I wear a nametag at work. I guess it is better than wearing a uniform. It identifies me as an employee, as someone helpful.
But I hate wearing it. I’m all for people knowing I work there. I’m for people asking me questions. I also stand behind my actions so I don’t care if someone feels the need to call downtown to the Main library and complain that I wouldn’t let them do something which is against policy or illegal.
But I do mind the over familiarity this encourages. I don’t like strangers calling me by name. That seems like a huge boundary violation to me. This may not be a problem for other people, but it is a problem for me. Perhaps it has to do with how I was raised, where my space, my thoughts, and my body weren’t mine. I was stolen from in many ways as a child. It has taken me many years to come to terms with the amount of damage that was done to me, intentionally or not.
Or perhaps I’m not alone in feeling creeped out when someone I don’t know acts like he knows me.
I’m glad that my legal name is Elizabeth, but I go by Betsy. So there is a layer of distance there. It isn’t an easily guessable nickname either. It is a way of differentiating. When a stranger says “Hey, Elizabeth” I know they aren’t real. I know they only have my name from my nametag.
They think they are being personable, but they are actually being the exact opposite. They didn’t get my name from a person (me), they got it from a piece of plastic.
It is important to call people what they want to be called, if you want to be personable. I knew a guy named Michael who would get really violent if someone called him Mike, or Mikey. It was too intimate, too casual, too familiar for him to handle. He once told a story about slamming a guy’s head into a table for calling him Mike, after being told not to.
That is a bit extreme. He has anger management issues. But hopefully you get the idea. Names matter.
We don’t have a naming practice in the average American culture in that you get to pick your own name. It isn’t really yours, so much as something that was assigned to you. But it is yours, in that it differentiates you from everybody else in your family.
Sometimes people will call me by another variant of Elizabeth – I’ll get Liz, or Lizzy. I think this is a terrible nickname. I hate how it sounds. And also – it isn’t my name. Why would I respond to it? You might as well call me Donna. Once again, people are trying to be familiar and they haven’t been given that permission.
The bad part about my job is that I am expected to be friendly with everyone. That in and of itself isn’t bad – it is where that goes. I think people are interesting, and I like being friendly with people. I don’t like it when they assume that my being friendly with them means that I am their friend.
Because I’m not. I’m not their friend. Sometimes I am, and sometimes I enjoy it when they come in. I enjoy talking to them. Those are the people who get “Betsy” as the name to use.
So, be mindful when you use the name of someone who works at a store. When you use their name because you’ve gotten it from their nametag, you aren’t being friendly. Oftentimes, you are at an advantage. Often, they don’t have your name. It isn’t friendly – it is a power play.
Here, I use Betsy, because I’m being very personal here. I’m sharing myself. I’m trying to be as real and as open as possible. And, well, it goes well with Beadhead, which has been my nickname for over half my life. So, in a way, I have named myself, and I have given you permission to use my “real” name.
Writing a blog is very public and very private at the same time.