What’s In a Name?

roses

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

When I began writing fiction, I decided to use my full name as my byline. There was a very practical reason for this: Nancy is the 12th most common female name in the U.S., while Moore currently ranks as the 16th most common surname. (It was 9th when I made the decision, but it’s dropping fast as the U.S. gets more people with Hispanic backgrounds.)

Not that Jane isn’t also fairly common among people who trace their heritage to the British Isles. But only a few people who share all three of my names use them all, making it a reasonable byline.

People sometimes ask what name I prefer to go by. While I generally introduce myself as Nancy — except in situations where I’m promoting my fiction — I don’t care whether you call me Nancy or Nancy Jane. For that matter, it’s OK with me if you shorten my name to Nan or Nance, as some of my friends do.

The only thing that bothers me is when people get my name wrong. I went to high school with a Linda Moore. We weren’t kin and we weren’t close friends, so it really hurt my feelings when people called me Linda. Which happened a lot.

But while I don’t mind which version of my name you use, many other people do.

I go by the rule that each person gets to decide what name they prefer to use and how to pronounce it. It’s their name, their identity.

BVC’s Laura Anne Gilman is always Laura Anne. I know some Deborahs who will look daggers at you if you shorten their name and others who are happy being Deb or Debby. Likewise Rebeccas.

They also get to change it if they want to. Many years ago my friend Bill Swanson changed his first name to Walden. It took some getting used to, but now I can’t think of him as anyone but Walden. An old friend from college stopped using his nickname of Mike and started going by his given name, which is Larkin. I’m still working on remembering that.

It’s common for men who are juniors to go by a nickname in the family when they are young. My father was Mickey through high school, but he had dropped it completely by the time he met my mother and was always John in our family. And my Uncle Bud — who was Orren Lake Peterman Jr. — became Uncle Pete after my grandfather died. (I note that in three generations of Orren Lake Petermans not one of them ever used Orren. There’s an object lesson there in child naming.)

Then there are the problems caused by common names. When I was young, there was almost always another Nancy in my school class. At Clarion West, we had three Roberts in our class of 17 people. Fortunately, all three of them preferred different variations: Robert, Rob, and Bob. Robert lends itself to lots of variation, but I find that most people with that name tend to care passionately about which version you use.

My sister Katrinka has a name with many nickname possibilities, but she prefers to use her full name these days. I confess I still think of her as Trinka, but I always introduce her as Katrinka. It’s her name. She gets to decide.

I come from an informal generation in which calling everyone by their first name is the norm. Back in the days when I worked for legal services organizations, I didn’t mind my clients calling me by my first name. But I often called my clients Mr. or Ms. Brown or Smith — particularly if they were older than I was and African American. Sometimes a little formality is a good thing, especially with people who have experienced a lot of disrespect in their lives.

There’s only one time when I care whether you use my whole name and that’s when you’re talking about me in relation to my work. As a writer I am always Nancy Jane Moore.

Most writers feel the same way. Our bylines identify our work. They’re the name under which you can track it down.

Other than that, when talking to me, feel free to use whatever variation you prefer.

Just don’t call me Linda.

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About Nancy Jane Moore

Nancy Jane Moore's science fiction novel, The Weave, is now available in print and ebook versions from Aqueduct Press. Some of her short stories are now appearing as reprints on Curious Fictions. She is a founding member of Book View Cafe. Her BVC ebooks can be found here. She also has short stories and essays in most of the BVC anthologies. In addition to writing fiction, Nancy Jane, who has a fourth degree black belt in Aikido, teaches empowerment self defense. She is at work on a self defense book that emphasizes non-fighting skills.

Comments

What’s In a Name? — 15 Comments

  1. I have to wrestle for my middle initial. Editors and interviewers and cover designers have been fixing my byline for me for 40 years. “How could anybody with as weird a name as Vonda McIntyre want or need a middle initial? We’ll take it out for her and she’ll realize how brilliant we are and thank us.”

    Vonda McIntyre was my mother.

    • And that is why I started with Katharine Eliska Kimbriel. Katharine Kimbriel is my mother, and my grandmother. Eliska Kimbriel was my OTHER grandmother. And are you ready for this? There’s another Katharine (different spelling) Kimbriel in the town I live in–no relation!

      If I need a pseudonym, I hope to come up with something I can claim as mine.

  2. Yeah – I started using my full name at 22, when I was in an environment where “Lau-” could have called out Lara, Lawrence, Laurie, Lorraine, etc in my office. My family and anyone who knew me before I was 20 gets a pass, and friends know my nickname, but when I meet someone new it’s always “Hi, I’m Laura Anne.”

    And I judge them by how well they listen to my preference.

  3. I hate being called Pat. I think the main reason I hate it is because I have never in my entire life told anyone, “Call me Pat, and yet people will take it upon myself to do it anyway.”

    On the other hand, I was in a meeting in LA when someone else in the meeting stopped it and looked from me to the producer and said, “Do you know each other? Why do you keep calling her ‘Patti?'”

    The producer–a guy young enough to be my son–looked startled, but believe me, I was even moreso. I hadn’t even noticed, which is why the casual use of an unused nickname probably seemed so ‘comfortable’ and natural to the observer.

    The producer just shrugged and laughed and gave an explanation that, being from Boston and an Irish-American, he knew so many people with the nickname Patty/Paddy, he guessed it just came out naturally.

