Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Say My Name, Say My Name

It's a common shopping experience: You pay for your [insert item here] & the employee handling the sale gets personal. "Thanks, [your name here]! Have a great day."

Most people like being called by their first name. I, however, am not one of those people.

My first name is Sara; I do not go by it, & I never have. For reasons against my preferences but in keeping with legalities, it's listed on every piece of identification I've got, from my Ohio driver license to my AAA card, though I can usually convince the Powers That Be to include my middle name, too. Everything I ever do or register for is by my full name - first, middle & last. This includes doctor's appointments, conferences, plane tickets, & everything in between - and though I'm quick to tell everyone who might need to know that I go by my middle name, I often end up being called by my first name instead.

Like yesterday. Maybe you saw yesterday's tweets about my new New Hampshire driver's license, on which the DMV employees refused to put my middle name, saying there's only room for a middle initial in their system. "It'll be OK," the employee assured me - and I actually almost cried. Maybe you thought I was overreacting or being melodramatic. After all, Sara is my given name. It says so on my birth certificate. But your birth certificate has your middle name on it, too, & I challenge you to imagine how you'd feel if the DMV would only put your first initial & that on your driver license. You wouldn't feel like you, right? All I want is for my identification cards to, you know, identify me. And save me the trouble of explaining, over & over, that although it doesn't say so in print, my name is Kathryn & I go by Kate and please, just don't call me Sara.

This causes problems. Sometimes they're minimally problematic, like nametags that read "Hi! My name is Sara," when I that's definitely not what I want people calling me. Sometimes they're slightly more aggravating, like when the local thrift store wouldn't let me use my own debit card because the middle name listed didn't match up with the first name listed on my driver's license (since corrected). And sometimes they're downright frustrating as hell, like every time I have to call my health insurance company to remind them that yes, I am indeed one of their customers, & my account includes both names, not just my first one, & could they please cover the $6,000 procedure I just had done after all?

Mostly, the problems are emotional. I know, I know, woe is me. But seriously: When I'm called by my first name, no matter how friendly the tone or meaning, I feel one step removed from the person speaking to me. And isn't that the point of calling someone by her name? To make her feel a personal connection? Being called by my first name makes me feel disconnected; it makes bureaucracies feel more bureaucratic, not more personal. Being called Sara reinforces that the person speaking to me does not know me, & even though I know it's an honest, well-intentioned error, I can't help but find myself irritated Every. Single Time.

People have lots to say on the subject of my going by my middle name. "Sara is a nice name!" they tell me. Yes, it is, but it's not the name I go by. "That's what you get for going by your middle name," they sometimes tell me. Yes, I suppose it is, or maybe it's what I get for going by the name my parents have called me for my entire life. So sue me.

There's no getting around it, I know. I've thought of changing my name, but it's expensive, & my mom & grandma would be pretty wounded if I abandoned my Great Grandma Sara's moniker. I try to be consistent in including my first & middle name on every document - but sometimes, like at the DMV yesterday, the bureaucrats in charge just won't let me.And I try to let it slide, but it is so frustrating to deal with the same stupid problems over & over & over.

I just want to go by my name. Is that so much to ask?
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