just him giving up and giving people something to say that's sorta kinda a homonym for the real thing.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:40 PM on August 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


Or how about not mentioning the name at all? Exoticism is tiring.

My last name is unusual. And surprisingly easy to mispronounce. People ask about it all the time.

I used to get really uptight about it, because they were clearly being judgmental. One day, I was talking with my cousin about it, and she loved the name and wasn't going to take her husbands name because his was boring in comparison and she loved how it was a conversation starter.

Since then, I've treated it less like an imposition and more like people just being friendly, and, well, it's worked out better, I think.

People also comment on your height if you are very tall. No, in fact, I do not like to play basketball. I do like seeing over everyone, though.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:40 PM on August 3, 2015 [12 favorites]


I am wont to say to people "That's a fascinating name, tell me the history behind it."....And find that most folks are happy to tell me about their heritage, their family, their weird parents....
posted by HuronBob at 1:41 PM on August 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


It is if you'd say it to a "Jaya" but not a "Jenna."

I wouldn't, though. I tell all sorts of people they have nice names. My niece, Cristiana, has a nice name.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:43 PM on August 3, 2015 [9 favorites]


My name is Erin--it's not uncommon, but it's uncommon enough that people have semi-frequently never run into it before, and there are several spellings I might use that make it tricky for people who are familiar with the name. My last name is considerably more unusual and makes zero sense when pronounced in English, while also being pretty damn whitebread. When I'm asked for my name in a formal setting, I automatically rattle off the spelling for my full name without thinking twice.

While I get a lot of weird comments from people who are not familiar with my first name (and even more on my last name), I've never gotten any commentary on:
-the mystic Irish meaning of my name (good, since it's such an Irish-American thing I could laugh)
-the intentions of my parents and their drugged/stoned/hippie status (wtf)
-the way that my name does not sound like it comes from $LANGUAGE or $CULTURE
-helpful discussion of the meaning of my name

The worst I generally get is worried laughs about how the pronunciation and spelling look different and occasionally questions about whether I know some random person they ran into with the same last name. (The answer is usually no.) Sometimes there are jokes about how my last name looks vaguely similar to a slang term for a prostitute in English. Those are irritating and I've been done with them since I was a teenager, but the weird infantilizing bullshit? Nah. There's a real difference between having an unusual name that still reads white and having one that signals a connection to any other race or culture.
posted by sciatrix at 1:43 PM on August 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


Where in the hell are all of you people giving out your last names in casual conversation as frequently as your first? Because if your name is Bill A. Cholmondeley and you're introducing yourself as "Bill" in most social conversation, no you are probably not getting the full brunt of the infuriating annoyance of people having an Opinion About Your Weird Name.
posted by griphus at 1:44 PM on August 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


I don't bother with my last name, usually. It's too hard for most to pronounce correctly, so I actually just end up spelling it out in English, letter by letter.

Please stop doing this. I hate it. If I ask you for your name, please tell me your name. Spell it when I ask you to spell it. Otherwise, this will happen (your name is Szekely for the purposes of this example):

Me: May I have your name, please?
You: My name is Esszeeeekayeeellwhy.
Me: And how do you spell that, please?
You: ...
Me: ...
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:47 PM on August 3, 2015 [8 favorites]


I think that telling someone your name often ends up being a good way to screen for how stupid and inconsiderate they are. My very common last name sounds the same as the name of a common brand of appliance. I spell mine with two of the middle consonant, rather than one. This is also very common. People ceaselessly get it wrong to the point where my employers generally have to set up an email forwarder with the misspelling, just to catch the strays. Even seconds after I have said, "My name is ________ with two _'s."

I cannot imagine how frustrating it must be to also have sharing your name be an opportunity for lunkheaded people to make you feel foreign or weird.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:47 PM on August 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


I have basically the most boring name ever -- one of the most common names for women my age, both first and middle name, and my last name is fairly common too -- and I wish to hell I had an unusual name that people commented on. I hate having a boring name. Grass is always greener.
posted by holborne at 1:48 PM on August 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


I could probably write a novel using the extraneous letters and syllables people plunk into my 5-letter, 2-syllable name after either reading it or trying to repeat it.
posted by griphus at 1:48 PM on August 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


But it seems to make things go faster rather than explaining that romanization is difficult, and that depending on the dialect you're from, and that it starts off with a sound not present in any dialect of American Standard English...

If you're going to do that, just give someone notice like, "I'll spell it for you, okay?"
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:51 PM on August 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


My name is Leet and I do a bit with computer programming and gaming, when I'm not being one of the office's main experts on LEED in my practice. I've just come to accept that some people's desire to look clever outpaces their recognition that they are showing they aren't really.
posted by meinvt at 1:51 PM on August 3, 2015 [9 favorites]


These answers are hilarious. But, honestly, I find this an odd trend among Millenials to be annoyed when someone asks them about their name. And maybe I am just looking at this from the perspective of someone from the metropolitan northeast where most people I grew up with were just a generation or two from having come to America, but it was pretty much accepted as normal that we would be asked about and talk about our names that were something other than "John Smith."

I get we have decided that it is offensive and exoticizing to ask about these things, but I grew up with it and still get it anytime someone swipes my credit card. The kind of personal crisis I had with this growing up resulted in "embracing my name's unusualness" rather than resenting that people considered it exotic and wishing that I could "just be normal" (which, if I wanted, I would have just legally changed my name to the anglicized nickname I use and picking an Anglo surname).
posted by deanc at 1:53 PM on August 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


like 7 years ago i had a business conversation with someone whose last name was cholmondeley and when she went to spell it i was like "no worries i know it from trashy regency romance novels" and there was this really fucking painful silence on the other end of the phone and i died on that day and have been posting from the afterlife ever since

ugh i just died again
posted by poffin boffin at 1:54 PM on August 3, 2015 [174 favorites]


Mhhm. So, I have an exceptionally unusual last name.

So unusual that Google, Facebook and phone directory services suggest that myself and two members of my immediate family are the only people in the UK (where I live) and quite possibly in the English speaking world to share it.

I also have a job where I have to introduce myself, by last name, a lot. I have never not had to spell it and I have also never heard someone who has read it pronounce it correctly first time.

So. Complaints about people having problems pronouncing or spelling your name? I can sympathise, particularly (though I am white) if this is part of the cascade of shit POC face every day to remind them that they are "other" but, at the same time I'm afraid you'll just have to suck that one up. What's the alternative? Can you really expect everyone you meet to automatically understand how to pronounce a word they haven't come across before?

HOWEVER.

I have never, ever, ever, had someone ask where my name is "from", comment on how unusual it is or comment on what they suppose its background must be. And you'd think, being a person who looks and speaks like the most whitebread Englishy English person ever, that having such an unusual name would be more reason for comment, right? But no.

I have no reason to doubt that the author of this article has experienced such things, as they claim.

So why not me? I can only assume that it is because I am white. Because that very fact of my whiteness flips a switch in people's heads from "ooh, exotic" to "oh, a "normal" person name which I have not yet heard of yet".

So that's fucked up.
posted by Dext at 1:55 PM on August 3, 2015 [43 favorites]


double-afterlifes

haunting ghosts who are all like "ugh boy did you fuck up or what"
posted by boo_radley at 1:56 PM on August 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


> Yes, we all look forward to the day we can all stay in our little apartment-caves and never ever have to interact at all with those stupid stupid morons out there who do horrific things like try to make pleasant passing conversation. What a paradise!

How about:

Nice to meet you!
How do you know [mutual friend]?
Some weather we're having!

You have an almost unlimited number of small talk-y things to say that aren't going to make me, owner of an Unusual/Pretty/Where are you really from? name roll my eyes internally. But if you want to be pouty about it, sure, stay home.
posted by rtha at 1:56 PM on August 3, 2015 [27 favorites]


My last name is difficult for everyone but me and the family. It's not that uncommon (famous actor and a NatGeo photographer have it). It is long, 8 letters, and is spelled like it sounds. However, I have dealt with decades of people mangling it or assuming it is the same as other not terribly similar names. It isn't even interesting like Szekley. Sigh. And we aren't even going near my first name, Sean...
posted by Samizdata at 1:56 PM on August 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


[starts MeTa to demand that everyone in names threads must reveal their beautiful unusual names before JanetLand dies of curiousity]
posted by JanetLand at 1:58 PM on August 3, 2015 [22 favorites]


but I'm the first result if you google me

so if I ever post it I'm forever connected to my MeFi pseud and then probably employers will find it when they google me for jobs and the first result is going to be this thread forever aaaaaaaaah
posted by sciatrix at 2:00 PM on August 3, 2015 [11 favorites]


So why not me? I can only assume that it is because I am white. Because that very fact of my whiteness flips a switch in people's heads from "ooh, exotic" to "oh, a "normal" person name which I have not yet heard of yet".

I'm white and I've definitely gotten all that stuff about my name, although curiously it's always from born-and-raised-in-America Americans. Curiously, I don't think I've ever heard a single comment on my name from another immigrant.

I think I'm just going to decide right now that "Steven" is a very pretty name and make sure every Steven I know is aware of this and see if I can get them to tell me what it means.
posted by griphus at 2:01 PM on August 3, 2015 [22 favorites]


Yes, we all look forward to the day we can all stay in our little apartment-caves and never ever have to interact at all with those stupid stupid morons out there who do horrific things like try to make pleasant passing conversation. What a paradise!

Since then, I've treated it less like an imposition and more like people just being friendly, and, well, it's worked out better, I think.

I don't know why Barack Obama gets all weird about people wanting to touch his hair. They are just so fascinated by it! They are just trying to be nice! [/hamburger]

But seriously though, obviously 95% of the people who comment on someone's weird name or exceptional height are just trying to give a compliment/make pleasant conversation. And I, personally, treat it as such. But it just. gets. so. tedious. To the point where we the tall and strange-named often don't find the conversation pleasant at all. And that's before you get into the whole thing of how often "strange" names are only strange by virtue of the name haver being a minority.

It's just that if you want to make pleasant conversation with someone, an attribute that they 1.) cannot change, and 2.) have probably lived with their whole life and 3.) they did not bring up to you, is probably not the best choice.
posted by sparklemotion at 2:02 PM on August 3, 2015 [14 favorites]


Is it always exoticism to say someone has a nice name?

I would say "No", but apparently some people disagree. *shrug* I've been told my given name (Margaret) is pretty. I'm a pasty white German girl.

It's not unusual for me to tell my customers on the phone that they have pretty or interesting names. No one has ever responded badly to "What a lovely/great name!", seems to make some of the more time-consuming calls go a lot smoother.
posted by MissySedai at 2:02 PM on August 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Some people in this thread seem to be saying that even asking how to spell or pronounce a name is rude. That seems somewhat unreasonable to me.
posted by Sangermaine at 2:03 PM on August 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


"What's the payoff?"

That I can quickly return to using someone's first name with them, which is small but has the effect of making people more receptive to e.g. political message testing or fundraising. And I can also say that for the vast, vast, vast majority of people with whom I've talked, small talk about their name is easy, positive and effective. There are some people who don't like it — I know more than one dude named after an unliked father — but they're pretty rare in the overall population. The times when it's not really a good topic tend to be when the name is like John or Jose or something so common that people don't really have any attached meaning for it.

"Please stop doing this. I hate it. If I ask you for your name, please tell me your name. Spell it when I ask you to spell it. Otherwise, this will happen (your name is Szekely for the purposes of this example):"

I usually say it, then spell it automatically. Otherwise, like just happened 20 minutes ago when I was picking up business cards, people's ability to locate it in the alphabet breaks due to a vowel pronunciation that is not standard English.

"My name is Leet and I do a bit with computer programming and gaming, when I'm not being one of the office's main experts on LEED in my practice. "

"Yeah, Leet, that's one-three-three-seven."

"I have never, ever, ever, had someone ask where my name is "from", comment on how unusual it is or comment on what they suppose its background must be."

I get it all the time because it has a foreign vowel scheme (and is a homophone for a pretty common German name) but didn't retain the consonant scheme. About one in ten people can guess the origin correctly; the rest throw out weird theories.

"I'm white and I've definitely gotten all that stuff about my name, although curiously it's always from born-and-raised-in-America Americans. Curiously, I don't think I've ever heard a single comment on my name from another immigrant."

My Russian substitute dentist gave me a long, weird interrogation that seemed really anti-Semitic about how he knew people from that region and they all looked like Jews etc. etc. until he mentioned that his family was from the same region and he was Jewish. It was still kinda weird (especially since we're not Jewish as far as anyone knows), but at least he said it correctly right off the bat.
posted by klangklangston at 2:05 PM on August 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yes, we all look forward to the day we can all stay in our little apartment-caves and never ever have to interact at all with those stupid stupid morons out there who do horrific things like try to make pleasant passing conversation. What a paradise!

You joke, but a running theme of AskMe is makes it clear that there are two common issues faced by lots of people online:

1) "I hate small talk. How do I deal?"
and
2) "I have social anxiety."

The online world has given people who have either (or both) of these of these attributes a stronger voice to air their grievances.

Also, patterns of immigration over the past 30 years have placed immigrants in what used to be much more homogenous areas where immigration did not used to be common, and asking about one's name's background singled you out in a way that it didn't in more immigrant-heavy regions, and people didn't like being singled out in this way because it differentiated them from their neighbors in a way they were trying to avoid.

For me, it didn't strike me that being asked about my name was something I should be upset about. The longing for a "normal name" is something I associate with childish naïveté.
posted by deanc at 2:06 PM on August 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


Some people in this thread seem to be saying that even asking how to spell or pronounce a name is rude. That seems somewhat unreasonable to me.

I will confirm the spelling of your name, even if you tell me your name is "Sam Jones," because Sweet Jeebus have you seen how some people are spelling their kids' names these days?
posted by Faint of Butt at 2:07 PM on August 3, 2015 [14 favorites]


[starts MeTa to demand that everyone in names threads must reveal their beautiful unusual names before JanetLand dies of curiousity]

Leave off the last R for realism.
---------------v
posted by maryr at 2:07 PM on August 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


I will confirm the spelling of your name, even if you tell me your name is "Sam Jones," because Sweet Jeebus have you seen how some people are spelling their kids' names these days?

I got chewed out recently because my customer introduced herself as Alexandra.

Turns out, she spells it Alekzandra. She called back to complain that her name was spelled wrong in the followup email. So yeah. "Would you mind spelling out your first and last name for me? Yes, it does seem that Sam Jones should be intuitive, but [my employer] requires me to ask anyway. Thanks so much!"
posted by MissySedai at 2:12 PM on August 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


My Russian substitute dentist gave me a long, weird interrogation that seemed really anti-Semitic about how he knew people from that region and they all looked like Jews etc. etc. until he mentioned that his family was from the same region and he was Jewish.

In case you want confirmation that that is a Thing, that is definitely a Thing.
posted by griphus at 2:13 PM on August 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


Some people in this thread seem to be saying that even asking how to spell or pronounce a name is rude. That seems somewhat unreasonable to me.

I'm not sure that I can see any evidence of that in the thread. And yeah, it would be unreasonable to withhold information about spelling or pronunciation when the asker needs it.

Even: "That's a nice name" is borderline. I mean, its fine, if over done, but no one is going to assume any ill-will from it.

But seriously, down with this sort of thing: I am wont to say to people "That's a fascinating name, tell me the history behind it."....And find that most folks are happy to tell me about their heritage, their family, their weird parents....

I *love* the idea of asking about the special meaning behind the name "Steven." I might even start to enquire if Michaels have ever considered dropping a vowel to make their name easier to spell.
posted by sparklemotion at 2:13 PM on August 3, 2015 [8 favorites]


And I can also say that for the vast, vast, vast majority of people with whom I've talked, small talk about their name is easy, positive and effective.

I wonder how you can so definitively say that.

