I once was in a part-time academic program.1 At some point, I had to email one of our instructors.
Now, I do understand that people can be sensitive about their names and other people mangling them. My name is Kalev, so trust me when I say I know how names can be mangled.
Let’s just put it this way: when I go into Starbucks, I give them my last name, not my first. Much easier for everyone involved, although to be fair, I’ve never met anyone who’s first name is Hunt. I should just say “Hunter,” which is a hot gay name anyway.4
As a child, I would get fairly upset when people got my name wrong. I would spell it out for them, and I would always have to say “K-A-L-E-V as in ‘victor’” because, of course, V and B sound very similar, and “Caleb” is by far the more common name, so people tended to expect a B at the end.
As I got older, I let go of my frustrations5 over people mangling my name because it’s completely understandable. People aren’t doing it on purpose: it’s just a weird name by common standards. So now I’m just really nice and gracious about it and I thank people for trying and let them know that I know it’s an uncommon name and it’s not immediately obvious how to pronounce. And it’s always kinda fun when someone gets it right on their first try.
The only exception to my mature approach to my name is when randos at bars and clubs (and this has happened more than once, if you can believe it) have told me my name is Jewish for dog. So first off, not Jewish here. Second, my name isn’t Jewish, it’s ESTONIAN. Finally, even if my name were Caleb and even if it did mean “dog” (which the jury is apparently still out on)—if you’re in a bar, talking to strangers, WHY ON EARTH would you bring that up with someone? In what possible universe (let alone in a club where you are likely trying to pick people up) is it appropriate, let alone complimentary, to tell someone their name means “dog?!”678
But I digress…
I had to email this instructor. Now you should know, I write emails for a living. Most of my career has been writing emails. So I have a lot of experience with what’s appropriate to say in an email, how to phrase things in emails, and how to hit just the right tone in a medium where tone is notoriously difficult to convey, let alone “get right.” I am the closest thing to an email-writing expert you could probably meet.
So this was an informal email about some volunteer activities I was coordinating for the course I was in. And I opened it with “Hi there, I just heard back from Petunia that Geranium managed to get Daisy’s document from her.”9
And I got back this insane diatribe about how the instructor’s name was not “There.”
Yes, my great sin was that I had opened my email with the apparently very insulting greeting “Hi there.”
You have to understand, this instructor was Anglo, English was their first language, and they were a local luminary in their field. But they needed to waste my time and try to make me feel bad by falsely accusing me of referring to them by the wrong name. Because of course I’m an idiot and I didn’t know their name was “John” or “Sue” or “Kevin” or “Ethel.” It wasn’t even as bad as “I’m an over-sensitive jerk who for some unknown reason is threatened when people open an email with ‘Hi there’ because that somehow doesn’t acknowledge my precious, precious existence and you should always use my given name because my given name is the MOST. IMPORTANT. WORD. in the English language and how could you ever miss a chance to type out its sacred letters?!”
No, this jackass had the temerity to try to make it seem like I was too stupid to know their actual name, simply to be more melodramatic and pissy.
And their name was PEDESTRIAN. Banal. Common. So I guess part of my sheer rage at this person is that I had spent a lifetime having my name mangled simply because my parents actually put some thought into giving me a unique name—and I had made peace with that and even learned to appreciate that it just comes with the territory of having a cool name—and they had freaked out over the fact I chose not to use their name in the greeting of one email (and by the way, anyone who knows anything about writing knows that the reason I wrote “Hi there” instead of “Hi [name of idiot]” or “Dear [idiot]” is because variety is the spice of life and writing the same thing over and over again gets really, really boring).
And add to that this person was my instructor, so they were pulling a power play on me. If they had been a peer, I could have called them out for being a total prima donna asshole. But no, I had to grit my teeth and pretend like they weren’t being the most ridiculous form of childish there is.
- It was so many years ago now that I try not to think about it! [↩]
- This is actually how the great interloper apparently pronounces his version of MY name, but whatever. Like honestly, out of every possible thing you could brand with my name, PERSONAL FITNESS?! *cry* [↩]
- This is how all my French Immersion teachers pronounced my name and that’s completely understandable, even though my name is not spelled Kalève. LOL The Anglicized version of this pronunciation (kuh-LEHV or kə-LEHV if you know your schwas) is also how the first other actual Kalev I ever met (who was dating one of my best friends in grad school) pronounces his name. [↩]
- no, I’m not implying he’s gay… not that there would be ANYTHING wrong with that LOL LOL [↩]
- yes, it does happen [↩]
- Have I mentioned I hate dogs?! [↩]
- I don’t actually hate dogs… but I’m not in love with them the way most people are, and I’m definitely not in love with the fact that most people are in love with them. [↩]
- I mean, OBVIOUSLY I’m a cat person, right? [↩]
- names flower-ized to protect the innocent [↩]