‘Cause It’s Just My Week to Talk About Names

A co-worker called me “sweetheart” the other day. More in that small-town diner waitress kind of way than anything else. He is not a diner waitress.

He also does not fall into any of the categories of people who might be able to get away with this.

I like being called by my damn name.

I’m not saying I like my name, but by golly, you should be calling me something different than every other woman in the department.

So… the first time I ran into this–or noticed it, I was in fifth grade. Let’s see…. that’s about eleven, for those of you not in the American school system. I had a male gym teacher. And the guy was creepy as fuck. I don’t know why none of the adults noticed it, but… ewww. He called the boys by their last names, and the girls… well, the girls were sweetie, or peaches, or some other damn thing.

I distinctly remember telling him my name was not “peaches.” (What can I say? I was born a bitch.)

And I distinctly remember him kneeling on the pavement with his hand on another girl’s ass, after she’d twisted her ankle.

I despise one-size fits all nicknames.

You can mean it as well as you want, but in the end, what calling me something other than my name says–both to me, and to the people around me– is that my name is not worth learning.

It’s a statement that has ripple effects. You don’t use my name, so that other person doesn’t know my name, so I wind up a whole lot less connected than… well, that guy over there, who you wouldn’t dream of calling “sweetheart.” You probably call him “Mike” or “Steve” or “Hoefling”… enough to differentiate him from the people around him.

It’s very simple. Nobody’s ever going to ask you what “Sweetheart” in department M’s name really is. Nobody’s going to stand up in a meeting and say… “You know who would be perfect for this promotion? Sweetheart.”

Intentional, or not, it’s an act of erasure.

And it so happens that my name is worth learning.

I think it is, anyway.

And when he called me “sweetheart”–for no good reason, and to no benefit of mine–I looked at him and said, “What did you call me?”

For a second, it didn’t register that I was angry.

“Sweetheart,” he says… as if he really did believe that I hadn’t heard him right.

And one of the women tries to smooth it over. He calls everybody that.

“Please, don’t.”

He apologized later in the afternoon. He didn’t mean it “like that,” he says. But of course, since I just told him not to, he has no particular way of knowing how I thought he meant it.

I didn’t think he was hitting on me.

I didn’t think he particularly likes or dislikes me.

And maybe he really hasn’t bothered to learn my name.

A Warning on the Subject of Names

I’m really, really bad at naming things. Characters, places, things… I once owned a cat named “Cat.” The current cat has a name–officially–but mostly, I wind up calling him “Cat”, too. I have a manuscript where nobody has names. At all. Three hundred pages, and they’re still MC, MMC, boss, cop, crook, and so forth.

It seemed like a good idea, at the time. But now,  I have a legion of nameless characters staring at me…. waiting.

There was a little more thought put into names in the Lepterian novel. Most of the characters have some kind of role-related name. And then, suddenly, a massive amount of the focus was on names, and the significance of names, and I’m still really bad at names.

I’m not a fan of made-up names, made-up languages in Science Fiction and Fantasy. And, I’m not quite dense enough that filling a science fiction story with people like Vicky the Alien Empress and Steve the Zero Grav fighter pilot sounds like a good idea.

So, that leaves theft.

With all the words in all the languages on the planet, I have names.

With meaning. And sometimes, significance.

Sometimes, they’re names with humor, and very occasionally  dignity.

Mostly, though, they’re names with humor. Some of them aren’t too bad. (Hell, even a crazed Science Fiction writer with a sense of humor can have an off day.) Others aren’t fit for human beings, and one or two–more in my thrillers than in science fiction–are downright obscene.

I will have succeeded, when an angry new mother shows me her beautiful child, and then punches me in the face. I named her after one of your characters, and I just found out what that word means.