I get hit with the same tired "clever" reactions when I meet white people and while I've learned over the years how to not rock the boat, my ability to publicly placate white curiosity and entitlement has no reflection on how I really feel.
posted by Ouverture at 2:14 PM on August 3, 2015 [33 favorites]


I might even start to enquire if Michaels have ever considered dropping a vowel to make their name easier to spell.

"Ohhh Mitch-ayel, like the angel, right? Were your parents very religious? I've always wanted to go to a, what do you call it your religion again, a Massive? Your culture is fascinating."
posted by griphus at 2:15 PM on August 3, 2015 [45 favorites]


...my ability to publicly placate white curiosity and entitlement has no reflection on how I really feel.

I've started telling all new clients that whatever way they just butchered my name is correct because I am just sick to death of having conversations about my name when I have actual things to do. At least this is a small office so when a call comes in for an incomprehensible syllable slurry, all my coworkers know the call is for me.
posted by griphus at 2:17 PM on August 3, 2015 [11 favorites]


I have one of those female names-- not common but a couple of celebs mid-century had this name-- traditional Austro-Hungarian empire cute-sounding name, akin to "Schatzi" or something. Anyone I meet that goes "Oh?!..." I know will have one of two followups: Men over 50: "Like the actress! I loved her!" Women: "Oh, I once [I start to cringe] had a German Shepherd [or possible schnauzer] named that!" SO MANY GERMAN SHEPHERDS.
posted by Capybara at 2:20 PM on August 3, 2015 [11 favorites]


My name (first and last) is utterly ordinary for the milieux in which I've grown up and spent most of my life. A substantial proportion of the folks I grew up with had names from the same background and generated from the same formula as mine. Most people may not actually know the backstory, but they are not curious because the pattern is familiar. (I am of Ashkenazi Jewish descent on my dad's side, with an anglicized biblical first name and a German last name.)

I do get asked about it occasionally, usually by someone from another world. Religious Christians from some places (e.g. my Haitian immigrant neighbors) have little experience with Jews, and may be very curious. They may not know that my last name is a sign I'm Jewish, but wonder if my first name is. Germans may wonder if I'm German (I am not). And sometimes religious Jews ask about my name to find out whether I am a legit target for proselytism.
posted by grobstein at 2:20 PM on August 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


The only reason I would ever comment on an 'unusual' name is that I'm just so bored to tears by the monotonous white-person names I usually hear. Hearing a neat new name is like seeing a new-to-me flower or bird in a big boring field - I'm usually delighted by names I hadn't heard before. I really do appreciate the reminder that even "wow, cool name!" can be weird and othering, though, and will think twice next time it occurs to me to mention it aloud.

I also have a somewhat-unusual first name of Irish origin (Bridget), and it hadn't occurred to me today that hardly anyone comments on it beyond the occasional "pretty name!" or "hey, I know a Bridget" - and if they do, it certainly isn't in any of the othering, "where are you *really* from" ways that people have described here. There is definitely a double-standard for "traditionally white" unusual names.

The worst thing I regularly hear people say about other peoples' names is "Oh, I'm not even going to try that one!" or something like that. It seems to happen a lot in roll-calling situations. It's a terrible thing to say, if you think about it - they're basically saying "you are officially too Other to deserve to have your name said correctly, or to even deserve a respectful attempt, so I'm not even going to bother to try".
posted by dialetheia at 2:20 PM on August 3, 2015 [9 favorites]


guys can we at least pretend that we are all intelligent enough to understand that there is a difference between asking someone who you met at your friend's party how they spell their name and asking when it's for official paperwork

tia
posted by kagredon at 2:23 PM on August 3, 2015 [16 favorites]


A female acquaintance of mine of visibly non-European ancestry finds being asked about the ethnic origins of her surname more than just offensive: in her experience the asker is essentially positioning her re their bigotry. And she is not the type to take offense easily; very much the opposite. So I assume this is the result of a very great deal of consistent experience.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:25 PM on August 3, 2015 [8 favorites]


My Internet handle, Grobstein, is how an asshole classmate of mine bastardized my actual name, once. It stuck, as an occasional real-world nickname. To all responsible, know this: I will have my revenge. But, anyway, I bring this up because Grobstein is actually also a real name, in this case an actual German last name. When I play online boardgames, I often find myself playing against Germans (Germans love boardgames), who will sometimes speak to me in German, ask if I'm German, or explain the German meaning of my (fake) name ("hard stone").
posted by grobstein at 2:26 PM on August 3, 2015


Please stop doing this. I hate it. If I ask you for your name, please tell me your name. Spell it when I ask you to spell it.

My last name sounds very much like a word you don't use in polite company*, especially when said over the phone.
Whenever I'm asked for my last name, I always say it, then spell it:

Them: And your last name?
Me: Szekely. S-z-e-k-e-l-y.

I figure the slight chance for confusion is better than whoever it is thinking I swore at them for asking a question.

* Yes, it was very fun as a kid.
Yes, I've heard that variation. Yup, that one too.
No, you aren't as funny as you think you are.
posted by madajb at 2:27 PM on August 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


My grandmother had the perfect solution to this problem when she faced a lot of mockery for her name as a child. She changed her first name to something that fit in to the predominant ethnic group (though today the name would sound very very dated and regional). And while she did not change her surname, when making reservations at a restaurant or hotel, she had an invented surname that was an abbreviation of her own which was easy for people on the phone to spell. That was the way she solved the problem.
posted by deanc at 2:30 PM on August 3, 2015


I have a not-super-rare first name (top 100 for the year of my birth) but I spell it with an I instead of a Y. the number of emails I have received addressed to my-name-with-a-Y, when my first name is in my email address and would have to be typed correctly for the email to arrive at all, is-- well. A lot.

In conclusion, that is super annoying and apparently names are hard.
posted by nonasuch at 2:33 PM on August 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


A female acquaintance of mine of visibly non-European ancestry finds being asked about the ethnic origins of her surname more than just offensive: in her experience the asker is essentially positioning her re their bigotry. And she is not the type to take offense easily; very much the opposite. So I assume this is the result of a very great deal of consistent experience.

Yes, absolutely. As a person of color who is ethnically ambiguous, this isn't just a manner of annoyance or offensiveness; it has very real impact on my life, especially in the context of the workplace and professional events/conferences.

It is fascinating watching a white person try to figure out what sort of racism they should deploy once they see or meet me. And whether I'm one of the "good ones" they feel comfortable enough to discuss their anti-black bias with.
posted by Ouverture at 2:33 PM on August 3, 2015 [27 favorites]


what if instead of just resigning yourself to never using your actual name

other people could learn not to be dicks

maybe that would also be a solution

oh wait but millennials complain too much or something
posted by kagredon at 2:34 PM on August 3, 2015 [25 favorites]


Personal pet peeve: People that *change* their names to something that no one will spell correctly (eg: "Sarha", pronounced 'Sarah'). Look, if you do this, you're just *asking* for confusion, frustration, and for people to generally mess it up.

My name: People often assume I'm Jewish (because of my first name) or African American (last name). I am neither. Both assumptions amuse me. [these are assumptions people have before meeting me IRL].
posted by el io at 2:35 PM on August 3, 2015


My last name is unusual. . . People ask about it all the time. I used to get really uptight about it, because they were clearly being judgmental. One day, I was talking with my cousin about it, and she loved the name and wasn't going to take her husbands name because his was boring in comparison and she loved how it was a conversation starter.

posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 4:40 PM on August 3 [+] [!]


I agree with your cousin. No way is she going to get a better last name than Fuzzybutt.
posted by The Bellman at 2:41 PM on August 3, 2015 [19 favorites]


I have a moderately common European name, with a slightly unusual spelling. I always say it and spell it, because half the time I am trying to get vendors and/or students to email me rather than call, and my name is my email address, so getting the spelling wrong means I don't get the message. I get asked what country my name is from all the time (they don't ask me where I am from because, being white, I am from right here, apparently (except in Texas, where i was a dirty foreigner)), I guess to show off their knowledge of European name formation?
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:42 PM on August 3, 2015


I have never, ever, ever, had someone ask where my name is "from", comment on how unusual it is or comment on what they suppose its background must be. And you'd think, being a person who looks and speaks like the most whitebread Englishy English person ever, that having such an unusual name would be more reason for comment, right? But no.

I couldn't possibly be more whitebread. My last name, though unusual, is an actual word in English. Think "Uncle" or something. It's not a complicated word, and it's two friggen syllables and 6 letters.

But A. People cannot pronounce it. B. When I correct them, they always ask where it is from. And I have no idea. It used to be French-Canadian, but my great grandad englishized it in the 1920s when he immigrated here. Beyond that, I have no idea at all - it's a straight translation from the French to the English.

I warned my wife when we got married what she was in for. She didn't believe me. Her, fairly obscure three syllable 10 letter dutch/german maiden name had relatively little trouble compared to my actual word in English last name. She is continually amazed.

My first name is two letters. There are interesting ways to make a mess out of that, too.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 2:43 PM on August 3, 2015


Because if your name is Bill A. Cholmondeley and you're introducing yourself as "Bill"

Cholmondeley, Featherstonehaugh, & Associates, obviously.
posted by a halcyon day at 2:45 PM on August 3, 2015


I feel like these discussions are just revisiting an age old problem: namely, how to we grapple with our own "difference" in the communities we grow up in? Even if we don't come from some unusual ethnic background, our parents might have different habits and cultural practices that we might feel alienate ourselves from the rest of the community. And one way of dealing with this is by way of militant assimilation: change your name to John/Jane Smith, insist on eating hamburgers and meatloaf at meals, and carefully track local trends and adopt them.

Another options is simply to accept that you are going to be different than your surrounding culture, embrace it, and learn how to work with it. And accept that you are going to end up explaining these things to your more provincial neighbors. And even invite them to the upcoming ethnic festival.

Most people tend to come up with some kind of combination of the two, deciding which battles they're going to pick and which they aren't.

A lot of this sounds to me like just a more sophisticated version of every child's complaint, "I just want to be like the other kids!!!"
posted by deanc at 2:48 PM on August 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


guys can we at least pretend that we are all intelligent enough to understand that there is a difference between asking someone who you met at your friend's party how they spell their name and asking when it's for official paperwork
kagredon

Can you explain what you mean?

Seriously, if you met someone at a party and were having trouble with their name, it's rude to ask them to spell it? It's being a dick to try to get someone's name right?
posted by Sangermaine at 2:49 PM on August 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


I feel like these discussions are just revisiting an age old problem...

Yeah: "Why does my 'difference' make me the one stuck accommodating people?"
posted by griphus at 2:53 PM on August 3, 2015 [15 favorites]


I learned this relatively early in life, because I had a friend whose last name was Montoya, and he had had it with people's jokes well before he turned eighteen.
I can empathize with that, considering here in school everyone has a class number. The two weeks of the French Revolution were a bundle of fun considering my first name and falling on the number 16.

Yeah.
posted by lmfsilva at 2:54 PM on August 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Reactions I'm Assuming Nobody Cares About Because Nobody Ever Comments On My Name:

“That’s one I have heard before.”: You sure have.

“Funny, it does sound English.”: It sure does.

“What race is that?”: Well, it could be any race really...but yes, I’m white, as you expected.

“You know, that’s Anglo–Saxon.”: So Anglo–Saxon even the KKK blush.

“Were your parents not hippies or something?”: Sadly not.

“That’s as easy to pronounce as I thought.”: Well, if you don’t speak English it’s actually not that easy to say ‘Smith’. But as we’re having this conversation it is a moot point for you personally. You already know how to spell it too.

“I’m sorry, this must be so annoying for you.”: No, not really, it’s fantastic. Everybody in the English–speaking world has been primed to accept me as an ordinary ‘no comment needed’ member of society based on my name. It’s not only culturally unimpeachable, but I have never once had to even consider that somebody might attempt such a thing. After all, ‘it’s only a name’.
posted by Emma May Smith at 2:54 PM on August 3, 2015 [13 favorites]


I think it's worth risking seeming rude in the party situation, if you ask nicely about the spelling. I once met a cool lady who was a friend of a friend, and I wanted to connect with her later and talk about our common interests. But she had a foreign name, and I'd already asked her for it twice; I was too embarrassed to ask about the spelling. I guessed at it, but I wasn't able to find her on Facebook, and when I asked my original friend about her name, he confessed he couldn't spell it either. I guess if it were a romantic interest, I might have done something dogged and embarrassing about it, but as it was I just had to miss out on a potential friend. So, in short, I do recommend asking about spelling.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:56 PM on August 3, 2015


"In case you want confirmation that that is a Thing, that is definitely a Thing."

My hunch was that the weird way he got to it was because he grew up as a Jew from Germany in Russia, where I assume some circumspection in the topic was normal.

"I wonder how you can so definitively say that.

I get hit with the same tired "clever" reactions when I meet white people and while I've learned over the years how to not rock the boat, my ability to publicly placate white curiosity and entitlement has no reflection on how I really feel.
"

Both because people enjoying talking about their own name is a really well documented phenomenon in communication studies (to the extent that people even respond more positively to things that just share letters from their first name), and because one of the advantages of doing a ton of tracked conversations with definable outcomes is that you can test scripts/approaches against each other and come up with a fairly robust dataset to infer things from. Like, seriously, I personally had between 30 and 100 conversations per day every day for over a year and in one of the most diverse metropolitan areas in the world, and supervised a team of about 20 other people doing the same thing. In the main, talking about someone's name with them is a really reliable icebreaker to build rapport before asking them about their political beliefs, and that's a generalization that applies to a tremendous number of public-focused positions (sales being the most obvious for-profit analogy). The idea that it's just placating white people would both need to overcome a tremendous amount of literature supporting the basic theory (semantic importance of given names), as well as fundraising evidence. The persuasion conversation follow-up data has a ton more confounders, so while my personal anecdotal experience would tend to support this, it's not one where I would feel as comfortable about citing the overall data as support — it's not as concrete an outcome as being able to pretty clearly infer that conversations where name conversation is used to establish rapport tend to raise more money, since the idea that people would contribute more to a political cause in order to placate white people is pretty specious.

Seriously, getting someone to talk about their name and you saying their name as many times as possible will make them more likely to support your political cause. It doesn't work like that with everyone, but the few for whom it's off-putting are more than outweighed by the masses of people for whom it has a real, measurable positive effect.
posted by klangklangston at 2:57 PM on August 3, 2015 [14 favorites]


There's no objective measure for 'rude' here. Someone that often gets questioned about their name might bristle when someone asks them to spell it, to explain its origins, etc., however innocent or well-meaning the intentions of their interlocutor. They might tense up a little, or make a tight smile, and in the limit they might even post a snarky article online about their experience. Others, upon reading the article, may be moved to express their frustration about their own similar experiences. It's not an attack on you.
posted by Peter J. Prufrock at 2:58 PM on August 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


I recently called the helpdesk at work and my help person was named Houston.

"I'm not going to say it," I said.

"Everybody says it sooner or later," she said.

"Not me," I said.

"Give it time," she said.
posted by sidereal at 2:59 PM on August 3, 2015 [146 favorites]


If you really NEED the spelling in a social situation so that you can connect by email, say, asking to swap that info with someone who is interested in staying in contact seems fair enough. But a one-sided request to ask someone with an unusual-to-you name to spell it out would be considered an imposition by most people.
posted by maudlin at 2:59 PM on August 3, 2015


So, going forward, the rule is never, never, ever express a compliment or interest in any aspect of any person you encounter. They aren't unique, and it's rude to compliment any aspect of that non-uniqueness. Just don't say anything. Don't even look. Avert your eyes. You probably should just stay home. Telecommute. Call out for meals. Hope the delivery person is your clone.

*
That said...FWIW, my wife has a pretty damned odd first name and handles the inevitable "how do you spell/say it?" "where's it from?" questions with great aplomb. It's ever entered her mind that people are being rude, insensitive jerks for asking those questions. People are curious. It's a few seconds out of her life to accommodate their curiosity.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:01 PM on August 3, 2015 [9 favorites]


It's not about needing the name, it's about wanting to say it correctly. I don't want to say their name wrong, and may not have caught it or am having trouble with it. I should just keep saying it incorrectly rather than ask for help?
posted by Sangermaine at 3:03 PM on August 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah: "Why does my 'difference' make me the one stuck accommodating people?"

