names, and the resurrection

Carolyn needed some encouragement to call me by my first name, so I thought this might be a good time for a short riff on the subject.

Even a rudimentary search at Amazon will establish that I publish under three names. I have always used Rosina Lippi Green in academic situations, and for academic publications. When I was teaching at the university I asked students to call me by my first name, or if they were uncomfortable with that, Professor Lippi or Professor Green. I would answer to any of those, but not to Dr. Lippi, because while I have a PhD, I fear being asked to perform a miracle when the guy at the next table has a heart attack. When I’m filling out forms, I pick Ms over Miss or Mrs.

A short story regarding my twenty year struggle with my various names.

When the Girl Child was four, she started a two year kindergarten program. Every evening at the supper table we got elaborate stories of her day’s dramas. This was also the period when we were going through the death-and-dying discussions. She’d ask the same question in about a hundred ways (does everybody really die? am I going to die? are you? when? can’t I wake up again?) and we always answered in the same way, calmly. Yup, everybody dies, but no reason to get your knickers in a twist (this from the Mathematician). Years and years and years and years away. When you’re really old and you’ve had a good life and you’re tired and ready, that’s when you’ll die. (Discussions about early death, sickness, accidents, all that we saved for later.) And still the Girl Child did not like this at all. At odd times I’d hear a wailing: But I don’t want to be dead forever!

So back to the supper table one evening after an eventful day at kindergarten. Girl Child is telling a story about something that happened on the playground when she stops in midsentence. She stands up suddenly and looks at us with the most serious expression, all j’accuse!, out of thin air.

Sez she: There was a guy… what was his name? [flinging out her arms to a crucifix type pose] You know, the dead one!

Me: You mean Jesus?

She: Yes! He was dead and then he wasn’t dead anymore!

This was delivered in a jubilant, aha! tone. Here, you parental types, here is counter evidence to your thesis, now what say you to that?

So we asked her where she had heard about Jesus, and it turned out that a kid in her class, we’ll call him Joe, had spent much of the playground time trying to save souls for Jesus. The living-forever clause really got the Girl Child’s attention, and now she was all disappointed that we weren’t jumping on the bandwagon.

She: Don’t you believe that he died and then he wasn’t dead anymore?

Me: Not the way you mean, no. Sorry.

Mathematician: Nope.

She: Well I believe it!

Mathematician: You have to make up your own mind about those things.

She: I’ve maked up my mind!

You’re wondering where names come into this story. Here we go.

The next day when I took her into her classroom at school, I ran into Joe’s mother in the hall. She stopped me to tell me how very put out she was with me. She had been trying to call me every day for a week, and we never answered the phone. (This was when we didn’t have an answering machine even.) No wonder, I told her. I work. I’m at the university all day long, and do you want my office number there? This flustered her because she had to drop her plan to bully me into coming into the classroom to take down and wash the curtains (which she subsequently pressed on another mother), but she dug in and took up my next transgression:

She: My Joe tells me you asked him not to call you Mrs. Green.

Me: That’s right. I don’t answer to Mrs. Green.

She: We are trying to raise him to be polite.

Me: That’s lovely. To be polite he should call me Rosina, or if you really don’t like that idea, Ms Lippi will do.

She: What’s wrong with Mrs. Green?

Me: And of course he could call me Professor Lippi Green, but that’s a mouthful.

She: What’s wrong with Mrs. Green?

Me: I don’t know anybody by that name. It’s certainly not me.

She: Aren’t you legally married?

Me: How kind of you to inquire. Yes. I am in fact legally married to the father of my child. Anything else I can help you with?

She: I’m just trying to understand why Joe can’t call you Mrs. Green.

Me: I’ve got a lot of names for him to chose from, but that’s not one of them.

She: We’re just trying to do the right thing.

