Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Same Name Awkwardness

I feel awkward and uncomfortable calling by name friends and acquaintances who have the same first name, or nickname as my own. I don’t know why that is. Many years ago I was writing one such same-named person an emotionally filled out-pouring of thoughts and feelings. We were both experiencing difficult times in our lives for quite different reasons, but had become intimately familiar with the nature of each others individual issues. Responding to my letter she replied, “I hope you know you’re writing to yourself.”

She was an English professor whose teaching included conducting writing classes, so I thought she likely knew about writing in ways I did not. I was quite startled by her analysis since I never once realized this aspect in the words I wrote her. I couldn’t help wondering at the time if simply starting the letter with her name (“my name,”) coupled with the intimacy of our friendship, knowing each others families so well, had sent me off into this self-writing mode she perceived.

I always meant to talk with her about the whys, wherefores and significance of such writing. Later years when she visited from out of state there were much more current matters to share and that letter exchange had long since been forgotten. She unexpectedly died pre-maturely several years ago, though much younger than me, so that conversation will never take place.

Her full first name, quite different than mine, was used when we were first introduced. I didn’t know for some time that others called her by a shortened version of her name that was the same as “my name.” I tried using our shared short name a few times but uttering “my name” as though it was hers felt awkward, so I reverted to using her full first name as I always had. She was the first person, friend, acquaintance or co-worker with whom I shared that common name until a few years ago.

Tonight I received an email from that new person/co-worker known by the informal shortened name close friends and associates use with me. She was part of our company before I joined them, so had seniority rights to continue being called by that name – “my name.” I was designated to be called by my more formal full length name that is generally used only by those with whom I don’t have such a close personal relationship. Even after all these years, my full name used in this company situation continues to sound strange to my ears when they address me, considering I know these individuals so well.

As unusual as this may sound, I somehow don’t feel quite as close to these people when they speak my name. Consciously, unintentionally, they just seem to be a bit more distant to me on some level. I doubt that they feel that way, and I don’t understand why I am so subtly aware of this perceptual difference within myself -- just seems to be that way.

Interesting what slight insignificant events can trigger other memories such as this one.

Maybe such a subtle name reaction is unique to me, but I wonder if others are ever aware of perceiving feelings such as this, or what they do sense when addressing another person sharing their same first name?


  1. I would have to say I probably feel somewhat the same as you do about that situation. Although I can’t recall ever having been around someone with the same first name as mine for any length of time such as in a work environment.

    You know, I guess it is a ‘male’ thing but men often call other men by their last names rather than their first names. If there are a couple of Bob’s or Jim’s in the office, it’s common place just to call or refer to them by their last names. I don’t recall having heard women do the same thing.

    In giving that some thought, I wonder if that has anything to do with having served in the Armed Forces. There everyone wears a permanent name tag containing their last name and so that is pretty much how they are addressed, formally or otherwise. Addressing or referring to someone by their last name just becomes the normal thing to do.

    Also, at least among men, if there is an obvious and unavoidable name duplication then someone will get a nickname and it will catch on rather quickly eliminating the problem. The issue there of course is whether the person will like their nickname or not because it is usually not something the “guys” ask for approval for.

  2. Over the years I have known many girls and women named Judy. I haven't found it odd to call them that at all. For about 10 years in the 70's, my best friend was Judy and her husband had the same name as mine. And in the 90's, the same was true - but with another couple.

    Maybe my ability to do that without problems is related to becoming comfortable with it in the first grade, when my reading book was titled "Jim and Judy".

  3. My thought on starting to read this post, "Really?" Then realized that my experience is so limited with meeting others with the same name that it might be a lack of empathy on my part.

    Rolled the idea around some more and recognized that the limited times I'd met another Naomi that it felt odd to call them by name. And did I mention that almost no one pronounces my name correctly? That used to annoy but with age, I'm over it!

  4. joared, this is all so fascinating, especially the observation that in writing to someone with the same name, it was observed that you were really writing to yourself. Maybe there is something in that observation because it has been said when artists paint portraits, they tend to paint more a likeness of themselves, and I believe this is true. When I do pencil sketches of people and tuck them away in a drawer -- later I look and see eyes more like mine, a nose more like mine, a brow more like mine, than the one I tried to capture.

    Although meeting someone with the same name, scars my own uniqueness in an oblique way, I have no problem with it. My roommate for years had the same name, a similar build, and the same color of hair. We were actually quite look-a-likes, and it was neat. But what blocks intimacy with a 'new friend' for me is name pronounciation. I can't roll r's or make the proper sounds for some ethnic names. I am just very satisfied that my good friend who is French through and through allows me to call him 'jack' rather than some 'jock' with a special aww in it that I am totally unable to recreate. I'm quite certain we could not have been friends otherwise.

  5. I think I understand where you're coming from on this. I've never experienced it but I can see the difficulty that could arise.

    And goooooooooo Buckeyes!!!!!