Because life is an endless succession of hardships before our inevitable death.
posted by deanc at 3:05 PM on August 3, 2015 [10 favorites]


So, going forward, the rule is never, never, ever express a compliment or interest in any aspect of any person you encounter. They aren't unique, and it's rude to compliment any aspect of that non-uniqueness. Just don't say anything. Don't even look. Avert your eyes. You probably should just stay home. Telecommute. Call out for meals. Hope the delivery person is your clone.

As mentioned earlier, there are so many things to talk about that don't potentially involve otherizing people of color or immigrants.
posted by Ouverture at 3:05 PM on August 3, 2015 [12 favorites]


There's just enough shitty rude people out there that they have made it rude to comment on how someone seems different to you. This is why we can't have nice things. If you meet someone and you notice something about them that's different, it's nice not to comment on it. It's nice to put yourself in their shoes for a second.

I get this about my hair sometimes ever since I was little and even though I know it makes people happy to give me a compliment it makes me want to disappear. I'm lucky that this is the least of my worries though.
posted by bleep at 3:09 PM on August 3, 2015 [11 favorites]


If you're in a situation where you will be addressing someone by their first or last name, making an effort to get the pronunciation correct seems fair enough. But the spelling may not be intuitive, so getting that info on its own may not necessarily help. People who ask questions so that they can address someone properly (like the teacher in part viii of this story) are pretty cool, and if that if your intent, that's great. But people who ask out of pure curiosity may offend.
posted by maudlin at 3:10 PM on August 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'd rather people made the effort to get my name right - not doing so seems rude, especially if you're trying to sell me something or whatever. My name is fairly unusual so I'm willing to put up with a bit of interrogation to that end. In fact the frequent need for it is a good filter - those who don't bother have already told me more about themselves than they intended, quite often. It's amazing how many people are willing to just call me Melvin or Mervin (or worse) even after many introductions, phone calls, written communications. Easy to guess who they're most interested in. All this has taught me to make the effort, for sure.

On introduction in social situations, people often say I have a good name. My adopted commom response is along the lines of "Thanks, but I didn't choose it myself" - this can be delivered as a snarky or jocular response, as required, which is handy. It can get tiresome, answering the same questions repeatedly, but one has to remember that people who have never met someone with my name before have, in fact, never met someone with my name before and don't, in fact, ask these same questions over and over, even though it may feel like that as the askee.

Fucking up my family name is something else altogether and, surprisingly (to me), is equally common. Still, it makes it quick and easy to hang up on cold callers. Anybody wanting to speak to Mr Kiln (etc etc) can call another number without any further input from me.
posted by merlynkline at 3:13 PM on August 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


Like a lot of these things, how you personally react will be dependent on your situation.

My last name is not complicated, but it has a silent vowel on the end so people usually pronounce/spell it wrong. But as a white many-many-generations American, I don't have to worry about people's motivations when asking questions about my name. Similarly, if people ask me about my ethnic background (which does happen for white people!) its usually more genuine curiousity (which European country(s)) than about racial identification.

My wife doesn't mind if people ask her questions about her name, but she's actually from another country (so "Where are you from" is reasonable enough) and clearly does not speak English fluently or as her native language. She doesn't expect people to know her name, so she either tells them or sometimes uses an easier-to-spell one (I still am surprised people find hers hard to spell, but since I do speak the language its from I guess I can't judge).

But neither of these situations are similar to a non-white person who grew up in America, and has had to deal with racism and othering despite being as American as I am.
posted by thefoxgod at 3:17 PM on August 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Personal pet peeve: People that *change* their names to something that no one will spell correctly (eg: "Sarha", pronounced 'Sarah'). Look, if you do this, you're just *asking* for confusion, frustration, and for people to generally mess it up.

I did this! And I pronounce it slightly differently than people assume. It was my choice, though, and by and large I don't care about spelling, so it never bothers me when people get it "wrong" or comment on it. But also - I'm white. People aren't trying to figure out how to position me re: their biases, they know I'm white and so my status is secure.
posted by Deoridhe at 3:19 PM on August 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


I might even start to enquire if Michaels have ever considered dropping a vowel to make their name easier to spell

You would probably be surprised how often people misspell the name "Michael."
posted by straight at 3:21 PM on August 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


Seriously, getting someone to talk about their name and you saying their name as many times as possible will make them more likely to support your political cause.

Dude. You just tried to refute someone saying it's annoying when people comment on their name by saying, "But scientists have proven it's easier to manipulate you that way!"
posted by straight at 3:25 PM on August 3, 2015 [17 favorites]


People susceptible to cold calling continue making life more annoying for the rest of us, story at 11.
posted by griphus at 3:29 PM on August 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


"What do you mean you find advertisements annoying? We have data that proves they work!"
posted by straight at 3:29 PM on August 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


I assume that everyone who enjoys telling strangers or people you've just met that they have pretty names does that regardless of the person's gender presentation, right?
posted by FelliniBlank at 3:30 PM on August 3, 2015 [15 favorites]


is an actual word in English. Think "Uncle" or something. It's not a complicated word, and it's two friggen syllables and 6 letters.

teapot? toaster! nephew? WAFFLE
posted by poffin boffin at 3:41 PM on August 3, 2015 [14 favorites]


My name's Leah, pronounced "Laya" (from the hebrew pronunciation), and regularly, if people know how my name is spelled, then they often respond with "Oh, Lee-uh". Like, right away, "Hi, my name is 'Laya' ", "Pleased to meet you, 'Lee-uh'". And the mispronunciation persists---there are people I serve on committees with who still mispronounce my name.

It's weird. (Sometimes I get Lee, also, from someone trying to pronounce my name just seeing it written down.)
posted by leahwrenn at 3:42 PM on August 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


WAFFLE

"So, uh, mister waff-lay, is that how you pronounce it?"
posted by deanc at 3:42 PM on August 3, 2015 [8 favorites]


I have an unusual for California first name and I have never been bothered by comments and queries about it. I'm not bothered when someone says, "like the drummer from Metallica?" I'm not even bothered when folks try to repeat it back to me and miss by a few letters ("Mark?" "Mars?" "Larry?" "Lard?" (maybe that last one is unwelcome)). Often it helps break the ice, and all other times it is a mark of distinction. I've got heaps of privilege otherwise, so maybe the othering doesn't burn as much.

Anyway, Jaya is a great name and I hope she likes it save for the occasional annoyances.
posted by notyou at 3:43 PM on August 3, 2015


My last name resembles the name of a famous movie monster, but is pronounced with the emphasis on an entirely different syllable than said monster's name. Somewhere around my mid-20s I came to realize that trivial day-to-day social/professional interactions would be SO MUCH EASIER if I just decided that my last name has an equally valid alternate pronounciation instead of correcting people and having them repeat it back to me in an exaggerated way like I'd just handed them some fascinating new sound-object to play with.

It got completely mangled at Ellis Island anyway, so why be uptight about it?
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:50 PM on August 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


So, going forward, the rule is never, never, ever express a compliment or interest in any aspect of any person you encounter. They aren't unique, and it's rude to compliment any aspect of that non-uniqueness. Just don't say anything. Don't even look. Avert your eyes. You probably should just stay home. Telecommute. Call out for meals. Hope the delivery person is your clone.

Yes.
posted by Faint of Butt at 3:51 PM on August 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


As mentioned earlier, there are so many things to talk about that don't potentially involve otherizing people of color or immigrants.

"Ooh that's a nice nam… er, can I touch your hair?"
posted by a halcyon day at 3:55 PM on August 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


My last name resembles the name of a famous movie monster

adam sandler!
posted by poffin boffin at 4:03 PM on August 3, 2015 [23 favorites]


My last name resembles the name of a famous movie monster, but is pronounced with the emphasis on an entirely different syllable than said monster's name

"Thanks for coming in Mr...Creaturefromtheblacklagoon?"

"It's pronounced Creech-Ar, asshole!"
posted by Sangermaine at 4:09 PM on August 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


"It's pronounced 'Fronkensteen'."
posted by The Tensor at 4:11 PM on August 3, 2015 [18 favorites]


How about just saying, "That's a pretty name."

Or how about not mentioning the name at all? Exoticism is tiring.


Ha! No one can win this game - NO ONE!

Doesn't it matter if the person commenting on your name is just trying to be friendly, or make small talk? Honest question - doesn't intent in a situation like this matter?
posted by MoxieProxy at 4:27 PM on August 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Nope.
posted by griphus at 4:33 PM on August 3, 2015 [10 favorites]


I transferred over a magazine subscription from my father to my cousin, and I called him about it. I needed to confirm how he spelled his name.

I said, "So, is your name Firstname Lastname?"
"No - it's 'Asparagus Parsnip'. Of course it's Firstname Lastname!'
"I just need the spelling."
"OH. OK" He then gives me the spelling. But, his former deed cannot go unpunished.

Consequently, my cousin is now getting the New Yorker addressed to "Firstname Asparagus Lastname".
posted by spinifex23 at 4:34 PM on August 3, 2015 [11 favorites]


Doesn't it matter if the person commenting on your name is just trying to be friendly, or make small talk? Honest question - doesn't intent in a situation like this matter?

How can I tell someone's intent? I have lived among the white tribes of North America for decades and despite studying them very closely, I have yet to find a small light on the back of a person's neck that tells me if they're asking about or commenting on my name out of a desire to figure out how most effectively put me in a foreign, exotic box of stereotypes (which has everything to do with my race) or out of well-intentioned, genuine curiosity (which...still has everything to do with my race).

And even if I could tell, this consideration of intent you're asking about is just another disparity I would experience solely due to my skin color.

Again, there are just so many ways to be friendly or to make small talk. It isn't as though people interact and meet in voids lacking all social context. Ask about who they know at the party. Ask about what they're doing in life. Ask about what they're passionate about. Ask where their favorite brunch spot is in town. The possibilities are endless and none of them have to involve subtle degradation!
posted by Ouverture at 4:38 PM on August 3, 2015 [24 favorites]


Celebs: they're just like us! Louis CK's actual last name is the Hungarian stalwart Szekely. "CK" is just him giving up and giving people something to say that's sorta kinda a homonym for the real thing.

Huh, I never knew that. Though according to this video, it's....something else.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:40 PM on August 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Honestly, the amount of hang wringing over "Just accept it as a name and move on" is really making me side-eye people.

No one is asking for ten pints of blood, or your first three children, or even for any actual action... in fact, it's easier to NOT give your opinion on someone's name than it is to open your mouth and say whatever random thing someone else's name makes you think.

You don't actually have to share your opinion on every damn thing that flashes in front of your eyes. In fact, it's a pretty good idea to practice doing the opposite of that.
posted by Deoridhe at 4:42 PM on August 3, 2015 [24 favorites]


Doesn't it matter if the person commenting on your name is just trying to be friendly, or make small talk? Honest question - doesn't intent in a situation like this matter?

Hey, let me pass judgment on this aspect of you that you had no control over. Good news -- my judgment is positive! You're welcome.
posted by prize bull octorok at 4:42 PM on August 3, 2015 [26 favorites]


Doesn't it matter if the person commenting on your name is just trying to be friendly, or make small talk? Honest question - doesn't intent in a situation like this matter?

I have a name that screams Central Europe and my last name is super Hungarian. Just about the only people who have ever asked about it who are neither thinking they're clever nor trying to other me (I'm white, but sometimes read as 'not American', depending on the situation) are people from Hungary hoping I speak Hungarian. But they lead with "Hey! I'm Hungarian and you might be too!" not "Your name's so weird/interesting/hard to pronounce/whatever".
posted by hoyland at 4:43 PM on August 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


I live for this.

Uh yep.

My name is also the name of a sitcom character (from back in the day), and on the show it was said in a mocking way and now--you guessed it--people say my name to me in the same mocking way...and then laugh-apologize. So I get that people have an urge to respond a certain way to a name. But for those of us who have heard it before and often, just cut that shit out. Being gracious is exhausting. /hobbyhorse
posted by datawrangler at 4:45 PM on August 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


My name is DeAnne. You would think nobody could get it wrong. It's dead simple, and there's even a capital letter in there to break it up. None the less, I answered to Dean for years, because you don't keep correcting the mother superior. Even now, some people treat it as though it is an exotic flower they must turn over and try permutations...so, Diana, Deena, Delores....now, if anyone looks the slightest bit confused, I just say, "call me D. Please."
posted by dejah420 at 4:46 PM on August 3, 2015


You don't actually have to share your opinion on every damn thing that flashes in front of your eyes. In fact, it's a pretty good idea to practice doing the opposite of that.

Deoridhe, could you tell one of my co-workers that? Transportation to and from the office cheerfully provided. /derail
posted by datawrangler at 4:47 PM on August 3, 2015


I always felt bad for the children of the late Frank Zappa, who were named "Dweezil" and "Moon Unit." They're adults now, I guess they're doing OK with it.
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 4:54 PM on August 3, 2015


Mod note: Couple of comments deleted. People have different takes on this, but please consider whether your comment will come across like you're advising somebody not to be annoyed by an experience they have, that you don't have, or that doesn't annoy you because you're in a different situation than they are.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 5:01 PM on August 3, 2015 [17 favorites]


"That doesn't sound Indian" OMFG I GET THIS ALL THE TIME (and I'm not even technically Indian, try moving a few KM east). My name is an English word and people trip over themselves to make it more exotic than it really is. JUST PRONOUNCE IT AS IT'S SPELLED I'M A WORD IN THE DICTIONARY GAH
posted by divabat at 5:03 PM on August 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


maudlin: "If you're in a situation where you will be addressing someone by their first or last name, making an effort to get the pronunciation correct seems fair enough. But the spelling may not be intuitive, so getting that info on its own may not necessarily help."
I can only remember people's names if I can spell them, so I'm always paying attention to name tags and such. On the other hand, once I've seen people's names in writing or have had them spell it out for me, I can somehow remember and correctly spell full names even if I've only met you once before and haven't seen you for a long time.

I have a colleague who doesn't have a first and a last name, just a name. Five letters, one word, that's it. That's always a lot of fun.
posted by brokkr at 5:10 PM on August 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


As for spelling: dude, people fuck up my name when it's PRINTED RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM. My last name ends in "fiq", pretty easy right? No! People read it as "rif" for some reason I don't even know. WHY. WHYYYYY.

So if you're wondering why people like me are cranky about names? It's because no matter how many accommodations we make to make it ~easier~ on you to learn our names, y'all still don't care anyway! You have your preconceived notions about us and you'd rather try to jam things like our names into that rather than being willing to be wrong.

Personal pet peeve: People that *change* their names to something that no one will spell correctly (eg: "Sarha", pronounced 'Sarah'). Look, if you do this, you're just *asking* for confusion, frustration, and for people to generally mess it up.

Nobody's asking for any of that. There are many names that "seem" like a misspelling but actually make perfect sense in another language. This is rude to an extreme.
posted by divabat at 5:18 PM on August 3, 2015 [10 favorites]


I don't want to say their name wrong, and may not have caught it or am having trouble with it. I should just keep saying it incorrectly rather than ask for help?

I don't mind repeating my name when people actually verbalize this as a request. (Vs. faintly frowning and just never making an attempt, or taking your latter option.) Just what you've said above would be fine with me - "I'm sorry, I didn't quite catch it, would you mind repeating your name again?" Then I would say, "Sure, it's [my name, slowly]. Then you could have a go, and I would correct it, and we would both smile and ideally move the fuck on with a normal conversation about the weather (yes the weather is perfect).
posted by cotton dress sock at 5:23 PM on August 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


My mom named me Paula, which is a somewhat uncommon name in both the US and Mexico but easy enough for people to understand right away. My maiden last name has a ñ in it; my married last name is a relatively common English surname which is shared with a popular grocery store chain. This leads MANY people to assume I'm white, despite my accent, and it is very amusing to me to watch people's reactions when their assumptions are proven wrong.