Needless to say we never came to any kind of compromise. I refused to let her give me a new name, and she refused to let her son traffic with us. The Girl Child didn’t mind because Joe wasn’t one of her bestest friends anyway. We were sort of sorry to lose the interesting theological discussions at the supper table, but then you can’t have everything. What you can have, what I held onto, is the right to name myself.

So if you were wondering what to call me, just stick with first names (you have a choice of two, count ’em, two!). That’s what I’ll answer to.

22 Replies to “names, and the resurrection”

  1. I have a real problem with people calling me Debbie. It’s a personal thing, I have met a few rotten debbies and I don’t want to be lumped in with that. It is amazing the number of people who just assume Deborah can become Debbie with no problem. I don’t mind Deb, Debs or even, if they are feeling a little lazy, feel free to call me D. But Debbie does my head in.

    It also seems that after a certain age Miss turns into Ms. I’m not actually sure how this Ms thing is meant to work, but my understanding is it can be an alternative to reverting back to miss after a divorce. I am not divorced but it seemed the minute I was over 30 and unmarried people lumped me into that. Is it a category for spinster women as well? I like Miss, Miss suits me fine thank you very much.

    End of gripe.

  2. I hate it when people misspell or mispronounce my name and then say “it doesn’t matter.” It certainly does matter! Grrr.

    Regarding Miss or Ms: From my understanding, Miss denotes marital status, Ms, for the most part, does not. You can be single or never married and be a Ms, you can be married and be a Ms, you can be divorced and be a Ms.

    Miss says that you are not married (and if you are older, maybe not good enough to be married – you are an old maid.)

  3. But if you like Miss, that’s cool! I am taking a sociology class and we are covering social structures, including gender stratification.

    I don’t mean to sound like I am flaming, because that is not the intention. Whoops.

    I should have said end of gripe after my message too!

  4. Lanna thanks for that, I thought that is what it came down to. I hate the fact that here in the year 2006 women can still be thought of as old maids, Ms Miss or whatever. There’s no such thing, or there shouldn’t be. That’s one o the things I so loved about Elizabeth in Into The Wilderness. She had other plans that came above marrying, as do I. Its over 100 years later and still my family have me in a corner at every reunion asking either: Any man in you life.. yet?! – to which I say “no, not really looking for a relationship to be honest,”: to which then reply – in tones similar to that of people finding out I have a terminal illness – “oh, okay, well maybe next year aye?” Or: You can tell us, your gay right? One day I’m gunna say yes, just for the reaction.

    Okay, end of gripe II.

  5. Deborah are you sure you’re not me? I’ll be 28 this year, ten years older than my own mother was when she got married. Needless to say my family is beginning to worry…

    I don’t know what the cutoff age is when you become a Ms, but what really irks me more than that is being called Ma’am. The first time somebody calls you Ma’am is up there with finding your first grey hair.

  6. Kenzie, totally with you on the ma’am. I would rather be called Miss. Seriously.

    Deborah, when I was single, and my mother kept asking me about grandchildren I’d look her in her eyes and say, “Don’t worry Mom, I’ve already picked out the bar where I’ll meet the fathers of my children.” That usually caused her to lay off for a bit.

  7. Deborah, I completely agree with you on the Miss/Ms thing. The email addresses at work require a title of some kind (they won’t let you go without, no, you must be either Miss or Ms or Mrs) and I deliberated for ages before going with Miss. I am quite happy to never use a title!

    Oh, and please, can I snurch the line about picking out the bar? I was at a family wedding this weekend and it would have been perfect for fending off the usual round of boyfriend/marriage/baby questions (seriously, is it so tragic to be unmarried or even – gasp! – single at 27? I think not!).

  8. My name is Soup… as in Campbell’s Chicken Noodle. You would not believe how rude some people are when they read my name tag while I’m working. I’d never go up to someone I’d never met and say “Soup! What kind of a name is that!?!?” -or the minister who almost wouldn’t perform our wedding because he thought we were lying. Granted it is an odd name, but can’t I just be called by my given name and not be given such a hassle about it?