    In my case, Patti is what my family and childhood friends call me.

    Somehow, it slipped into the conversation without either of us being aware or reacting to it, and yet I know from experience that usually non-family members and non-childhood friends who try to use that name get ignored. Not intentionally, mind you. But I’ve had people die laughing because they tested it; somebody called me Patti trying to get my attention in a ‘Pooks’ environment, and I didn’t even hear them. I didn’t respond in any way, not even slightly. But as soon as they called me Pooks, I turned around to find out who was calling my name.

    • I suspect some people do this as a strategy in business meetings, using a diminutive of your name that you don’t use to make you seem less important. I doubt it’s just a sexist thing; I’ve seen people do this to men, too. Of course, some people don’t have an agenda; they just don’t think it matters. But for some people it matters quite a lot.

  4. When I opened my first bank account, my grandmother suggested I used my middle initial. I kept it up when I started practicing law and also used it in my byline for my day job as a legal editor. Awhile back I was ego-surfing on the web and came across links for articles on class actions — a subject I covered for years — by “Nancy J. Moore.” I was puzzled — most of my day job work was locked behind a very expensive paywall and I couldn’t remember writing those pieces anyway. Turns out there’s a Nancy J. Moore who is a law professor specializing in class actions at Boston University. I look at something like that and think “I could have been her.” Such is the curse of the common name.

  5. Google is a wonderful thing — you can put a name into the search window and find out how common it really is. When I put my name in, I myself am the first several hundred hits that come up, which is good enough. There are a couple other Brenda Cloughs out there (one is a municipal official in flyover country, married, I am sorry to report, to a Barry Clough), but the one writer is the author of MANGROVE ECOLOGY OF SOUTHERN AUSTRALIA. Unfortunately Amazon had me listed as the author of her book. I decided not to do anything about it and let her fix it.

  6. My mother claimed that the week I was born (back when women stayed in hospital a week to have a baby) there were 7 girls born. Six of them were named Susan. I wasn’t. I hated being Phyllis or Irene. I wanted a pretty name like Susan. My family called me Phyl. That was okay. But every time we moved there was a Philip in the class already. He had seniority and got to be Phil. I was Phyllis. I think is was better than Olive (Phyllis=green leaf, Irene=peace) or Chlorophyll. But now as an adult I have claimed Phyllis Irene as my own. Very few people have that name. I am me, distinct from everyone else.

    But there are people out there who just do not understand the insult when they mispronounce or misspell your name. It’s as if you aren’t worth bothering with remembering. I have issues with that.

    • As someone who’s had my name mispronounced/misspelled/ridiculed throughout much of my life, I concur. So much of our identity (history, culture, family tradition, for starters) is wrapped up in our names; disrespect for the name translates into disrespect for the person.

      How is one supposed to react when someone exclaims “what the hell kind of name is that?” It’s my name, thankyouverymuch – we’ve survived many things together, my name and I, including a, erm, cartload of tactless ignorance. I can laugh now that my name has suddenly become ‘cool,’ but it sure hurt when I was growing up.

      I agree, though: a lot of people just don’t get it.

  7. > I went to high school with a Linda Moore. We weren’t kin and we weren’t close friends, so it really hurt my feelings when people called me Linda. Which happened a lot.

    That sounds like my mother’s story. There were two Patricia Jones’s in her class, one of whom went by Thelma, and she was the one labeled Thelma one year in their yearbook. Twenty years later, and she was still upset about that!

    —-

    But, I, too, have an easily mispronounced given name that is also my first and middle name. Exactly one person is allowed (grudgingly!) to call me only by my first name, and I think she does it at this point to be obstinate.

    Then there is the last name…

  8. Now, it seems that everyone and her aunt is named Madeline or has a niece or daughter named Madeline. Which is almost, but not quite, my name (I have an extra E). But when I was a kid I would have killed to be named Susan or Anne or Mary–a normal name. (We dreamt not, in those long ago names, of names like Tiffany or Rhiannon or Lakeisha.) I grew into Madeleine, and am quite happy with it. On the other hand, for everyday, I tend to be Mad. I dislike Maddy (I had a teacher who called me Maddy in the most saccharine, bleating way, and it poisoned the nickname for me), and if I am called so, I will correct the speaker, and hope they get the message.

    With the death of my uncle at 100 this summer I lost the last of my relatives who still slipped and used my childhood nickname (my aunt on my mother’s side either calls me Madeleine or Maude–long story, you’d be bored, trust me). And that childhood nickname was Madly. My parents called me this and, when I was old enough to ask why, I was told it was so that they could say “We love you Madly.” At which point I put my 8-year-old foot down and said No, please. Since then I have been Madeleine or Mad. Or occasionally, Hey You.

    It all could have been worse: my mother initially wanted to name me Phoebe, a very pretty name but not me. My father put his foot down, and thus I am who I am.

    • I’m kind of sorry that there’s no one left around who uses my childhood names. My sister sometimes remembers to call me “Injy,” which was my mother’s way of running NJ together, but I don’t think there’s anyone left who remembers that I called myself Cincy when I was tiny because I couldn’t quite pronounce Nancy.

      I can see that you would have hated Madly at 8 — and I’m sure you would have killed anyone who dared use it when you were 15 or so — but it sounds kind of charming now.