I am one of those people who enthusiastically compliments others on their name (Siobhan! Valentine! Ishwarya! Maynard!) but this thread is making me reconsider my practices...
posted by cobain_angel at 5:34 PM on August 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Nice to meet ya, Paula Pigglywiggly
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:55 PM on August 3, 2015 [18 favorites]


My last name is vaguely Anglo-sounding (on account of my grandfather shortening it from something more ethnic) but not an actual last name otherwise in use by more than a few dozen people, and I have a moderately uncommon, though not super-rare, given name. I am confident that I am the only person with my full name ever to live, even not counting the middle.

I was rather disturbed, on vanity-googling myself (as you do, particularly if your name is unique) a few years ago, to discover that somebody had written a fairly terrible-looking self-published heroic fantasy saga where the hero is bullied as a child by somebody with my exact first and last name, who the hero eventually slays in a particularly gruesome and physically improbable way at the end of Book I.

My first fear was that maybe this was somebody who like thinks I bullied them in school and is holding this insane grudge. I don't remember ever bullying anybody and don't recognize his name, but who knows, right?

The author has enough of a social media profile that I can see that he's like eight or ten years older than me and Canadian and doesn't look at all familiar, though, so now I'm just totally at a loss. I have toyed with the idea of emailing him to ask, either under my own name or a fake one (in case he really is some kind of murderous stalker), but in the end I've always decided it was better to just leave well enough alone.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 5:59 PM on August 3, 2015 [15 favorites]


I couldn't possibly be more whitebread. My last name, though unusual, is an actual word in English. Think "Uncle" or something. It's not a complicated word, and it's two friggen syllables and 6 letters.

See, my problem is that my unusual last name is an actual, relatively new compound word in English -- one that didn't really become notable/knowable until the '90s, when that compound-word-named item of jewelry became an item commonly found in shopping mall kiosks and craft fairs. And yet it's not pronounced like that at all. It's instead pronounced like the name of a famous technology guy (and is derived from the name of the same Germanic region; we, all of us with that region as the surname's root, were descended from there at some point).

So people I meet either mispronounce it and are all "Ha ha, you're named after that stupid piece of compound-word-named-jewelry that was popular in the 90s???" Or they get the pronunciation right, and they're all like, "Wow, are you any relation to him? That's so cool."

So, you know, mixed bag.

I feel like I might have written one of the most convoluted crossword clues ever. Please no guessing in the thread. Too Googleable.

Seven letters
posted by mudpuppie at 6:00 PM on August 3, 2015 [9 favorites]


I can only pronounce my last name correctly because my first name has a 3 letter combo in it that my mouth can't form without dropping 1-2 of the letters. I now use my 1 syllable middle name as my first but that has a silent E at the end and nobody gets that either. What kind of special snowflake does that make me?
posted by Hermione Granger at 6:04 PM on August 3, 2015


Seven letters

So not 'Ms. Bellychain' then
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:05 PM on August 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


My name is basically Anglo T. Saxon, but I always make my very best effort to pronounce people's names as close to the way they do as possible. That's why I was so disappointed when a Chinese coworker asked me to start calling him by an English name. I thought I had been doing a good job! Of course, it wasn't about me at all, and I called him whatever he asked me to.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:07 PM on August 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


My last name is pretty obscurely Scottish, one that most Americans have likely never heard or seen before--a few folks with that name immigrated in colonial times and apparently did not reproduce widely. Many people looking at it guess that it might be South Asian (the vowels and consonants seem more likely that than anything else). My mom is a retired therapist and had a client who did several maneuvers before meeting her to try to find out if she was Asian. Now, I just happen to live in a place with many South Asian people, and multiple times, students have asked me at the beginning of the semester if my husband is Indian.

(My husband is actually a Jewish guy with an unlikely first name received from hippie parents and always mispronounced and an uncommon German last name. He is a comedian and frequently is introduced as something that is not even vaguely his name. His grandfather has stories about being contacted by German or Austrian people who think they might be related until he tells them that he is Jewish and barely escaped from the Nazis in Vienna. Then they hang up.)
posted by hydropsyche at 6:11 PM on August 3, 2015


When asked for my last name, I just automatically go "Wittler... W-I-T-T-L-E-R" because otherwise whomever will make it "W-H" and fail to find me in their database. (Which can be a way to avoid getting INTO some databases you don't want)

I once considered getting a personalized license plate that reads "2TS NOH" (2 Ts, No H) but on the road really wasn't where I needed to explain my name.

them: "WHITTLER? Like one who whittles?"
me: "no, no H"
them: "So WITLER, like HI..."
me: "WITH TWO T'S."

Of course, I went through most of elementary school called Hitler by the most influential bullies.

My parents never fully explained where they got my first and middle names, especially the no-casual-variation 'Craig' with 'Lee' that sounds like it's trying to be the casual-variation "Craigly!"

But there was a "family tale" about my dad, getting mildly drunk the night I was born, seriously considered naming me Wendell for the alliteration. Consensus was it sounded "silly", so when I got into radio doing a "wacky disc jockey" schtick, my on-air name had to be Wendell Wittler. Also, when I was calling in to every not-very-serious talk show in town, being Wendell was memorable and helped me get my first pro radio job... screening the phones for radio talk shows. I kept Wendell for all my "less-serious" public-facing enterprises, including my first Blog (but was beaten to first use of "WW's Blog" by Wil Wheaton), and I decided to be 'MetaFilter's Own wendell' until my 55th birthday when I decided "I'm not too old for silliness, but I'm too old for THIS".

And THAT... is the REST of the story.
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:20 PM on August 3, 2015 [14 favorites]


The only thing that irritates me is when people ask "but how is your name really pronounced"* like this is some secret I'm supposed to induct them into. Because, even if they could pronounce it 100% 'authentically', it would still sound out of place in an English conversation, so I really do prefer people to use the 'Americanized' pronunciation.

*it requires a subtle rolled 'R' and English speakers are typically only capable of going completely overboard with rolled R's, not to mention a 'Y' vowel sound that's uncommon in English.
posted by Pyry at 6:24 PM on August 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


My last name is Lee. All the freakin' time, (white) people say "Oh, like BRUCE LEE?!?" and sometimes they make karate "hiyyya" sounds. I am white.
posted by Cookiebastard at 6:37 PM on August 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


Oh yeah, the one time I did a radio gig that was "too serious" for "Wendell", I just used my first and middle names: Craig Lee. No Bruce Lee nonsense, because at about the same time, a gentleman named Craig Lee became the very high-profile trendy rock music critic for L.A. Weekly ... so I was asked why I was playing Bee Gees when my reviews were praising the Sex Pistols.
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:50 PM on August 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Dude. You just tried to refute someone saying it's annoying when people comment on their name by saying, "But scientists have proven it's easier to manipulate you that way!""

Or, "But scientists have found that the vast, vast, vast majority of people actually enjoy talking about it!" But tell me more about why no one should make eye contact when having a conversation because one time you bought an encyclopedia.
posted by klangklangston at 7:07 PM on August 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


When I was a kid, I felt it was only logical that it was fine for me to ask people about their names and accents and whatever, because I was an intelligent and curious and open-minded person.

At some point, something I read got it across to me: I was repeatedly elevating my curiosity over other people's discomfort/pain/irritation/history.

That's not OK or cool. It doesn't matter if I'm tickled when people ask me about my name. The point is that everything doesn't revolve around me.

What do I lose if I don't ask someone? A moment of interesting information, maybe, but I have this iPhone in my pocket. I can hit Random Page on Wikipedia if I really need the stimulation.

What if I do ask someone? The chance that I've just made someone's day a little worse, reinforced their perceptions of people like me, made them feel unwelcome and different, or whatever far outweighs what I lose by not asking.

If you feel your back getting up when you read this thread, or if a flush rises to your cheeks as you remember the question you asked your co-worker just yesterday, or if you're reaching to type But I'm just curious or names are beautiful or anything else along those lines, I ask you to take a moment and reread the comments by Ouverture, sparklemotion, rtha, qcubed, divabat, and others, and really reflect on it before you react.

P. S. Intent, schmintent.
posted by wintersweet at 7:15 PM on August 3, 2015 [21 favorites]


It's a thing we immigrants live with. (In my case, the immigrants who gave me my strange first and last names arrived around 1730 and around 1760.)
posted by homerica at 7:18 PM on August 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


klangklangston, if you're going to focus so much on this research, it'd be super awesome if you shared a link to it. Without having read it, my comments in advance would be that context matters.

My students do presentations about their names, and they usually enjoy it. They are in a room full of peers where everyone's name comes from a different place, and where everyone is sharing on a fairly equal level (and I do the exact same presentation that they do). That's entirely different from the experiences that many people have with endless inquiries and vague compliments about their names.
posted by wintersweet at 7:20 PM on August 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


> Or, "But scientists have found that the vast, vast, vast majority of people actually enjoy talking about it!" But tell me more about why no one should make eye contact when having a conversation because one time you bought an encyclopedia.

Sometimes I'm fine talking about it but it's really contextually sensitive, so this "But SCIENCE!" response just leaves me feeling pretty cold. I am not an experiment or a result; I am a person. You know this. We've had meals and beers together!
posted by rtha at 7:31 PM on August 3, 2015 [9 favorites]


I have to credit Metafilter (and the wider Internet) for giving me an education in sensitivity because through work I meet at least several people per week with names I've never ever heard before. Many of which are very beautiful and interesting. And I never tell them this because it's unprofessional. If they work here in the states, they're probably sick of people exoticizing them. If they're in their home country, it's often not an unusual name at all and I sound ignorant.

I also try to never be That Guy who, unprompted, shortens someone's four syllable name to one syllable because he's lazy. If I can pronounce and spell Montesquieu and Wittgenstein and Dostoyevsky, I can for damn sure learn to rattle off Indian names.
posted by desjardins at 7:52 PM on August 3, 2015 [14 favorites]


My first name alone is enough for people to deal with. My full married name sounds, as my dad put it, "ethnic." My middle name is Hungarian but sounds like an African American or Spanish name, and my last name is very Italian, but sounds as though it could also be Spanish/Latino.

I somehow got signed up for a subscription to Essence magazine and I literally think it was just due to my full name. (Because I didn't sign up for it!)

I sincerely think some people may be confused when a very European looking small (very) white girl walks in the room with my full name. Granted, just first and last isn't as confusing. I've also had some people recognize my last name as Italian and kind of confusingly ask "Oh is that Italian?" Then they get clarity once I say I'm married.
posted by Crystalinne at 7:54 PM on August 3, 2015


I'll take the name conversation over miring us both in the "but where are you REALLY FROM" conversation any day, but they both get pretty tedious to be honest. Yes, it's with a y. I know the flower is spelled with a j. No, it's not spelled that way just to be special. I can provide the etymology of jasmine for you should you require it.

My personal pet peeve is random white people attempting to pronounce my name the "right" way. I introduced myself as rhymes with jasmine Yasmin for a reason. You only get to pronounce it the "right" way if you're family, you share a first language with me, or if that's the way your native language pronounces it. Consider it my personal enforcement of boundaries and a deliberate act of codeswitching.
posted by yasaman at 8:15 PM on August 3, 2015 [8 favorites]


I hated my name when I was young because it was strange to most people where I grew up and was almost always mispronounced. (I also was frequently told that their cousin's / mother's / best friend's DOG had my name, and couldn't understand why I found that tactless.) Somewhere in there, I started writing it with an accent on one of the vowels to encourage correct pronunciation.

Then I moved to the other side of the world, where people from part of my ethnic background are extremely common, and even Anglos couldn't understand how anyone could mispronounce my name. Since then, a character on a popular children's TV show has my name, so I bet it's a lot more familiar now. But instead of the dog, I'd get compared to the children's character. Yay.

On another note, I've been getting flu shots at work for years from a (female) Dr Quinn. Every year I think "Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman" and have a good internal chuckle. Hilarious! And every year I somehow manage not to share my scintillating wit with her. I'm pretty sure she's heard it before anyway.
posted by Athanassiel at 8:16 PM on August 3, 2015


Please stop doing this. I hate it. [The spelling of a name only] If I ask you for your name, please tell me your name. Spell it when I ask you to spell it. Otherwise, this will happen (your name is Szekely for the purposes of this example):

You know what I hate? Having a pretty normal--if somewhat slightly rare--English last name that is impossible for people to spell correctly. If I told you my last name, and even if you heard it the exact correct phonemes from my mouth, you'd assume it was spell this way when in fact it's spell this way. And then there's the ease with which a T sound slips to a D sound, prompting the listener to a whole other subset of wrong spellings. I'd say maybe 2 or 3 percent of people could spell my last name correctly, and that's purely by random guessing.

If I'm on the phone and people need to take down my last name, I say my last name and then immediately spell it afterwards.

And I'm really not liking the hypersensitivity people have about their names. If your name is unusual, own it. If someone says it's a pretty name, why not take them at their word? Or at least acknowledge it's an attempt to spur a conversation...or is that out, too? The world-weary eye rolling about this is simply obnoxious.
posted by zardoz at 8:33 PM on August 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


My rule of thumb is that whenever I meet someone, and there's some aspect about them that probably attracts negative or weird attention, and I think about commenting on it, even in a positive way, I don't.

Because a million people have made that connection before me, many of them in disparaging ways, and I've just become the millionth-and-one asshole to force them into the same conversation about their race/ethnicity/name/disability/height/whatever.

It feels nicer and politer to be the one person who isn't that person, than it does to satisfy my own dumb curiosity. I can live without knowing a stranger's ethnic history. It's not like I need to figure that out to know how to interact with them.

There are so many things to talk about, why go to the same well that racist people do?
posted by Solon and Thanks at 8:36 PM on August 3, 2015 [13 favorites]


I live in Korea, and my family name has a consonant sound that doesn't exist in Korean.

People constantly comment on it and how in Korean it sounds like a common (English loan-) word.

It's so awesome I can't hold my pee in.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:27 PM on August 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


My rule of thumb is that whenever I meet someone, and there's some aspect about them that probably attracts negative or weird attention, and I think about commenting on it, even in a positive way, I don't.

My rule of thumb is that if there's anything I'm attracted to commenting on, that isn't specific to me personally, I don't say anything. It's pretty certain that they've heard it before. If someone has an unusual last name, no comments, but if they have an unusual last name and it's the same as an old roommate's best friend, then I might say something.

As for intent, my pet theory is that intent truly stopped mattering with the rise of the mobile phone, especially the smart phone. Once it became possible to socialize while ignoring the people immediately around you, the need to be able to have a simple interaction with random people was gone, and with it, a big chunk of empathy.
posted by conic at 10:24 PM on August 3, 2015


Mostly I'm tired of people putting random L's in my last name.

When people insist on commenting on my fairly common first name my usual comment is, "If you come up with something original, let me know".
posted by Confess, Fletch at 10:48 PM on August 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


"klangklangston, if you're going to focus so much on this research, it'd be super awesome if you shared a link to it. Without having read it, my comments in advance would be that context matters."

Ironically, the public side of the research project that our canvassing was a part of turned out to be totally fabricated. But for a background article supporting a more general application: this 1990 tipping study is frequently cited.

But getting someone talking about their name is both consistent with research on use of first name and compliance (willingness to perform a favor) or persuasion, and with studies on the ability to recall other people's names. There's even a background theory of unit cohesion and lazy ("heuristic") thinking that seems to explain it.

"I am not an experiment or a result; I am a person. You know this. We've had meals and beers together!"

I know! I like you even more than the beers or dinners! I'm not meaning to come across as dismissing your experience.
posted by klangklangston at 11:24 PM on August 3, 2015


Metafilter: Mathowie's actual last name is Haughey. "Mathowie" is just him giving up and giving people something to say that's sorta kinda a homonym for the real thing.