    Thanks for the vent (and the laugh!) -People have such interesting hang-ups!

    -Soup

  9. I couldn’t wait to jump ship from Miss to Ms. I think it was in my early 20s. Miss always made me feel like I was 12. Of course, now that I’m married, I’m having a hard time adjusting to Mrs. That just sounds too much like my mother’s generation. Somehow Ms. just seems more mysterious and sophisticated. It says so much yet leaves so much unanswered.

    I also see Ms. as an option for divorced women who keep using their married name. They drop the Mrs. along with the husband but are happy to hang onto the last name. Where do I come up with this stuff?

    On another note, Sara will always be Sara to me. It’s how I first came to know her. Rosina seems like the penname in my mind. It’s almost awkward to think of her as anything other than Sara. I have a friend from childhood named Katherine. She has always been Katherine. She will always be Katherine. She was introduced to our grade 4 class as Katherine. But she has a new batch of university/work friends who call her Kate. I will never get used to hearing that. I received an invitation to a wedding shower for “Kate” and had to cringe. Her name is Katherine!! Then I thought, “Oh my God. What if during the wedding ceremony she says, ‘I Kate, take you…’??” I don’t know if I could process that. It would sound so unnatural to me. Maybe the formality of the ceremony will impose the use of full names. I can only hope. Isn’t it odd how attached we become to names, even when they are not ours?

  10. I completely agree about the single life – I’m thirty-one and perfectly happy without a relationship, but continually amazed by the people who say consolingly “Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll meet someone nice soon”. In the meantime, my additional problem is that retail people look at my name and call me “Mrs”. I don’t care particularly whether I’m called Miss or Ms (I understand Ms is particularly useful if you’re married but want to keep being called by your own name), but Mrs without even being asked annoys me quite a bit.

  11. Rosina, I really related to your story as I have had similar experiences regarding the names in our family. My surname is Lim, my husband’s is Heley and my son’s is Lim-Heley. Inevitably at school I get called Lim-Heley or the bank might call my husband Mr Lim (because I mainly deal with the bank, when they have to talk to him, it kind of throws them that he might have a different name).

    We have also had strange theological discussions brought about by the evangelical nature of my son’t playmates at school or day care. Once a close friend of his wanted to make sure that he loved God and not the Devil. So when he asked my son, “who do you believe in, God or the Devil?”, he was very upset when my son replied the Devil (i’m not sure at this point that my son even knew who God was). But the latest is that apparently Jesus is the boss of the world.

  12. I see I hit a few buttons.

    Just to be clear: As I claim my right to name myself, I also am absolutely comfortable with other people’s choices. Miss D, fine with me.

    Jacqui — maybe Jesus is the boss of the world where you live, but as a former Jersey Girl I’m loyal to The Boss.

  13. I teach at an independent study high school, and am, at 25, the youngest teacher by at least 25 years. All of my students call me Jessica, instead of Ms. or Miss Albarran. I love it, because they’re all still very respectful, but I think it gives me more credibility with them. I might feel differently if I had a whole classroom-full of them at once, but one-on-one, it makes us more like colleagues, I think.

  14. This subject came up when I was visiting my sisters after I read this, and man what a revelation it caused. All these years my family has respected my dislike of being called Debbie, my sister Paula has been cringing every time we call her paul. She has been paul or paulie since the day she was born, and it wasn’t until I brought up this post that she had a chance to say, “um, well actually…” What a bizarre revelation. 31 years she has been called paul, but the subject never came up so she never had the opportunity to mention it.

  15. my first reaction to your story of joe’s mom: “that *bleep* had no right!!” which is true. how dare she try to tell you what your name is. grrrrr.i often have trouble with mispronunciations (most often, people hear shaina and come up with shannon), but, being only 18, i cant really add to the discussion of ms vs mrs. i just think that people should be called what they want to be called, regardless of marital status. every female teacher in my high school is “ms” unless they specifically state otherwise.
    hmph, why is it that only women have to deal with that? how come all guys are mister (unless you’re really proper and call a young man master). no fair!!

