Social: Respecting Names

This is a non-technical post, and my opinion. If you don’t want to read it, please ignore future posts with “Social:” at the start of the title.

My nickname is Steve. Actually, it’s my middle name, but it’s a name I chose and I decided that I wanted to go by that moniker. I used to dread the first day of school as a kid when teachers would take attendance and use my name. I didn’t want them to use it, and I’ve certainly had my share of giggles or jokes directed my way during my youth. It got to the point where I learned in high school and college to go to class early and have a private moment with a teacher and ask them to call me Steve.

It was annoying, stressful, and honestly, rarely a problem. However, a few times I had teachers that refused to use nicknames, and I hated going to their classrooms. Heck, I likely thought I hated them. I’m not sure how far that hatred would go in different situations in the real world, but I had no respect for those individuals and tried to never interact with them.

In some sense, the world has changed a lot. My kids have gone to school with classmates that have all sorts of names, from different cultures and strange spellings. They accept them all and address them however they wish to be addressed.

To me, that’s one sign of progress. Names that would have been made fun of or blatantly laughed at over and over during my childhood, are just accepted as the way it is. I see this even in my rural county.

These days in a professional environment, I couldn’t imagine ignoring a co-worker’s wishes. If someone asked me to call them Jack when their name is Joseph or Sally when their name is Sandra, I would. I coached a kid for a couple years as Katie. She asked me at some point to call her Kate, and I did. Her Mom forgot constantly and referred to her as “Katie”, and I could see how annoyed the young lady would get. I remembered my experience and acceded to her wishes.

When I read Randolph West’s recent article, I was reminded of my youth, reminded of how I wouldn’t ignore the wishes of someone I knew well, and questioned why I, or anyone, wouldn’t just be polite to others and address them as they would prefer.

I find the idea of referring to a singular person as “they” to be strange. But how hard is that to change? If Randolph asked me to call them “Buddy”, would I object? Why is a pronoun harder than a noun? It’s not, and I’m working to adjust.

I find the same thing to be true of other references, nouns or pronouns, that people find objectionable. Often I don’t think the term is offensive, but that’s my view. Is it really that hard to change my language, my writing, my speech to treat someone else as they’d like to be treated?

It’s not. It might be annoying for me. It might be uncomfortable. Heck, I’ll make mistakes. I’ve apologized to Kate a few times. Not that many because I learned quickly, and she was worth the effort to learn to do better.

I think most of us feel it’s worth the effort for those that we are close to, or that we know. Why would it be harder to adjust for those we don’t know, and respect their wishes.

I’m sure I’ll mess up with Randolph, but it’s on my mind to do better. I actually typed “him” above and caught myself, adjusting to the unfamiliar “they”. I even learned to ignore the grammar checker and let it know that I know better in this case.

Learn, adapt, grow. Many of us do this all the time in technology. We ought to do it in our dealings with others as well.

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