That may be kinda long for a tagline.
posted by Panjandrum at 11:34 PM on August 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


most people I grew up with were just a generation or two from having come to America, but it was pretty much accepted as normal that we would be asked about and talk about our names that were something other than "John Smith."

Oddly enough, I work with a person named John Smith, and he gets grilled on his name far more often than I with boringly "ethnic" name do. Apparently there is even a John Smith club of sorts comprised exclusively of people with one thing in common.

It occasionally happens that people will assume he's giving them a fake name and get slightly annoyed.
posted by xigxag at 11:41 PM on August 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ironically, the public side of the research project that our canvassing was a part of turned out to be totally fabricated.

Is this the LaCour study? That study seems to show up in the most interesting places.

But getting someone talking about their name is both consistent with research on use of first name and compliance (willingness to perform a favor) or persuasion, and with studies on the ability to recall other people's names. There's even a background theory of unit cohesion and lazy ("heuristic") thinking that seems to explain it.

The tipping study has no information about the racial demographics of the people doing the tipping or the server.

And more importantly! It has nothing to do with what the original article is talking about *or* I and other people of color have been talking about: racism and othering.
posted by Ouverture at 12:16 AM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


My first name is Alok. Most people I meet can't even pronounce it, and this is after they have heard me say it, often twice. Lots of people ask if they can call me Al instead ("only if I can call you Betty, ha ha ha" you fucking moron). One person asked if she could call me A. I said no. She said, "Aw man, now I'm going to have to learn how to say your name." It's four letters. It's two vowels and two consonants. You can get through this, I believe in you.

Lots people don't try to pronounce it, they just say, "Wow, that's a really cool name!" to which I usually say, "Thanks, I'll tell my parents you said so. I didn't really have a lot to do with it." The thing is, it isn't a cool name, like at all. If you are in India or deal regularly with Indian people, it is an extremely common and fairly typical name in and of itself, like Mark or Sean or Khalid or Ivan. It's only cool or interesting or unusual to you because you don't know anything. The more you gain even the tiniest bit of knowledge about where I'm from, the less interesting my name is. If I celebrated the supposed uniqueness of my name, I would be celebrating your utter ignorance. Why would I want to celebrate that? Why would you want me to?

It's not, like, the worst thing that could ever happen. It's fine. I'm not going to stop anyone from telling me how amazing my name is and being pleased with themselves for having taken such foreignness in stride. But, almost without exception, people who are astonished by my name turn out to be pretty boring people. I do appreciate it when you self-select into the category of people I don't have to pay attention to anymore.
posted by Errant at 12:39 AM on August 4, 2015 [20 favorites]


I have a Cajun spelling of a Scottish last name (because Nova Scotia). I gave the first three letters at a hardware store to pick up an order, and a round-faced old man with an English accent filled in the last ones for me. I corrected him with my family's spelling, and he heard my American accent and shook his head.

"We gave you a perfectly good language..."

I almost walked out the shop and then turned around and looked at him. "Wait which? Gaelic?" I pronounced it "gallik" because I meant the Scottish dialect, just FYI.

He grumbled and turned away. Okay, then.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 1:03 AM on August 4, 2015


Oh yes, and when people hear my name and try to comment on my Scottish ancestry, I always respond with "Well if I'm Scottish, then the Queen is German."
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 2:18 AM on August 4, 2015


Nothing about how her name sounds a lot like a DS9 character?

This is a nice thread and all but which DS9 character does her name sound like? Is it Lwaxana? But the vowels!
posted by Svejk at 4:00 AM on August 4, 2015


Am having sleeping issues so no idea how this is going to come out

Klangklangston and deanc: ethnic and bicultural and 3rd cultural identities and assimilation strategies and their relationships to self-esteem and wellbeing (all of which can be variously conceived as a general or domain-specific or trait or state/context-derived constructs, not all of which are addressed by every social psych study on names [or ethnicity]), and evidently from this thread, names, are complicated, yo [pdf, good paper, you should both check it out]. (That's before race even comes into it.)

Research on responses to names using samples from the general US population may not apply. Cf yasaman. We code-switch; we also identity-switch - some of us have complicated and context-dependent feelings about all or some of it.

Your personal experiences of having chosen a particular acculturation strategy given the particular local culture given to you, or of not actually having a difficult first name (cf griphus) may not apply. (Cf every person in this thread who is presenting views and experiences different from the ones you like.)

Maugrim: "sanctimonious jerkishness"? You might want to have a look at that paper, too. People are prickly for reasons.
posted by cotton dress sock at 4:31 AM on August 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


Wow The more you gain even the tiniest bit of knowledge about where I'm from, the less interesting my name is. If I celebrated the supposed uniqueness of my name, I would be celebrating your utter ignorance. sounds like something some Draco Malfoy type character in a YA novel would say. Is that really the gear this site has shifted into today?

And to be clear, Errant, i'm not calling you out specifically and i don't even want to talk about that post. I just think there's a lot of(understandable! relatable!) pent up aggression in here and some of it's coming out in a really gross way. There's a level of assholery going on here that really doesn't need to be brought here.


That said, I'm cursed with a first AND last name that always gets spelled wrong. And amusingly, it doesn't even sound particularly unusual when you say it. I have never avoided spelling it out over the phone, and i'm constantly correcting(or just accepting if its unimportant) its misspelling essentially everywhere, and having that snail-trail "so where's that from?" conversation. As a child, i think i actually exploited this misspelling once or twice to get two of things. It doesn't help that i'm biracial, and am basically, as my also biracial and ambigious friend joked when he said we should form a band based on this joke, racially ambiguous man. I can give almost any bullshit answer and people believe me. I've had people cut me off right when i started to explain it and go "you're black irish, right! i knew it!" when that's the most out-there shit i've ever heard.

Nonetheless, somehow, "oh where's that name from?" is still a stupid where-you-from question that i hate, but it's the most inoffensive and innocent one. If i had to choose, i'd rather listen to that one for the rest of my life because it never gearshifts to the dreaded "yea but where are you REALLY from?"... well, at least, yet.

The people i really feel bad for though aren't the people with "ethnic" names. It's, growing up in the bong-hit northwest, the people with weird hippy names like Rainy Day Sky*, Atomic, Trillian, Cake, and several other people i know with names that are such a googlebomb i dare not even post them.

They're forever doomed to roam the wasteland with multiple forms of ID, and have stupid experiences like the 7-11 clerk snatching their ID until they called the cops because "that's mclovin level fake, cmon man, why would you even try that"?. Some of them carry around multiple expired state IDs just to pull out when people drill down on calling bullshit. They all have "yes my parents were hippies, yea it's $story, CHANGE SUBJECT" as a perfectly crafted script they try and ram through that people usually try and steamroll or worse, call over their other friends and go "haha look at this persons name!".

I'll take my lifetime of "oh what's the background of that name" sort of ethnic-prodding questions over the "that's such a silly name" and multiple blast doors of "that's not your REAL name, like on your birth certificate though" any day.

*A real person! not made up for this post!
posted by emptythought at 4:34 AM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Nonetheless, somehow, "oh where's that name from?" is still a stupid where-you-from question that i hate, but it's the most inoffensive and innocent one. If i had to choose, i'd rather listen to that one for the rest of my life because it never gearshifts to the dreaded "yea but where are you REALLY from?"... well, at least, yet.

It is the same question.
posted by cotton dress sock at 4:36 AM on August 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


One American in three pronounces Gemma with a hard G.

That is all.
posted by BWA at 4:48 AM on August 4, 2015


My attitude towards my fellow men improved when I realized that people were concerned about themselves, primarily, and that it was presumptuous of me, if not hypocritical, to demand that in my own concern for myself, I should expect OTHER people to ALSO be concerned about me. Yes, it is an act of self-centered curiosity (or an attempt to 'connect') by asking you about your name. But it is also an invitation for someone to talk about themselves, which people (including myself) generally enjoy.

This thread is relatively consistent with my theory that what we have here is a certain social class of people whose attitude is, "in MY culture everyone would know about my name! I can't believe I am forced to associate with you ignoramuses who do not!"

For those who don't want to be "Othered", there are a couple of strategies: one is living in a specific ethnic enclave. Lots of people do this. Another is to be the predominant ethnic minority in your community: your name/ethnic origin to the majority will not be notable because everyone will already know it. I get the impression that this is what some people are hoping for. What isn't viable is to expect improvement in communities that are becoming progressively more and more diverse where everyone is the "Other" to someone else.

These "problems", such as they are, are not in any way new. Or particularly interesting.
posted by deanc at 5:03 AM on August 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


The answer to the "why can't I say your name is pretty" question is found in a quick privilege-check: if you are in a dominant group, ask yourself if your opinion and input on every last thing in life are always warranted. There are many, many times where it's perfectly OK and even preferable not to bring those things to the table. Really, you're thinking about this wrong: you're complaining that NOT saying "that's a pretty name" is inconvenient to your desire to gab, and you're making it about YOU, not the other person's own comfort.
posted by mirepoix at 5:04 AM on August 4, 2015 [21 favorites]


Or, on preview, the very opposite of what deanc wrote. And I stand by it.
posted by mirepoix at 5:06 AM on August 4, 2015 [9 favorites]


It is the same question.

I guess? It's just that the second question has led to literally "nuh uh, no you're not". From adults! But stated like a child! Whereas the first is usually just a "oh, interesting" with maybe "oh yea my grandmas from there!"(which can also be super shitty in other contexts, but anyways)

It is the same question, i guess, but the slight difference in context and structure means it's usually fielded by a much more low-level kind of asshole whereas the second one can and regularly is fielded by brazen assholes. Maybe even assholes looking for an argument.
posted by emptythought at 5:13 AM on August 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


I might also add that the level of alienation (and periodic bullying) I experienced which had little to do with my name or ethnic background in and of itself was significant enough that if your biggest problem in the world is that people comment on or ask about your culturally different name is your greatest challenge or source of disconnection in life.... well, you are doing well for yourself.

I guess I should accept that cultural norms change from when I was growing up and get hip to what the kids are thinking these days with their Post Colonial Theory and whatnot. But the previous cultural norm existed for a long time, and anxieties around it were considered a matter of personal temperament rather than an issue of cultural importance. I had a friend who really didn't like shop clerks in small towns making small talk when she was buying stuff because she was not really into small talk and quite socially reserved. No one would have thought of complaining of the phenomenon of privileged small town shop clerks making conversation with captive customers.
posted by deanc at 5:37 AM on August 4, 2015


> if your biggest problem in the world is that people comment on or ask about your culturally different name is your greatest challenge or source of disconnection in life

It doesn't have to be the worst thing ever for it to be tiresome and irritating sometimes. Shit, if it's so not a big deal, then why is it such a big deal to stop doing it?
posted by rtha at 5:43 AM on August 4, 2015 [16 favorites]


"I was bullied so no one else gets to complain about anything" -- is that your argument?
posted by mirepoix at 5:46 AM on August 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm one of the "others" - I'm brown and look ethnically ambiguous. I have an uncommon and unique last name. I get asked about it all the time, AND about my racial and ethnic heritage, and where I'm from (my accent is kind of confused from living in a few different places).

I don't mind! I mean, I haven't experienced EVERY single culture out there so why would I expect you to understand the origins of my name? Plus, isn't this part of getting to know people - where they're from, who they are? I don't know. In the grand scheme of things it's never bothered me and I can't say it ever will. Ask away, it's just another way for us to get to know each other.

The only time it'll get annoying is when you start making assumptions about my cultural or racial background, and telling me the other person you know from the same heritage is SO THE SAME AS ME. That's all.
posted by shazzam! at 5:53 AM on August 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


[...] I should accept that cultural norms change [...]

If only you had written this, and nothing else!

To everyone trying to describe their name without saying it: Mulva?
posted by Peter J. Prufrock at 5:53 AM on August 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


I really appreciate the people taking the time to explain the nuances and problems with this kind of interaction, even in the face of people being so defensive and inflexible about it. It's another opportunity to expose, examine, and tweak my assumptions, biases and unconscious habits. It's so easy to unconsciously cultivate certain stubborn pockets of ignorance or ingrained reactions that turn out to stem from roots in racialism/colonialism/unfair or rude assumptions, and to react with hurt and venom when confronted with them, as if being told that you're making a mistake is like being wounded and diminished. But it's not! It's a favour given generously, and I don't need to demand it be given gently as well by the person who's had to endure this annoying behaviour from me or people like me, because the sting of being corrected, such as it is, is really incredibly minor in the scheme of things.
posted by Drexen at 6:01 AM on August 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


First off, sorry Errant, that was pre-coffee and not very nice.

I get that people's identities are tricky. I have an uncommon English last name and it is spelled and pronounced incorrectly nearly 100% of the time. So much so that it has been in the phone book incorrectly and I know exactly where to direct people to look on their lists when they can't find it in its proper place. To boot, I'm a linguistic minority in my place of birth, so I get to explain how, no really, I'm actually from here, my thoughts on the identity politics of the day, and a host of other things about myself on a semi regular basis. Immigrants and visitors seem to find my experiences particularly fascinating. A small, thankfully shrinking, portion of the population doesn't think I have the right to identify with my birth place at all and wishes I would just go away.

I don't consider it a huge burden, and I don't want to compare it to anyone else's experience as a result, but I do have an idea what it means to have to explain yourself on a regular basis when meeting new people.

My point is, yes, it can be irritating to have to go through that over and over, but that's just part of interacting with other people. It's one of those banal things, like telling people what you do or where you live, that greases the gears of human relations. I just don't see assuming bad faith or anything else on the part of the questioner. Yeah, occasionally I run into someone who wants to know so they can judge me, but a vast majority of the time people are honestly interested or just making conversation. Ymmv, of course.

With regards to the idea that we ought to be thinking of our impact on the person we're asking, sure. If you can avoid hurting someone's feelings, by all means do so. But being made slightly uncomfortable is and always will be a feature of human communication. What's considered acceptable will always be a moving target. Having your feelings hurt does not automatically make those feelings reasonable.
posted by Maugrim at 6:04 AM on August 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


People have been giving me shit for my name since I was about 12 (maybe earlier) and my teachers overwrote my demands about my name because they thought they knew my name better than I did. I don't even get jobs because my name sounds like someone who doesn't speak English. This is not some newfangled postcolonial shit - this has been dogging me my ENTIRE LIFE, and I am far from alone.

"Invitation to talk about yourself" my ass. It's not like you believe us when we tell you! And there are a zillion things I would rather talk about than my name. And why are we obligated to talk about ourselves anyway? Why do you need to know who we are? Our lives aren't open books.

If it's such a "small price to pay" then why not pay the price of thinking of a more original question, or just not asking any identity-related questions if it's not pertinent to the situation? The origin of my name is none of your business.
posted by divabat at 6:14 AM on August 4, 2015 [10 favorites]


Mod note: An earlier comment deleted; please don't insult other members. (Also, just generally, since this is an article about someone's annoyance with reactions to their name, it's pretty much a given that there will comments here from folks who also feel annoyed about reactions to their name; if the expression of such feelings really makes you angry, this is probably not going to be the best thread to spend time reading).
posted by taz (staff) at 6:19 AM on August 4, 2015 [10 favorites]


Shit, if it's so not a big deal, then why is it such a big deal to stop doing it?

It's unreasonable to expect people not to ask a question that lots of people are comfortable with because it's your personal pet peeve. You're under no obligation to answer if you don't want to. A simple "I don't feel like talking about that" will usually suffice.
posted by Maugrim at 6:43 AM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


"That doesn't sound Indian" OMFG I GET THIS ALL THE TIME (and I'm not even technically Indian, try moving a few KM east). My name is an English word and people trip over themselves to make it more exotic than it really is. JUST PRONOUNCE IT AS IT'S SPELLED I'M A WORD IN THE DICTIONARY GAH

lol I can identify... my name is a pretty normal English name, and I'm not white. Once I met a nice lady who asked, as a way of making conversation,
"What is your name?"
I told her my name. She looked disappointed, and said,
"I mean, your real name. What is your real name?"
I told her that it was my real name. She said, still disappointed,
"I thought you would have a lovely Oriental name."