  16. oh, and your daughter sounds cute as can be. i have a four-year-old cousin whose preschool is on the campus of a catholic girls school, and my aunt is dreading the day when cami asks about that guy hanging on the cross with people bowing to him…

  17. I’m in my last 11 days of pregnancy and I think I’m just at the end of it all, but I find it hard to accept the kind of mild aggression some people engage in when you’re about to name a child – the Rumpelstiltskin game really. This isn’t our first baby, so the slyly put name discussions are easier to manage. Maybe I’m just older. If I were a novelist, it would be a great opportunity to hear what’s behind name preferences. Usually a bad association with a personality type that seems to hold for that name forever-more. Makes you wonder why the same names keep being used over and over, to hear some people speak of Heathers, Matthews, Peters and Bobs the way I have. Looking at the “top ten” name lists from Vital Statistics (of whichever country you prefer, these days on line) shows them popping back up if they ever left the list.
    I think Miss/Ms is a state of mind, most days. Having served in the military reserves when I was still in under 20, I’ve had my days being called “Ma’am” and even “Sir.” With that being well behind me, to hear someone call me Ma’am only brings back pleasant youthful memories to me now. One unexpected side-effect of my military service! Nowadays, Miss is sweet although a titch creepy from men old enough to be my father in business situations. And Ms just sounds professional to me for some reason. I tend to use it when I must choose a title. I rarely hear “Mrs” for anything except sometimes in the doctor’s office by a nurse. I’d almost like to hear it once in a while from the neighbour boy but we introduced ourselves by first names when we first met, and darn it, he remembers. Very precocious child. Sometimes I wish we had the “Mrs” between us still. Strange now that I think of it – with remarriages on my husband’s side, and a lack of unmarried aunties, I’m actually the only Mrs S. in the family that we’re acquainted with. Will it die with me? Interesting. Should I use it more out of respect for those other Mrs. S’s of the past? Yes, I’m pregnant and full of odd worries.

  18. I have a real problem with people calling me Debbie. It’s a personal thing, I have met a few rotten debbies and I don’t want to be lumped in with that. It is amazing the number of people who just assume Deborah can become Debbie with no problem. I don’t mind Deb, Debs or even, if they are feeling a little lazy, feel free to call me D. But Debbie does my head in.

    Me too! My real name is Deborah. I hate Debbie with a passion. It reminds me of Debbie Reynolds, Tammy movies and flounced skirts. Ick! Deb is fine, short and to the point.

  19. As a girl from the Deep South, I still have a hard time calling anyone of my parents’ generation or older by their first names. The funny thing is that with my daughter’s friends I always introduce myself as Beth, and I hate being called “Madame”–it isn’t me! Maybe it’s because I’m only 30 and still like to think of myself as being relatively young.

    As for the “ma’am” and “sir” thing, that’s pretty much second nature to Southerners as well. My dad was a navy brat and moved around a lot as a child, although he was born and came back to the South. He lived for one year in Minnesota, and on his first day at the new school he got sent to the principal’s office for answering the teacher with “yes, ma’am”. She thought he was being smart! That story always makes me sad.

  20. While we’re on the subject of people choosing their own names, I’d like to ask a question about Elizabeth. If I remember correctly, in the last book she’d been writing newspaper editorials under the name “E.M. Bonner.” I know that going by one’s initials used to be pretty common, but the first thing to cross my mind was that she signed her name that way so that people wouldn’t immediately recognize the fact that she’s a woman. But that seems so unlike her–maybe it was the publisher’s idea. Plus, it seems kind of pointless because the Bonners are so well known that people would immediately figure it out anyway. So, I guess my question is how/why she chose to sign her name that way and whether people who have figured out who she is have reacted in any kind of negative way. Or am I way over-thinking this?

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