What’s In A Name?

Last week I had a phone call from Eric Wilson regarding a pen I recently uploaded to our website; unfortunately I had been rushing around getting ready for company arriving from the States the next day so it was one of those middle-of-something moments where I didn’t have time to talk. Fortunately my husband was near at hand and since he is a ‘fountain pen guy’ himself, I handed off the phone to him, with apologies to Eric. Everything I know about British fountain pens comes from my husband’s brain anyway, plus the pen in question was one he had researched when we first acquired it, so I knew he would likely have the answers Eric sought. But Eric, if you’re reading this, I do apologise again for having to rush off!

In any event, Eric jokingly began the phone call by calling me Debbie, referring to part of a discussion on a post that was in FPN. As many of you know I don’t go to FPN for various reasons, but the post in question was known to me. Apparently there are some folks out there who refer to me as ‘Debbie’ who seemed to be surprised to be told that it’s not a name I like, and while I know this was addressed in the post, let’s take a few moments to talk about it here, straight from the Deb’s mouth, as it were.

I’ll start off by saying that there are probably thousands of perfectly nice women in the world who like being called Debbie. I am not one of them. In fact I hate being called Debbie. I know, I know, now many of you are in danger of bursting with the urge to comment back to me with ‘Debbie’ in every other sentence but I beseech you, friends and readers, please resist. I will not find it funny in the least.

Here is a conversation I have had, with variations, all my life:

Me: Hi, my name is Deborah.

Other Person: Oh hi, Debbie.

Me: Actually, it’s Deborah.

Other Person: Ah, ok. Can I call you Debbie?

Me: No. It’s Deborah. Sometimes Deb. Never Debbie.

Other Person: Okay Debbie. Debbie, I won’t call you Debbie anymore. Ha ha ha! I promise not to do it again, Debbie!

What is that all about? I’d really like to know.

What baffles me is that there is nowhere online or in real life where I refer to myself as Debbie. So why would anyone else take it upon themselves to do so? As the proprietress of Goodwriters Pens, as well as on Facebook and blogs, I only ever call myself Deborah or Deb. Never, ever Debbie. What is it, I wonder, that makes people decide to just call me whatever they want to? What is the presumption that it is okay to do so? If someone introduces himself to me as Kevin, I don’t call him Kev. If I meet a Jennifer, I don’t automatically call her Jenny. So why ‘Debbie’? What’s especially annoying is when it happens when someone is responding to something in print or on screen. There’s my name on Facebook, for example, and it’s Deb for one account, Deborah for another. Right there in front of the reader on their screen. Not a -bie suffix in sight. And still… Debbie.

When I moved to Scotland ten years ago I thought it was my chance to shed the Debbie-name forever. I would be clear! I would be firm! I WOULD BE DEB!

That seemed to work briefly until our dear old spinster neighbour decided to call me Debbie no matter how many times I corrected her. Because she had dozens of visitors a week, soon everyone in the village began calling me Debbie because they’d heard it from her. I corrected people constantly, to no avail. I seem to be unable to escape the assumption that it’s okay to just call me something other than the name I use.

Decades ago when I was a legal secretary for a small firm I took a call from one of our more difficult clients. He ranted and raved about his issue and said at one point, “Is this Debbie?” Mind you, I always answered the phone by saying, “[Name of law firm], this is Deborah, how may I help you?” So I replied to his question by saying, “This is Deborah.” That’s all. Much to my astonishment he started ranting even harder, but making it personal. “Oh it’s DEBORAH, is it? My what a high horse YOU’RE on! We have to call you DEBORAH, do we!”

I said mildly that Deborah was my given name, and that I did not see how it was out of line for me to ask for people to use it. He spluttered in outrage but what he did not know was that I’d put him on speaker-phone, as my boss had just walked in. Just as the client began swearing at me, my boss roared in his great big booming voice, “WILLIAM! You will control yourself, and you will never speak to my secretary like that again! In fact you should never speak to anyone like that!” William was instantly filled with contrition, and I resisted the urge to call him Billy.

So, the Name Game. I don’t know why it seems to be so difficult to grasp. What I find even more baffling is that while they don’t react quite like William of old did, many people seem to take some sort of personal offense to being told what I prefer to be called – and that it’s NOT Debbie. Why do they find that so surprising and offensive? I am always polite about it, yet I get a definite whiff of ‘attitude’ in return.

I have never had the courage to follow through with this, but it has long been a fantasy of mine for the conversation to go like this:

Me: Hi, my name is Deborah.

Other Person: Oh hi, Debbie.

Me: Actually, it’s Deborah.

Other Person: Ah, ok. Can I call you Debbie?

Me: Sure, but then I’ll be calling you Ignorant Jackass.

Can you just imagine? “But… but I don’t like being called Ignorant Jackass,” they would say in shocked and hurt confusion. My reply would be, smiling serenely, “And I do not like being called Debbie. So. Do we have an understanding?”

A person can dream, can’t she?

By the way, some of you might say, “But I never knew you didn’t like to be called Debbie.” Well, firstly, perhaps the fact that I never call myself anything other than Deb or Deborah should have been a pretty solid indication, so calling me something else was presumptuous. And secondly… now you know, unequivocally.


About goodwriterspens
I restore fountain pens, and used to trade as redripple52 in eBay. I also have my own fountain pen sales website, www.goodwriterssales.com

4 Responses to What’s In A Name?

  1. becausebw says:

    Grrr…..I had someone do this to me as well. He was the Deputy Head of the government department that I was temping at. I’d been there a few months, and we’d had some interesting conversations, and suddenly he took it upon himself to start calling me ‘Carrie’.

    “My name is Carol” I told him. He insisted it was fine because Carrie is a nickname for Carol. Every time he called me Carrie, I would correct him. It’s the kind of thing that you really can’t complain about because it’s you that ends up looking petty and stupid.

    So – I waited until he had a meeting, and as he was ushering someone into his office, he asked me to hold all calls. “Okay, Dickie,” I said. He came back to my desk.

    “My name is Richard.” he said, offended.

    “It’s fine,” I said. “Dickie is a nickname for Richard.”

    “My name is Richard,” he repeated.

    “MY name is Carol.” I replied.

    He tried calling me Carrie once more, assuming I wouldn’t call him Dickie in front of the Head of the Department.

    He was wrong.

    He pretty much stopped referring to me by name after that – but he stopped calling me Carrie.

    • You are my HERO!!! That is an excellent story.

      This: ‘He insisted it was fine because Carrie is a nickname for Carol’ made me want to reach through time and strangle him. That’s what I don’t understand – how people seem to think it is their place to insist on calling us ANYTHING other than what we call ourselves!

      • becausebw says:

        It’s totally a power thing.

        For me to call him something other than Richard was disrespecting him.

        But apparently, him choosing to call me something other than Carol was his perogative.


      • Absolutely a power thing. Funny (not funny) that it’s only perceived as disrespectful in one direction and not the other!

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