I didn't really take offense though; I think she was just trying to be friendly.
posted by aielen at 6:44 AM on August 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


I have the same first and last non-English name. Do I win this thread?
posted by numaner at 6:57 AM on August 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


Back in my day people had the decency to stay quiet about their being Othered and just tried to fit in. That made it easier for everyone. And by everyone I mean guys like me who didn't have the sorts of problems described here but now have to deal with reconciling being annoying to people even though I really, really don't want to and instead come up with some armchair cultural theory to back up why I'm right.
posted by griphus at 7:18 AM on August 4, 2015 [16 favorites]


I couldn't possibly be more whitebread. My last name, though unusual, is an actual word in English. Think "Uncle" or something. It's not a complicated word, and it's two friggen syllables and 6 letters.

You guys! I figured out Pogo_Fuzzybutt's last name!
posted by sparklemotion at 7:21 AM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sorry about the late reply, but I have been busy. griphus wrote, "No they're both vacuous, but the second one is vacuous and kind of creepy."

I really just mean it when I compliment people, which I try to do often.

I have told a cashier at Target they she has a nice voice, and someone that I thought their tattoo is cool -- and none of them seemed offended. No subtext, just a compliment. I say "thank you" a lot to people, too: last weekend at the Pan-Mass Challenge we cheered the riders for hours and at the finish line I thanked a lot of the riders I didn't know. "Thanks for riding, total stranger" got a smile every time.

So IRL I am very likely to say something like, "I haven't heard that name before, and I like it a lot. I have an uncommon last name and get a lot of questions about it, but it isn't nearly as nice as yours. Pretty great!" And this would creep you out? Well, OK.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:28 AM on August 4, 2015


I'm hearing impaired. If I ask you to repeat or spell your name, it's probably because I didn't hear it properly. There are some people I just have to refer to as mumble, because after saying I'm hearing impaired, could you say that again twice, I'm probably done.
posted by theora55 at 7:29 AM on August 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


Dext: I have never, ever, ever, had someone ask where my name is "from", comment on how unusual it is or comment on what they suppose its background must be. …. So why not me? I can only assume that it is because I am white.

I am a white guy from Whitest Minnesota and got TONS of questions as a kid about my Norwegian last name. *shrug* People also asked whether I was from England, based on my (non-accent). People are idiots, man.

Now I just say, "I have a tricky last name that starts with E. I can spell it for you if you need me to."
posted by wenestvedt at 7:34 AM on August 4, 2015


> It's unreasonable to expect people not to ask a question that lots of people are comfortable with because it's your personal pet peeve.

Lots of people asking the question are comfortable with it; people on the receiving end, less so. Also, thank you for the dismissiveness - I was afraid I wasn't going to reach my quota today.

Thanks to this thread, you now know that this is not simply a personal peeve of mine, but a low- (and sometimes not) level source of irritation and sometimes worse stuff. You can choose whether or not to act on that knowledge or just keep on insisting on being aggrieved because you've been asked to think about something and been made to maybe feel kind of uncomfortable about your behavior.
posted by rtha at 7:51 AM on August 4, 2015 [19 favorites]


what if instead of just resigning yourself to never using your actual name

Funny thing. At the time of my birth, the US was still in the "if you're born in a hospital, we will cloister then father except for the last minute". My dad had been through this process twice already and decided that instead of waiting in the waiting room with the other dads-to-be, he was going to go get a cup of coffee. He found a break room for the doctors which had a broken coffee maker that someone had attempted to fix with medical adhesive tape. My dad, an electrical engineer, scoffed and proceeded to dismantle the coffee maker and fix it properly. Meantime, I was apparently progressing well, so a nurse went to the waiting room and called for Mr. <name>. As it turns out, there was also a Mr. <Neme> who was also used to never having his name pronounced correctly who went off to the delivery room to see my mom, legs up and spread.
"THAT'S NOT MY HUSBAND!"
"THAT'S NOT MY WIFE!"

Hilarity ensues.

Flash forward 17 years. In the summers, my mom frequently ordered pizza for dinner so as not to heat up the house by cooking. The local pizza place didn't have delivery, so she sent the most available son with a drivers license to pick it up. I show up and ask for the order and they don't have it. I had some change so I called up mom to find out what was going on. After some back and forth, I found out that my mom had stopped using our last name for pizza orders or the phone because they never got it right. The order was under "Kelly" which never gets spelled wrong.

Flash forward another 18 years, I'm visiting mom with my then girlfriend and she made dinner reservations. We arrived before my mom and I asked for "Reservation for <name>?" Sorry sir, we don't have a reservation under that name." "Ok, how about Kelly?" "Very good."

And then I had to tell her the preceding two stories.

She married me and took my name anyway.
posted by plinth at 8:05 AM on August 4, 2015 [6 favorites]


If it's any consolation, I have a super-common and super-Anglo first and last name, and more often than you might think people spell my last name wrong, too. (It *is* a consolation to my partner who has an unusual spelling of her first name and a long Swiss/Germanic last name that people can never get right, and she has to patiently go through it multiple times someone needs her name for something, and even then it often turns out they've gotten it wrong.)

My snowflakey strangers-and-name burden to bear is, because of that super-common name, every yokel who needs to jot down my full name at some service counter or wherever feels compelled to ask me if I'm related to someone he met once who he's pretty sure shares my last name.
posted by aught at 8:05 AM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's unreasonable to expect people not to ask a question that lots of people are comfortable with because it's your personal pet peeve

"Lots of people are comfortable with" is a cultural phenomenon. Around my parts (Washington DC area), a comment like "that's a pretty name, where is it from" would be be completely alien and bizarre, and immediately identifiable as belittling.

I remember pissing off a guy with a Persian last name by figuring out that his last name was Persian through an online search. He was nearly openly racist (including toward me - I'm black) and I knew exactly what I was doing. "Ah, it's Persian". That was enough to fluster him.

Anyway here's a great essay on a similar issue (asking someone's ethnicity directly) that reiterates what's been said here - we all know the question is "how am I supposed to relate to you within our global racial/ethnic hierarchy"?
posted by deathmaven at 8:34 AM on August 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


I have told a cashier at Target they she has a nice voice, and someone that I thought their tattoo is cool -- and none of them seemed offended.

For me, it's not about people's reactions (or what I guess them to be); it's about my actions and what I want my actions to say. Even unintentionally, a compliment subtly indicates: a) this is what I think is important about you and b) it's appropriate for me to grade or judge this thing about you.

So if I compliment anyone at all (which I try to avoid), I try really hard to make it be about one of the relevant elements of our interaction, one that's appropriate for me to evaluate. And for me that's pretty much never ever ever going to be anything related to someone's personal appearance or attractiveness unless it's someone I know very well. I might tell someone they had a nice voice if I were hiring them to do voiceovers or they were autographing their CD for me or I was paying them for phone sex, but the beauty of a cashier's voice has nothing to do with the customer-cashier interaction.

Hell, we all slip up now and then since this stuff is so culturally ingrained and kneejerk. I winced when I heard myself saying "Perfect table location, thanks! and that's a great shirt" to a host-person at a restaurant the other day. The first part was fine, but ugh, not the second. The thing I'm really working on recently is not EVER giving appearance-related compliments about babies/kids, especially girls, because it's like hanging up a great big WELCOME TO THE PATRIARCHY, CUTIE-PIE! poster. If people hand me pictures and want a reaction, I go for something like "Such a happy family" or "Hi, Babyname, you wonderful person" or "She's really liking that bunny!"
posted by FelliniBlank at 8:45 AM on August 4, 2015 [9 favorites]


I think that for some of us small-talk is difficult, and a lot of socially-challenged people deal with that by memorizing the formula that you should ask new acquaintances lots of questions about themselves. So if you find out that some questions are awkward, unwelcome, or potentially reveal your biases, that can be stressful. But being socially awkward isn't a get-out-of-being-a-jerk free card. There are good reasons that this line of questioning isn't a good one, and it's good to know that so you can avoid hurting people.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:51 AM on August 4, 2015 [7 favorites]


Mod note: A few comments deleted. Once again, if your comment is that this stuff doesn't bother you, so people are wrong to be annoyed about it, and that people who are annoyed by a thing that doesn't affect you in the same way must be living in a grim self-deluded world -- reconsider whether that's going to lead to a conversation worth having.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:32 AM on August 4, 2015 [12 favorites]


One American in three pronounces Gemma with a hard G.

Click here for the top 10 most hilarious Gemma gifs!
posted by straight at 9:39 AM on August 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


So as I mentioned before I work with a lot of people who have names that aren't familiar to me and the pronunciation isn't always immediately apparent. When I'm chairing a conference call, I usually do something like this:

Me: "Hi, so we have Jane and Bob on the call so far. Is Niyaz on the line?"
Niyaz: "Hi"
Me: "Did I say your name right? Niyaz?" [NIGH-yaz]
Niyaz: "Niyaz." [NEE-ahz]
Me: "Niyaz." [NEE-ahz]
Niyaz: "Yes"

Is that appropriate or is there something I should do differently? I almost never talk to anyone on the phone one-on-one & I don't trust Jane or Bob to pronounce Niyaz's name correctly, I'd rather hear it from him.

The other thing I've noticed is that people's email signatures will be like "Miller Jane Smith," so I call them "Miller" for awhile and eventually I learn it's their surname and I should be calling them Jane. So I've been asking upfront "what would you like me to call you." Any thoughts on this?
posted by desjardins at 9:42 AM on August 4, 2015


we all know the question is "how am I supposed to relate to you within our global racial/ethnic hierarchy"?

Yeah, I feel like this is what a lot of people don't understand. A lot of us who are immigrants or otherwise visible minorities take this as a given. We know this is frequently what the questions about our names are really about. And like I said before, this is preferable to the "but where are you really from???" conversation, because for me at least, the people who ask about my name generally don't bust out any weird microaggressions or spout any super ignorant nonsense. If you're a well-meaning person who is just honestly curious about names, or who really does think that name is pretty, well that's great. We can usually tell. But sometimes we get sick of the whole song and dance and what it implies.
posted by yasaman at 9:46 AM on August 4, 2015 [7 favorites]


My last name is Lee. All the freakin' time, (white) people say "Oh, like BRUCE LEE?!?" and sometimes they make karate "hiyyya" sounds. I am white.

And then you break into a rousing rendition of "The Lees of Old Virginia" from 1776?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:49 AM on August 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


I think we can reduce a lot of this discussion to:

A) Perfectly nice people will often pick a superficial and obvious thing to ask the other about.

B) Assholes and bigots always make it about superficial things, beit skin color, height, weight, ethnic appearance.

The person with the superficial and obvious characteristic will have had far too much experience with B) to be comfortable with A). So maybe try harder, A.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:54 AM on August 4, 2015 [10 favorites]



Me: "Hi, so we have Jane and Bob on the call so far. Is Niyaz on the line?"
Niyaz: "Hi"
Me: "Did I say your name right? Niyaz?" [NIGH-yaz]
Niyaz: "Niyaz." [NEE-ahz]
Me: "Niyaz." [NEE-ahz]
Niyaz: "Yes"

Is that appropriate or is there something I should do differently? I almost never talk to anyone on the phone one-on-one & I don't trust Jane or Bob to pronounce Niyaz's name correctly, I'd rather hear it from him.


Personally I would let them decide whether it's important to them that you've pronounced their name incorrectly.
posted by deathmaven at 9:56 AM on August 4, 2015


If they've already answered to it without comment, that is.
posted by deathmaven at 9:57 AM on August 4, 2015


For me, personally, in workplace settings it's more of a hassle/annoyance to go through the "no the accent is on first syllable no the first no not like that" thing than to just roll with however they've mispronounced by name so we can actually Get Work Done.
posted by griphus at 10:01 AM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Me: "Hi, so we have Jane and Bob on the call so far. Is Niyaz on the line?"
Niyaz: "Hi"
Me: "Did I say your name right? Niyaz?" [NIGH-yaz]
Niyaz: "Niyaz." [NEE-ahz]
Me: "Niyaz." [NEE-ahz]
Niyaz: "Yes"
Is that appropriate or is there something I should do differently? I almost never talk to anyone on the phone one-on-one & I don't trust Jane or Bob to pronounce Niyaz's name correctly, I'd rather hear it from him.


Honestly, has anyone in this thread expressed any kind of consternation or dislike with people trying to get names right (be it spelling or pronunciation)? It seems like there was one strawmanish comment conflating getting the name right with the "tell me all about your people" interrogation and they are really two completely separate things.

As for how this particular hypothethical plays out in my life? My weird name is a short form of my even longer and weirder legal name. When someone confirms the spelling/pronounciation of [short name], I have no problem with that (and appreciate it... people often assume that there is a silent consonant, there is not) .

When it can become a problem is when people see [full name] written out and ask how to say it. I will say "it's [short name] for short" because I'd rather not hear [full name] butchered. Most people are then happy to call me [short name] and everyone is happy. On the other hand, the people who are like "No, how do you say the full one?!" and then try it themselves (and get it wrong and expect me to repeat it and critique their performances) are garbage people from the sewer and we hates them precious.
posted by sparklemotion at 10:11 AM on August 4, 2015 [7 favorites]


It seems like there was one strawmanish comment conflating getting the name right with the "tell me all about your people" interrogation and they are really two completely separate things.

Like, upvote, favorite, ding ding ding ding
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:16 AM on August 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


desjardins, I think that's fine, especially when you're on a phone call and you want to make sure you/everyone else heard the name correctly. Believe me, with context, we all understand when people are asking for "did I hear that right" clarification or when they're doing the confirmation that I'm pronouncing your name right and also to fix it in my memory thing. Just don't ask for clarification more than a couple times unless you're literally having trouble hearing their name, because yeah, in the interests of time if nothing else, most people are happy to roll with a (probably common) mispronunciation.

I'll just reiterate that if someone gives you the anglicized version or pronunciation of their name, use the anglicized version. I don't want to speak for everyone in a similar position, but I find it hideously awkward to go through the "oh, but I'm sure that's not the right way to pronounce it, really, tell me how it's really pronounced" conversation, because it takes some doing to get to a polite enforcement of boundaries there. Like, I know your mouth is physically capable of making the sounds, and I don't think you're stupid. I usually settle on "oh, only my family/native speakers pronounce it that way, don't worry about it."
posted by yasaman at 10:16 AM on August 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yeah just to be clear the short conversation I have about three or four times a day usually goes like this:

"Hey this Bart calling from Springfield about your order."
"Sorry, did you say your name was Bort?"
"Yes. Now about that order..."
posted by griphus at 10:20 AM on August 4, 2015 [7 favorites]


I assume that everyone who enjoys telling strangers or people you've just met that they have pretty names does that regardless of the person's gender presentation, right?

Since I say "I love your name!" as a part of my job, yes, I do. I can't see you, we're on the telephone. I need to be able to establish a rapport with you quickly, so we can communicate well and get your problem sorted out.

I had a Mabel recently. "Whoa, Mabel! Awesome! I don't hear this name very often any more! I had a friend at church years ago named Mabel, she was super sweet!" Last week, I got George. "Hey, George, it's great to talk to you! You have one of my favorite names. My little brother, great Uncle, two cousins, and my great Grandfather are all George!" I had Tyrus a while back, too. "Tyrus, like Tyrus Cobb?" Shalisa was a real treat, she had a voice like warm honey. "I love the way it sounds when you say your name, Shalisa. It sounds so soothing!" Zoe was positively tickled to hear that my red-headed American Pit Bull Terrier shared her name, and my Zoe's BFF is a German Shepherd named Malcolm. (Yep, she was a Firefly fan.) Madhusudan was pleasantly surprised that I didn't trip over his name, and chuckled when I said "I have a friend named Madhusudan. He is such a dear, and I miss him. I'm glad I get to talk to a Madhusudan today!"