  6. I think I can understand what you're talking about. Although I've run into very few women with the name 'Joy' in my life, I have known a few Joyce's; which is my true first name...but noone except a couple of family members have called me that since I was a teenager. I did know a Joyce or two in high school. There is another 'Joy' who works at BlogHer whom I've never officially met, but we have e-mailed. It is kind of weird when we communicate back and forth with all the "Joys" coming and going in the threads of the e-mails...and for a long time people in the company mixed us up a lot and were always sending me e-mails meant for her by mistake, but that's gotten a lot better.

  7. I was in my 30's before meeting another Darlene. She was in her 20's and I always felt like she had stolen my name. Since then I have met several other Darlenes.

    I now have a near neighbor named Darlene. Since she is older than I, she may feel like I stole her name. She lived here when I bought my house so I always said that I was number two so I had to try harder.

    For a while it felt strange to telephone her and say, "Hi Darlene. This is Darlene" After ten years it feels right.

  8. Alan G: Yes, I recall now being aware men often call each other by their last name, and sometimes even a shortened version. I think of last names -- a Brown I knew that was called "Brownie," and a Barton that was "Bart." Then there was "Shorty"(and he was short) and "Red" (red hair.) At least 3 of the 4 had been in various branches of the military, but some of the names had started in high school, maybe even Jr. Hi.

    Kenju: Interesting that you didn't experience any initial twinge saying,"Hi, Judy, this is Judy." Encountering your name as not exclusively yours at such an early age may well account for that as you note.

    Naomi: Am not surprised at your initial reaction, as this isn't exactly a topic that weighs heavily on our minds. I'm sure with you about being irritated over the mispronunciation of my name, even though I know it's perfectly logical that people could be uncertain, and I'm sometimes not sure about others names. We surely should be tolerant.

    Roberta S: Fascinating observation you shared about drawing portraits and how artists unconsciously incorporate themselves into them. Having a look-alike friend with your same name takes what I've written here even a step further. Interesting that these similarities had not the least effect on you.

    I like the introduction of speech into this dialogue, hearing about the significant impact word/name/individual sounds (phonemes/vowels) pronunciation has for you.

    Kay: So, you've not yet encountered another named "Kay" in your life, or if so, clearly, you gave no significance to the same name matter. Hope you're ready for that big game -- OSU vs Mich.! Am enjoying all the videos, marching band music, and Script Ohio at your place -- thanks!

    Joy: With all the "Joy" in the company emails, everybody must be motivated to be perpetually "joyful." (Sorry couldn't resist that.) The mixup in messages for same name people can be an issue. Coincidentally, shortly after I wrote this piece I received an email addressing me as though I was an alumni member of a University I never attended in a State where I never lived and as a friend of someone I never knew, inviting me to some sort of alumni assoc. interesting-sounding affair. I believed the email to not be spam, so sent a short response I had received this in error. We then engaged in a brief flurry of emails with the writer insisting we were friends. Suddenly, I received a short apology the writer had figured out a mistake had been made. I had about decided to claim to be that other person with my name 'cause the affair sounded quite like fun, and I earlier had noted a special airfare at bargain rate. It could have been an interesting experience to write about and share here.

    Darlene: I think we really can feel very possessive about our names, so can understand a twinge of resentment someone else is using it. Would be a strange conversation initially with so many "Darlene" words going back and forth. Glad you're quite comfortable with it all now. It occurs to me that sharing the same name could even foster a bonding experience in some instances.

  9. I can somewhat relate with this post. I got two names but most people especially at home usually calls me with my second name. I rarely used my first name until during the 3rd grade when I got a classmate who has the same name as I have. It created sort of a confusion amongst the teachers and ourselves. It was kindof inconvenient.

    Now, at school we have like 5 or 6 Christines in our class. Ugh!

  10. There are so many people with my name everywhere that it happens daily. It must be the frequency that makes it a non-issue for me. It's just a name.

  11. I have met sooo few people throughout my life with the same first name as me that I'm afraid I have no experience with this, at all.
    The only "probelems" I have ever had with my first name have to do with pronunciation. Someone will ask me: What's your name again? And I will say my name with what I percieve to be the correct probunciation and they repeat it back to me pronouncing it entirely! I gave up on all that a long time ago....!

  12. Bjornsen or should I call you Charles? Glad to welcome you here. I can understand the confusion having two boys with the same name in your 3rd grade class. As for 5 or 6 Christines, in your classes now, keeping them straight must really be a challenge.

    Jen: Pleased to welcome you here. Jen seems to have become a popular name in recent years as don't recall any "Jens" in my youth. We have two Jens in my family now.

    OldOldLadyoftheHills: Interesting that people have difficulty pronouncing your name, as "The Little Red Hen" noted the same "probelem." Your name doesn't seem that difficult to me, in fact not difficult at all. But I've heard people mangle some really simple common 3 and 4 letter word names they try to turn into exotic foreign language utterances, including my 4 letter word last name and the last two letters are even the same.

  13. Hei Joared. Just call me Charles. Regarding with the Christines in our class. I call name with their fullnames. It's a bit tiring, but it does clear the confusion