On names, changing them, and pronounciation

Ven vendersleighc at yahoo.com
Wed Mar 12 15:51:30 EST 2003

Gili wrote:

<Harvard's email system gives you the initials of

all names up to your 
surname, and then as many letters as possible out

of your surname up to a 
maximum of 8. This gave my roommate the very 
pretty sang at ... . But I had 
trouble convincing the computer society people 
that Bar was part of my 
surname, not a middle name, and that Gili was a 
middle name, not a nickname. 
At first I was given the address hillel at ..., 
which caused much confusion as 
Hillel happens to be the name of a major student 
organisation that was 
receiving all my mail... then I asked for 
gbarhill, and was flatly refused, 
some woman wrote me a snide response that 
"nicknames are unnacceptable". I 
ended up as abhillel, which is just wrong, but it


That sounds infuriating, surely the only thing
that should count is what you think you are
called. I must admit I take a certain delight in
wrongfooting people who ask what my "real" name
is by replying that "Ven is my real name"! (I
stop well short of snubbery and I will go on to
give them my birth name).

It's always seemed a bit odd to me that whereas
some names (Elizabeth, Richard etc) come with a
whole list of accepted nicknames some people balk
at using otherwise generated nicknames, even
when, as in my case, they have become real names.
Melissa wrote

<To me (and I feel the same as Sally on this)
because when I call
someone I don't know well, I will not refer to 
them by their first name
unless I've been invited to, whether formally or 
through the course of
becoming acquainted.  I consider it extremely 
rude behavior, and I hate it
when people do it to me (mistakenly thinking that

it will make, for example,
the doctor-patient relationship all buddy-buddy. 

It just pisses me off).>

I think this is really variable in time and
place. My Mum called most of her friends Mrs
Surname, unless she had known themn for donkey's
years whereas I use first names and don't learn
surnames until I've known someone a while -- so
knowing and using someone's surname is a mark of
intimacy in my circles (probably typical of UK
under 60s). There seems to be  a common principle
however that you don't want casual strangers to
have or use your whole name. I don't mind my
doctors calling me Ven, but then they ask what
you like to be called and put it in your notes.
Actually I'm very detached from my surname and
wish I didn't have one, it's only used for

Johanna said

> I wish more people would use the convention of 
speaking of their
> SOs/spouses/whatever as their "partner." It's 
so wonderfully inclusive &
> doesn't assume marriage status or sexuality 
(although at this stage,
> people tend to assume the latter if you use 
it--me being bisexual throws
> them off even more *g*). And then you don't 
have to worry about getting it
> wrong.

and Charles replied

<I've used this sometimes, though even this can 
get ambiguous if you run a small business or play

tennis doubles. I'm tempted to blame the inherent

imprecision of the English language (which at 
other times I laud) but I suspect in this case
just reflecting society's uncertainties and 
embarrassments right back at it: people just feel

queasy about the institution of marriage itself.>

I once used this as an example to support the
Whorf Sapir hypothesis (the one that says,
roughly, that language determines what can be
thought about). I attribuited it to the
uneasiness people had about unmarried couples
(and single motherhood) due to the seismic
upheaval in conventional morality that we're
still working through. I mean it seems unusual to
me now for people to get married before they have
children and serial monogamy is the norm, yet I
remember my mother referring to a friend of mine,
who had split with her partner, as "soiled goods"
and sympathised with her parents  because no one
would marry thier daughter now. (Yes I did object
to this and yes Mum's views did soften over


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