I agree that asking "No, where are you really from?" questions about people's names is Othering and gross. I disagree that it's always Othering and gross to remark upon a person's name in a friendly way.

Mileage clearly varies. I'm not ever going to ask a total stranger what their name means or what its origin is. But I don't see harm in remarking "Oh, your name reminds me of [cheery thing]!"
posted by MissySedai at 10:21 AM on August 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


Honestly, has anyone in this thread expressed any kind of consternation or dislike with people trying to get names right (be it spelling or pronunciation)? It seems like there was one strawmanish comment conflating getting the name right with the "tell me all about your people" interrogation and they are really two completely separate things.

It's relevant, as the question in the example inherently draws attention to its difference. It's also inherently pushy and presumptuous (of one's own importance and relationship to the askee), as implied by previous commenters pointing out that they give out "acquaintance" pronunciations for people who they aren't close with.

The CEO of my organization asks it of all new hires with names she's not completely confident in pronouncing during all staff meetings, which IMO like, the platonic ideal of an exchange like that. If anyone's going to ask a question that inherently presumes her own importance in general and the importance of her relationship with the askee, I can't imagine what can beat a CEO and a new hire.
posted by deathmaven at 10:22 AM on August 4, 2015


It's relevant, as the question in the example inherently draws attention to its difference. It's also inherently pushy and presumptuous (of one's own importance and relationship to the askee), as implied by previous commenters pointing out that they give out "acquaintance" pronunciations for people who they aren't close with.

Not all call-outs of difference are bad. There's not a ton of potential benefit to Jaya from the OP of hearing someone say how "pretty" her name is. But I do think there is potential upside to trying to not screw up the names of the people you interact with. The distinction lies in how the name-learner treats the information that they get from the name-haver.

Me: "Hi, so we have Jane and Bob on the call so far. Is Niyaz on the line?"
Niyaz: "Hi"
Me: "Did I say your name right? Niyaz?" [NIGH-yaz]
Niyaz: "Niyaz." [NEE-ahz]
Me: "Niyaz." [NEE-ahz]
Niyaz: "Yes"

This is great!

Me: "Did I say your name right? Niyaz?" [NIGH-yaz]
Niyaz: "Close enough."
Me: "OK Niyaz, can you give us an overview of the TPS reports?" [NIGH-yaz]

Also great!

Me: "Did I say your name right? Niyaz?" [NIGH-yaz]
Niyaz: "Close enough"
Me: "Oh.. is it Niyaz?" [nee-AYS]
Niyaz: "Not that either, Niyaz was fine." [NIGH-yaz]
Me: "Oh, but I just really want to get it right.... why won't you help me?!"
(hopefully you can see where this went wrong)
posted by sparklemotion at 10:44 AM on August 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


For me, personally, in workplace settings it's more of a hassle/annoyance to go through the "no the accent is on first syllable no the first no not like that" thing than to just roll with however they've mispronounced by name so we can actually Get Work Done.

Ah, well, my (white) boss pronounces it NIGH-yaz so Niyaz is lying to one of us. Fair enough, I won't pry.

Aside, I've found that asking other Indian coworkers isn't a surefire solution because there are a billion people over there and hundreds of languages and of course they don't all know how to pronounce each other's names why would they
posted by desjardins at 10:59 AM on August 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


Me: "Hi, so we have Jane and Bob on the call so far. Is Niyaz on the line?"
Niyaz: "Hi"
Me: "Did I say your name right? Niyaz?" [NIGH-yaz]
Niyaz: "Niyaz." [NEE-ahz]
Me: "Niyaz." [NEE-ahz]
Niyaz: "Yes"
Is that appropriate or is there something I should do differently?


What I do when I'm in a situation where I have to pronounce a bunch of new names and may get some wrong is either:

-- make a blanket statement at the beginning so as to avoid singling anyone out as being especially hard to pronounce: "OK, I'm going to run down the roster, and if I massacre your name, please correct my pronunciation" or

-- ask each person if I said their name correctly. "Jane Tompkins? Is that correct? OK, Bob Dobalina? Did I say that right?" etc.

But this is in first-day-of-class situations, where one obviously tries extra-super hard not to other anyone and make a "my teacher, the asshole" first impression. So I generally ask everyone to introduce themselves to the class using their full name, as I listen carefully and make accent/phonetic marks if necessary, then only later read the roll myself.
posted by FelliniBlank at 11:00 AM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


That's Mr. Bob Dobalina to you.
posted by griphus at 11:01 AM on August 4, 2015 [10 favorites]


If there's anything dystopian SF novels have taught me, it's that assigning everybody a numeric code instead of a personal name would solve all these problems, at least until some goddamn kid reads a book or finds a flower growing in a drainpipe or some shit and decides to take down the System
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:13 AM on August 4, 2015 [15 favorites]


Ah, well, my (white) boss pronounces it NIGH-yaz so Niyaz is lying to one of us. Fair enough, I won't pry.

My last name avails itself to two pronunciations, both of which I have heard used by members my own family. If you ask me what my last name is, I'll say [NEE-ahz], but if you say [NIGH-yaz] I'll probably never bother to correct you. Your Niyaz might be in the same boat. So, not lying, and has a preference, but the preference isn't strong enough to do anything about it. Not prying seems like a menschy thing to do.
posted by sparklemotion at 11:17 AM on August 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


I usually try to have everyone introduce themselves. My family uses a non-standard pronunciation of my German last name, because my grandparents kind of ineptly anglicized it when they moved to the US, so I'm pretty conscious that even a seemingly-standard European-derived name might not be pronounced the way people think it is.

I truly don't care how people pronounce my last name, but I usually go ahead and correct it, just because it's sometimes awkward if folks find out much later that they've been pronouncing it differently than I do.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:35 AM on August 4, 2015


Yeah "lying" wasn't the right word for me to have used. I would hope he would feel comfortable enough with me to express his preference (I talk to him all the time) but I understand why he wouldn't be.

They mispronounce my first name all the time, but there's no racial or power dynamic going the other way, so there's nothing for me to get offended about or irritated by.
posted by desjardins at 11:35 AM on August 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


They mispronounce my first name all the time, but there's no racial or power dynamic going the other way, so there's nothing for me to get offended about or irritated by.

Have they ever asked you if they're pronouncing your name correctly?
posted by deathmaven at 11:50 AM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Judson Frondorf -- spelled the way it sounds...
posted by judson at 12:06 PM on August 4, 2015


Agh. Names. The number of times I've gotten told "oh your name is so pretty" is infuriating. At this point I either make some sort of noncommital sound ("mhm") or just outright ignore it. And even worse is "does it means something?" -- to which I answer "no," even though my name does in fact mean something in Hindi. If I actually tell people what it means, I get more "oh, so pretty!" Do you ask Margaret what her name means (because I bet you don't know) and then ooh and ahh over the answer? Or Horatio? No? Then stfu.

Also, my last name is completely unprounceable for people who are not fluent in an Indo-Aryan language, and in fact, none of my white ex-boyfriends have ever been able to pronounce it (not for lack of trying). I will probably say "yes" whenever you ask if you've gotten it right, because doing the dance where we go back and forth a thousand times and you still can't say it is exhausting. And saying "close enough" comes off pretty rude, especially when you're talking to a client.

In summation: I will lie to you, so please don't use me as a data point in your evaluation of how receptive people are to your name-related questioning.
posted by Ragini at 12:27 PM on August 4, 2015 [14 favorites]


I have told a cashier at Target they she has a nice voice, and someone that I thought their tattoo is cool -- and none of them seemed offended.

A bunch of years back, before the internet made it easy to find out about what people think, I was at a CVS with my mom. The woman behind the counter was black, and had a very unusual name on her lapel pin, and I asked her how it was pronounced. She told me, and I was flummoxed because she seemed angry - and at that time I had no idea why she would be angry. She was perfectly polite - modulated tone, proper language, etc... this is NOT a service complaint, but I could tell she was pissed off, so I said something pathetic about "Oh, that's really pretty." as we headed toward the door.

And my mom says to me, "Oh, that must have made her night! How nice of you to say something like that to her"

And I said, "I'm not so sure..." because I could tell she was pissed, but there was no way to ask. I had no right to her inner life - I knew I had already overstepped.

This memory nagged me for years until I learned three things - 1) there are a lot of power dynamics tied up in how servers and retail salespeople are expected to have their name be available to strangers, 2) many people with atypical names dislike the way strangers draw attention to their name on the stranger's terms, and 3) both of these are exacerbated by systemic discrimination.

But in many cases, it is worth their job to actually defend themselves, so instead they're left with a smoldering rage and most people who cause that rage leave with a blithe "You must have made them happy!" because PRIVILEGE
posted by Deoridhe at 12:32 PM on August 4, 2015 [15 favorites]


For those who don't want to be "Othered", there are a couple of strategies: one is living in a specific ethnic enclave. Lots of people do this. Another is to be the predominant ethnic minority in your community: your name/ethnic origin to the majority will not be notable because everyone will already know it. I get the impression that this is what some people are hoping for. What isn't viable is to expect improvement in communities that are becoming progressively more and more diverse where everyone is the "Other" to someone else.

It's funny how you assume that the onus is on people who aren't "normal" (let's just call it like you see it) to assimilate (news flash: not all Americans are white! White Americans do not have some special ownership of American culture!), and not for you to assimilate into Not Being An Arrogant Ignoramus culture.

This thread is relatively consistent with my theory that what we have here is a certain social class of people whose attitude is, "in MY culture everyone would know about my name! I can't believe I am forced to associate with you ignoramuses who do not!"

real long-winded way to say "uppity", dude
posted by kagredon at 12:33 PM on August 4, 2015 [20 favorites]


There was a time when you did not know what you now know. We'd all do well to keep that in mind.
posted by DrAmerica at 12:34 PM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


For those who don't want to be "Othered", there are a couple of strategies: one is living in a specific ethnic enclave. Lots of people do this. Another is to be the predominant ethnic minority in your community: your name/ethnic origin to the majority will not be notable because everyone will already know it. I get the impression that this is what some people are hoping for.

Why are these strategies always offered by people who clearly have no personal experience dealing with these issues?

What isn't viable is to expect improvement in communities that are becoming progressively more and more diverse where everyone is the "Other" to someone else.

Actually, I have this problem the least with people who are from diverse communities. They have the experience and good sense to not be (un)intentionally racist.

It sounds like you don't understand what kind of aggravation being the "Other" is.
posted by Ouverture at 12:38 PM on August 4, 2015 [9 favorites]


But in many cases, it is worth their job to actually defend themselves, so instead they're left with a smoldering rage and most people who cause that rage leave with a blithe "You must have made them happy!" because PRIVILEGE

Yeah, it's so similar to the catcalling defense of "well i was just giving her a COMPLIMENT, how is that so bad?" that it gives me the sad ick chills.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:46 PM on August 4, 2015 [15 favorites]


Ask Metafilter: Why are these strategies always offered by people who clearly have no personal experience dealing with these issues?
posted by kagredon at 12:58 PM on August 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


But it is also an invitation for someone to talk about themselves, which people (including myself) generally enjoy.

I hope you don't mind my asking, deanc (well, I will respectfully take the liberty, given your previous comments) - who was it who came over, the grandmother (who you say actually changed her name), her parents, somebody more recent? How much active acculturation work did you personally do?

Is the country from which your ancestors came politically stable now? If it isn't, are you close, now, with people for whom that is a live issue? What reputation does your culture have among people in the US today?

Some of us aren't so keen on taking people through our stop on the It's A Small World ride. Last time I attended my "ethnic festival" (well over a decade ago, now), two older dudes got into fisticuffs over a flag.

Some people are in places where they're on their own, with no festivals to which they can take curious guests.

As I hope this thread is making clear, being asked to get into that (or worse) stuff, even indirectly, can touch a nerve. It can be tiring, at the least. It's not that the social hiccups around pronunciation of my name themselves cause any serious complexes (if the awkwardness were limited to that, it'd be one thing) - it's that they reflect other dynamics. They are a constant reminder of difference, and not just the fact of difference itself, but the particular differences that mark the carrier of the name.

It's true that the "touchy" among us are well served by finding ways to package our identities such that we can get by in ordinary conversation. People have described some of those strategies, and it is really just polite to respect the self-presentation a person offers.
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:05 PM on August 4, 2015 [7 favorites]


Some of us aren't so keen on taking people through our stop on the It's A Small World ride.

One time a guy asked me for the origin of my name and it ended up turning into a conversation I was more-or-less forced to have -- he was a particularly chatty potential client -- about Soviet and American anti-Semitism. And, like, thank god the dude was Jewish himself so I didn't have to lay out the basics but to be honest I'd prefer to choose the moments when and where I talk about Stalin and the Harvard quota and so on.

And that's an extreme example, sure, but not that much more extreme than having to tell people where I'm from and bracing for the inevitable questions of how long I've been in America (25 years) and what it's like over there (shitty) and how I don't have an accent.
posted by griphus at 1:15 PM on August 4, 2015 [10 favorites]


god, one time on tumblr one time i posted a photo of a pony that is stabled at the same place as my friend's horse, and this pony happens to be named murray horowitz III

and someone commented on my post about how this pony had a "weird foreign name" and i was like, yes, upstate new york is like A WHOLE OTHER WORLD and i don't think they got it

but it is so weird to me that there are americans who don't automatically recognize common ashkenazi jewish last names as being super ordinary
posted by poffin boffin at 1:20 PM on August 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


Is this the kind of problem you'd have to meet new people to have?

Yeah, though, my family name is super Italian and it gets comments and additional syllables all over the place. However, when I visited Ellis Island years ago I discovered that there were some German immigrants that arrived shortly after my great-grandparents that had the same last name. So now when people ask if my name is Italian I tell them that it is German. I try shouting it very angrily at them sometimes to reinforce that it is German but there isn't a German sounding syllable in it so I really can't muster any accent to go with it.
posted by charred husk at 1:30 PM on August 4, 2015


well it's only a matter of time until Murray Horowitz starts writing comics or acting and then changes his name to Mike Horse to fit in
posted by griphus at 1:30 PM on August 4, 2015 [9 favorites]


poney
posted by poffin boffin at 1:33 PM on August 4, 2015 [7 favorites]


Maybe it's because I grew up in a place where a name like Kozakiewicz (he pronouced it ko-ZAH-ka-wich, but I don't know if that is "correct") or Brzozowski is normal that a name like Horowitz seems downright prosaic.

them there Finlanders had some unpronouncable names, too. Of course, they weren't even white until 1908.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:45 PM on August 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


I am thankful to the Merriam-Webster dictionary for being a cultural touchstone I can refer people to who insist on spelling my name Merriman or Miriam (or, once, Marmalade).

But at least people never ask me where I'm from (even though I am in fact an immigrant).
posted by joannemerriam at 1:54 PM on August 4, 2015


"Do you ask Margaret what her name means (because I bet you don't know) and then ooh and ahh over the answer? Or Horatio? No? Then stfu."

Pearl? I don't remember ever meeting a Horatio, but I've talked to Alfreds about elves, Melissas about honeybees, Stevens about laurel crowns, and more than one Heeyoung about different hanja.
posted by klangklangston at 2:15 PM on August 4, 2015


There was a time when you did not know what you now know. We'd all do well to keep that in mind.

"Oh, I didn't know I was stepping on your toe. I certainly didn't mean to step on it."
"Regardless, it still hurts."
posted by desjardins at 3:23 PM on August 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


Oh, man, I'm white and look white, but my first name is very unusual in the US, and worldwide is generally a man's name. (I am not a man.) I have slowly learned not to obviously wince when people say "OH, LIKE THE $pop-culture-person" or "LIKE $pop-culture-person's-media-property". When drunk, I will occasionally lambast people for CLEARLY BEING THE FIRST PERSON TO EVER MAKE THAT JOKE IN MY LIFE.

