Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Names and Symbols, Draft

To any Brinton that may read this post, and to Trevor Cook: please pardon the poor punctuation of this post. (Although the alliteration is awesome, as always).

Many people I know find that "pet names," or nicknames, or shortened versions of names, are signs of friendship, familiarity, and closeness (in our society, they are).

I've found that as I grow closer to people outside of my immediate family, I am more likely to use their full name, or their proper title. For example, my friend went by Ben most of the time, but as we got closer, I found myself calling him "Benjamin," "Ben Jones," or, later, "Elder Benjamin Wesley Jones" (that was only when I got really excited). At the time, I thought it was an isolated incident, but lately I've retrospectively noticed a pattern. A boy I liked/dated in high school went by a nickname, but as our relationship developed I began to call him by his first name. I did the same with friends. Names like "Matt," "Andy," "Steve," and "Joe" become Matthew, Andrew, Stephen, and Joseph.

This habit extends to Church leaders. I had some leaders in Young Women's that wanted to be called Jo-Jo and Beth. I continued to call them Sister So-and-So and Sister So-and-So. I think they were annoyed that I alone refused to call them the fun/friendly/buddy-buddy names, but in my mind it was a sign of respect. When they were no longer my YW leaders, I was much more comfortable calling them by their first names (however, I do not use pet names like Jo-Jo). The same thing happened with a leader in a later ward; she informed us that many of the ward called her "Momma J." I have never used it; I have a mother and she does a fantastic job at it, thank you.

The only exception I've found to this rule, which may seem contrary to the previous example, are girls and women that I consider close enough to be sisters or beloved aunts. The Wright family is a perfect example; I have no problems calling Eliza "EJ," or Sister Wright "Momma Wright." (Not sure why 'Momma Wright' and 'Momma J' feel so different to me. Perhaps Momma Wright feels more like a title than a nickname. "Momma J" is still a shortened version of the woman's name. I don't know).

This being explained, I feel I should mention: I was rarely referred to by my full ("real") name growing up. I was "Bina," "Saber," "Savvy," "BB," "Michelle," , "Bean," "Beaner," "Mom" (that was my band director), and various other things, but rarely was I referred to as "Sabina." Even my teachers rarely said my name. I suppose I got to feeling like these nicknames were all parts of who I was, but that was all-- just part. No one know totally who I was. I would start a little when people used my real name--get kind of a deer-in-headlights feeling. It's not like it was a secret--everyone knew my name-- people simply rarely used it.

I've been thinking about the importance of names a lot recently. I do realize my habit is nearly exactly opposite of society's commonplace, and sometimes I feel like it confuses people.

For example: There is a boy that I like a lot; we've been getting to know each other better recently, and, accordingly, I've taken to using his full name consistently. (He sometimes goes by a shortened version, sometimes not; he doesn't really care). The other day, though, he called me "Bina." It was kind of odd. For a moment, I kind of bristled (in an "I am NOT your little sister, thank you very much!" sort of way), but then I looked at him and realized he didn't mean it that way at all (duh). In his mind, it's a sign of closeness and friendship and all that. I initially saw it as patronizing. That got me thinking about the importance of a given name (more on surnames later) and prompted this blog post. I realize that my attitude, while not unique, is not exactly society's precedent. I don't think it should be. I simply recognize it as a quirk that I have.

The aforementioned incident also made me realize how important it is to try to see a situation from the other person's eyes. I easily could have let my minor bristle become an irritation, and let that fester into a serious chip on my shoulder, and that poor boy would be left utterly clueless as to what had me irked. But we were seeing totally opposite sides of a coin. He saw the nickname as a sign that we were close enough to use them; I saw it as patronizing. But really-- whose quirk was it, anyway? Mine, of course. Completely. And as soon as I realized that (thankfully, it was very quickly), I realized something else--

I kind of liked that he called me Bina.

Strange, isn't it? Seeing something for what it is ACTUALLY saying. I like the nickname because of what it means to HIM, not to me. That's one of the troubles with language: words are symbols. Sometimes, we think that because we are using the same words that we are saying the same thing. Not so. So I needed to take a step back and remember three very important conversation/relational questions:

Okay, what is it that we're REALLY saying?
What is it that we're actually hearing?
and, most important: "Whose quirk is it, anyway?"

No comments: