I was recently called by my given name by a complete stranger.
Let’s think about this for a second. As a puddle of Social Anxiety, I have to stop and check my perceptions every once in a while. I have to ask, “Do other people have this much trouble answering the phone?” or “What’s the big deal with friendly cashiers?” or “Do most people feel sick to their stomach when someone they don’t know very well calls them by their first name?” Because I do. And I did.
It was a simple case of a customer service worker actually paying attention to my name when I showed them my driver’s license, but it felt more creepy and intimate than that. It felt like a violation, which I gather from the handy perception check above is not the feeling the average person would have experienced in the same situation.
So why did it bug me so much?
To understand, you have to get into the way I feel about given names in general: I’m squarely against them.
I gave a presentation in class today, and it was followed by a question period moderated by yours truly. My hands were freezing and my palms were sweaty, in part because public speaking equals no and partly because I was terrified I’d have to call on someone by name. It’s hard to describe the feeling. It’s like an emptiness in the pit of my stomach, or maybe more like a space filled to the brim with cold, echoing fear. The fear that I’ll call someone I’ve known for months by the wrong name.
To be clear, I know their name. I KNOW their freaking name. But what if I don’t know their name and there are so many names in the world and what if I know it but pronounce it incorrectly and what if I DIE?
So names are hard.
I won’t exaggerate (although I’d dearly loved to). I call the average acquaintance by their names on occasion, and I use names when I talk with my close friends and family. I’m not a monster. I don’t even mind when acquaintances call me by name (but roll call makes me shudder).
So names have acquired a certain status in my mind. If I feel safe with you, I’ll call you by name. If I can take a deep breath when you’re around, you can even call me by mine.* So when that stranger used my first name, she was taking a liberty. She didn’t know it, but she was entering an intimate space where she really didn’t belong.
Or did she? In the name of personal growth, should I be learning a lesson here? They say to get anywhere in business you need to kick ass and take names (or at least remember and use names). Is my hesitance to use names holding back my career? What about personal relationships? Do the people I greet with a generic-but-friendly “Hey, you!” feel slighted in any way? Should I be using their names when we meet up in the mall, or the hall, or at other rhyming places?
It’s hard to ask these questions, because that way lies madness – obsessing over what I’m doing wrong socially can destroy me on a good day. I need to ask these questions, though, if only to do a small favour to the people who are kind enough to be friendly to me.
Therefore, I resolve to use people’s names more and to try to take it easy when they return the favour. 1 2 3 GO.
*If you know me and are thinking to yourself, “Wait! Does she use my name? Am I a safe person? Am I insulting her when I call her by name? Is this blog causing me to develop Social Anxiety?” please remember that I’m fairly damaged and you have to take everything I say, or don’t say, with a grain of salt.