There's at least two other women in the world who share my name - one of whom also shares my surname. The one who does not share my surname does have a doctor who shares a practice with my doctor. The time we were both in the waiting room when a nurse called our name was ... startling.

Actual conversation about my name is okay if it seems to be coming from a place of good intent. I'm sure I'm only getting a hint of what someone with an unusual name that's also evocative of or drawn from another culture end up getting, though. My sympathy to all my brothers and sisters in this!
posted by rmd1023 at 3:49 PM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


I love the arrogance of some white people. They really are experts on how to spell all names. (sarc)

"That doesn't sound Indian" Good God, what the f*** do most Americans know about India? Like, you be from and in India and that would still sound ignorant.
posted by Gor-ella at 4:37 PM on August 4, 2015


I asked a new coworker about her background in a call today and she started telling me about her ethnic heritage and I was like OH SHIT I JUST DID THE BAD cuz I just meant her job history but then it was too late I had died also.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:05 PM on August 4, 2015 [7 favorites]


Your name and ethnic background isn't "who you are" to some people. Yet to some people it is. You don't know, which is why "I'm asking people about THEMSELVES" isn't a good tactic.

For a lot of people in this thread who are all "omg I must look at my shoes and never ask a question ever," when they imagine someone asking about them, they think about interests and history and life goals and all. For people who know how much it sucks to be singled out for their fascinating ethnic background, they know that "I want to know about YOU" from a stranger or recent acquaintance is all about why you look that way or why you have that name and oh how interesting, when that's an accident of fate and you'd rather talk about Game of Thrones or Gators football but you know the conversation will never ever get there and it's sort of draining.

It's less that you hate all the people and want to stick to your own "enclave" or anything(that's also not really a thing, due to lots of differences inside ethnicities, generational differences, etc), but mostly that you have seen a lifetime of all your conversational options being so severely limited.
posted by zutalors! at 7:59 PM on August 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


My first name is a verb, a modal verb. Also a noun. The number of dumb jokes in that vein that I have heard is endless.

And I've spent years behind a counter, holding a phone, scooping ice cream, making sandwiches, fixing computers, mowing lawns, roofing houses, delivering pizza, and crawling under desks. I am acquainted with the power dynamics between a server/agent/employee and a customer/client/boss.

And yet I really am amazed that a cheerful "I like your name" before getting on with business is A BOOT, FOREVER to you all. In an area that is diversifying ethnically (like where I live, much less the rest of America), positive interactions and connections are good things.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:15 PM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


In business, it makes you think less of a person if they make a big deal out of your ethnicity. If this is new to you, you should think about it a little more because making a big deal out of ethnicity is already making people look old fashioned and in five or ten years you'll look hopelessly out of touch.
posted by zutalors! at 8:19 PM on August 4, 2015 [6 favorites]


Klang, do you really not understand that that question is indistinguishable from that of all the other assholes?

Like, when I'm walking down the street and you ask me to smile, it doesn't really matter that you're actually a roving dentist with a heart of gold. I'm still going to think you're an asshole, because all the others are.
posted by Ragini at 9:56 PM on August 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


"Ooh that's a nice nam… er, can I touch your hair?"
posted by a halcyon day at 5:55 PM on August 3 [2 favorites +] [!]


Welcome to my every day life. See my profile for why.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 10:03 PM on August 4, 2015


...and I LOVE my name (that sounds just like it looks) and even REVEL in each and every mispronunciation. And sure, you can touch my hair if your hands are clean.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 10:07 PM on August 4, 2015


Do you ask Margaret what her name means (because I bet you don't know)

I have, in fact, been asked if I know what it means. It's Pearl. The French variant of my name, Marguerite, is a kind of Daisy. And at my favorite Taqueria, my favorite servers address me as Señora Margarita, and bring me Myself in salt-rimmed glasses.

I am addressed as Maggie, Missy, Pearl, Daisy, Rita, Margarita. It's fine by me. I don't speak for all Margarets, of course.
posted by MissySedai at 10:13 PM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


> And yet I really am amazed that a cheerful "I like your name" before getting on with business is A BOOT, FOREVER to you all.

I cannot say that your willingness to ignore the nuance with which many people in this thread are expressing their perspectives in order to characterize and caricature them this way gives me great faith in your customer service skills or your vaunted ability to judge that strangers really do appreciate your compliments.
posted by rtha at 10:36 PM on August 4, 2015 [12 favorites]


Yes, it is an act of self-centered curiosity (or an attempt to 'connect') by asking you about your name. But it is also an invitation for someone to talk about themselves, which people (including myself) generally enjoy.

Or maybe some people interpret it as another demand on them for their attention, their patient explanation, their forced, ha-ha, no one's ever made that joke about my name before "pleasantry". The more I think about it, the more it reminds me of those annoying men on public transport who try to strike up a conversation with you because you are female and have female parts and therefore they are entitled to demand your attention, to demand your courtesy, to demand you be nice to them. STFU, total stranger, I don't owe you anything. I think poffin boffin above compared it to men catcalling women and that's exactly it - why am I obliged to enter into a conversation with you just because you think you're being pleasant and friendly?

And Deoridhe's comment about people in service industries being forced to wear name-tags which then has its own level of resentment attached to it (other people have your name and you don't have theirs, they have something over you and you have to smile and be servile and accept whatever they want to dish out) is also illuminating. It helps me understand why I really dislike giving my name in the service aspect of my job.

FWIW, I hate it when salespeople/customer service people use my name repeatedly throughout a conversation. It's like a dog constantly jumping up and trying to lick your face - I don't care if it's an attempt to be friendly, it's also bloody annoying. It's presuming a familiarity that does not exist, we're here for a business transaction and not to "connect".

No doubt this all makes me a crazy misanthropic introvert but I don't care. Next up: my grumpy whinge about how I would really rather not go into the long, complicated story of why I am living in a different country to where I was born, how long I've been here, whether I have children, where my family live, etc etc every time any member of the general public asks me about it. I may even include the story about the guy I hung up on after he sententiously announced that he was going to give me the advice he always gives people who are not from his country (because of course he owns the entire country, it doesn't belong to anyone else). Oh wait, that was the whole story. Sorry.
posted by Athanassiel at 1:03 AM on August 5, 2015 [9 favorites]


In an area that is diversifying ethnically (like where I live, much less the rest of America), positive interactions and connections are good things.

So why not take into account what the ethnically diverse people in this thread are telling you about what makes a positive interaction and connection with them, and what is annoying and exoticizing? If your area is only now diversifying then you are probably less of an expert than the people here who are considered to be the 'diversity' when they show up in your town with the unique names y'all insist on commenting on.
posted by griphus at 5:51 AM on August 5, 2015 [13 favorites]


That I can quickly return to using someone's first name with them, which is small but has the effect of making people more receptive to e.g. political message testing or fundraising.

If you're a stranger who wants something from me, using my first name is not a winning strategy. Ostentatiously using it several times, or taking care to use it in every sentence will have me hanging up or walking away from you; it's kinda gross. Just speak to me, you don't need my name if there's no chance I'll think you're talking to someone else, otherwise say sir or Mr Spiggott. (This is not servility, it's what I do and I'm not servile, I'm polite.) You can use my first name if the interaction will be ongoing, such as if we're work colleagues, or have at least one common acquaintance or if there is some kind of understanding that we will be interacting in future. *Never* if you're soliciting something (e.g. sales, fundraising) or if I called you because I had to rather than because I wanted to (e.g. customer support).
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:30 AM on August 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


FWIW, I hate it when salespeople/customer service people use my name repeatedly throughout a conversation.

When you encounter this, PLEASE drop a note to the corporate offices and express your displeasure.

I have held a couple of positions that have REQUIRED that nonsense, got fired from one for not doing it enough. Thank Dog this is not A Thing with my current employer.

Ditto for name tags. Recently, between jobs, I walked out of an interview when informed I would be required to wear a name tag with my full legal name engraved on it. No nicks, no pseudos. Having had the fun experience of being stalked and followed home from work, I NEVER use my legal name at work, particularly not my last name. Missy on the name tag was not acceptable, they said. That's a dealbreaker, especially in a face to face position.
posted by MissySedai at 6:52 AM on August 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


Like people have said, having an unusual name by itself is something different from having an unusual name and ethnicity or race coming into it.

There's a particular face that people often make when they feel strongly compelled to comment on your unusual ethnic name, whether it's a nice thing they're saying, or an observation that is intended to communicate with you through your difference vs. things you might share in common. E.g. "I knew someone with that same name or from that same place" [implication: "they are like you"] - that's about them wanting credit for placing you into a category that they are familiar with; it's wanting to show they have some knowledge of some external fact about you. It is not about engaging with you as an individual. As zutalors! and others have explained, that is focusing on the category you were ascribed, and not engaging in the subjective experience or identity that matters to you. It feels different than when someone wants to find commonalities.

You can see people's wheels spinning in that face, it's a kind of distancing fascination. You can feel them mentally (or even see them physically) lean back and observe you, with very slightly widened eyes, as they try to resolve the dissonance they're experiencing of finding themselves talking to a such a person, in English, in an everyday setting that's familiar to them. That categorization (Oh! You're from there) resolves their dissonance, which increases their comfort. But it also turns you into a token of a (whole other) type (of person), which usually decreases your comfort. Also, you have no idea what that type means to them; past experience suggests some of it might not be true or pleasant. Often, they'll soon say something that suggests your experience didn't steer you wrong. For the duration of that conversation, they are making you into something other than they are, and something other than you are.

Obviously it's not always possible or desirable to find commonalities in every interaction, e.g. at the bank, but in that case, commenting on difference (any version of the "where are you from" thing, which asking about your name amounts to, and even complimenting it alludes to) is just a bizarre interjection. The exchange wouldn't go that way with someone who they didn't think of as different. So that is uncomfortable. So if you would like to make the interaction *mutually* pleasant, it's better to just pass on the impulse to comment, and let making things feel comfortable for the person you're talking to, or at least professionalism, take priority over remarking on the weird pretty thing or resolving dissonance or answering that burning question for yourself. Just deal with them as you would any person who has a technical problem or needs to make a deposit or whatever.

(Luckily for me, I experience that face rarely in my current, very diverse city (which is also where I lived during my teen years), because many of the people I'm close to are also immediately "from" somewhere else, and because people who can't remember how long their families have been here (usually) know better (especially if they're around my age or younger). Or, it's just a boring question to them because at least half the people they know have unusual names, and they're interested in more important things. I saw that face *routinely* during my childhood and chunks of adulthood in more homogenous places, though, and I still see it when I go to less urban places. I have yet to have a mutually rewarding conversation with anyone who makes that face.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:04 AM on August 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


I picked up a habit from my parents, Momburnt and Dadburnt, who always say, then spell out, our last name. Our last name is a short and familiar name but far far more commonly a first name. "My last name is Hans, H-A-N-S." (that is not my name)

I can tell that the UPS guy is grateful for this because he has to type my last name, my scrawl is illegible, and like all people, he's instantly stunned that Hans can be a last name and not a first name, and he immediately wonders if I somehow made a mistake and gave him my first name which he can't use, and then he re-parses my statement and assures himself that he definitely heard me say "my last name is..." and then the relief happens on his face. I'm confident that this is what happens in his head, because I've watched the look change from the face that's about to say "no, dumbass, your last name," to "Oh, that's his last name, and it's easy, and he spelled it in case I thought it was too easy." I've watched it happen across the faces of a thousand delivery drivers off the shoulder of Orion... wait, sorry, I'm back in my head again.

Also, for fun, my first name is a less-common spelling of a common last name. It's a family name going back 7 generations, so I can't be the first to have noticed that it's a defect in the name, but I am the first to have the sense not to bear a son and inflict the name on him.
posted by Sunburnt at 3:12 PM on August 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I picked up a habit from my parents, Momburnt and Dadburnt, who always say, then spell out, our last name. Our last name is a short and familiar name but far far more commonly a first name.

hahaha in eighth grade we were doing some kind of getting to know you exercise where we were all paired up and had to ask each other kind of inane questions from a list

one of them was "What's your mother's maiden name?" (who the fuck cares? especially in eighth grade?)

so my partner reads the question off, and I say "Kim."
Face and voice dripping with the barely concealed contempt that eighth grade girls are uniquely skilled at imparting, she says "No, her last name."
Matching her tone and expression with all of my eighth-grade-girl muster, I say "Yes. It's Kim."

~the joys of being white-passing~
posted by kagredon at 8:30 PM on August 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


My name is Joe.

"Hey Joe, where ya goin with that gun in your hand?"

I'm going to shoot holes in the next motherfucker who mentions that song

That's where I'm goin
posted by Joseph Gurl at 2:24 AM on August 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Do you work in a button factory?

"If you're a stranger who wants something from me, using my first name is not a winning strategy."

Yes, but you're the exception. While it turns off some people, overall the gains offset those losses. It's like how upon meeting people, some folks don't like to shake hands but the majority do.
posted by klangklangston at 9:57 AM on August 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sure, but if you are selling something - whether it's a product or a belief in/opportunity to support a cause - you are best off paying attention to the individual you are talking with, because they are not the "overall," but someone who could very likely be that exception to it. As a salesperson, it's on you to note and follow the cues given by your "customer."
posted by rtha at 10:39 AM on August 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


Shaking hands is a pretty universal custom in much of the world. Most people in these areas accept it even if they don't like it much. But having your name used over and over again by a stranger is not a common convention, and you should expect more resistance to it (visible or invisible), especially among non-Americans.
posted by maudlin at 10:47 AM on August 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm another person who hates it when salespeople use my first name. It feels like an intrusion.

But, I've been on the other side of the counter, and I know that they've been ordered to do it by some corporate researcher wearing $1,000 shoes in an ivory tower far, far away, whose favorite hobby is using nouns as verbs. So I can't, in good conscience, take it out on the poor schmuck trying to put food on their family here on the sales floor.

It's the same reason I never call a public-facing worker by the name on their name tag. It was creepy when people did it to me, and I'm not going to be the creep who does it to them.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:38 AM on August 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


I also have an unusual first name and am not offended by comments like "Oh, that's a pretty name" or "What an unusual name" or "It was the main character's name in my favourite book" but do get ticked off by questions like "where is that from?", "what's your background?" and "where were you born?" just based on the fact that it's a foreign sounding name and that I have a slight accent (I'm fluent in 5 languages and I mix up the accents depending how rested/tired I am).

I'm not going to sit there and explain this to every person random person in the grocery store, or on the train or whatever. I feel those follow-up questions are often used to categorize people into some immigrant/refugee/job-stealing-foreigner category and the intent is offensive to me. I agree with some of the comments above, that you can still be friendly and find another way to start a conversation than asking about someone's personal history based on their name.

Many times I've introduced myself with a common English-sounding fake name just avoid the headache all together.
posted by Karotz at 12:22 PM on August 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


> "Hey Joe, where ya goin with that gun in your hand?"

I knew a guy named Joe, and the one he got all the time and hated was "Hey Joe, Whaddya know?"

The time I met him, I had just learned (from a T-shirt) a quote which thought was Plato: "I know nothing except my own ignorance." Google seems to think it's Socrates, and the T-shirt should've ready "I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance."

Give that one a try next time someone throws Hendrix in your face.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:40 PM on August 10, 2015


one of them was "What's your mother's maiden name?" (who the fuck cares? especially in eighth grade?)

Clearly your school was gathering data so they can get past those awful "security questions" when they decide to steal your identity.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:59 AM on August 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


The time I met him, I had just learned (from a T-shirt) a quote which thought was Plato: "I know nothing except my own ignorance." Google seems to think it's Socrates, and the T-shirt should've ready "I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance."

Since most of what we know of Socrates' discourse has been given to us by Plato (Socrates didn't write), it's safe to treat them as indistinguishable in regards to specific quotes. (Plus: translation.)
posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:24 PM on August 11, 2015


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