My name, please make a note of it.
May 18, 2012 12:14 PM   Subscribe

I am female. I have a unisex name. My male partners have always had unmistakably male names. Why, then, have new acquaintances continually called my male partners by my name?!

It just happened again and it's driving me crazy. My name is Toni, my partner's name is Jake (those aren't our names but it serves the purpose.) I get a call today from a new acquaintance who says, "What you and Toni are doing is great..." I point out that I'm Toni. Acquaintance says "oh! You're Toni! Oh, okay!" (though he was probably thinking "Tony.") This even after leaving a message saying he was calling for Toni or Jake... so did he think *I* was Jake?! We've met in person, he's received emails signed with our names, I look and sound female, Jake looks and sounds male, I KNOW this acquaintance knew better (as they all have.)

This is obviously a brain short circuit on the part of my acquaintances; it's happened to me in every one of my relationships with men whose names are clearly male.

Why does this happen? How do I reduce the frequency with which it happens? How can I make his name/my name stick in these people's heads?? (Caveat: I don't necessarily want to give out or be known by my given name of Antonia... which is also not my actual given name, but again, it serves the purpose.)


Toni. The female one!
posted by thrasher to Human Relations (34 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This is obviously a brain short circuit on the part of my acquaintances . . . Why does this happen?

Read this Slate article from 2000: Why Do You Say Gore When You Mean Bush? Excerpt:
From pundits on television to people at the water cooler, everyone is substituting the name of one candidate for the other.

To linguists this slip of the tongue is called a semantic substitution or a lexical access slip. It's easy to understand why it is happening. The brain organizes information across many categories, and Bush and Gore, the men and the names, nicely fit next to each other in the same slots.
posted by John Cohen at 12:17 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Personally I don't consider Toni completely unisex like Aaron/Erin (or Pat). Its a guys name that sometimes gets used by women (Shannon would work the other way).
posted by bitdamaged at 12:19 PM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

As you can see from that article, it would be easier to answer your question if we knew your real names. The exact sounds and number of syllables are relevant.
posted by John Cohen at 12:19 PM on May 18, 2012

Well just from your phone conversation example, people sometimes sound different on the phone. Do you have a deep or raspy voice? The caller might think it is your partner he's talking to.
posted by DoubleLune at 12:23 PM on May 18, 2012

Yeah, I think it must have something to do with the specific pairing of your two names. My name is Erin and my husband has a one-syllable name that starts with D and I have never, ever had that problem in the 17 years we've been together.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 12:24 PM on May 18, 2012

I have been called Sam by everyone that knows me all my life even though I am female. I have had similar name mixing problems (and also get called Sue a lot but that's another problem), I have gotten around both these problems by introducing myself with my full name.

"Hi I'm Samantha, everyone calls me Sam" for some reason doing it that way lodges me in the female box in peoples brain and takes me out of the one syllable name box that my husbands name is stored and all is fine. Might be worth a try.
posted by wwax at 12:29 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Because people are idiots.

I am a female with a female name but a male's first name as my last name, eg. "Rosemary Bruce" (its not my name, but serves purpose) and people call me "Bruce" allllllll the time. It's obnoxious.

I always either joke that I'm not a guy or clearly correct them that my first name is Rosemary.
posted by floweredfish at 12:30 PM on May 18, 2012

Best answer: I have a friend named Max (female) married to a guy named Joe - and I kept getting confused. Even though I know Full Well that she's Max and he's Joe, I'd catch myself saying to her "if you and Max" and would have to stop myself. Like Toni, Max is more often a masculine name, so I agree with the posters above who say our brains just file it incorrectly.

If it's any comfort, all of your friends know your name, and know you're female. Their brains just pull up the wrong name from the files, because the files are flawed. That's all.
posted by ldthomps at 12:30 PM on May 18, 2012 [6 favorites]

I sometimes call my husband ("Jordan") by his brother Jason's name in conversation with others. It has nothing to do with thinking they're interchangeable (God forbid!). They're just really similar names.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:33 PM on May 18, 2012

Some friends of the family are Pat(rick) and Lou(ise). I've literally known these people for thirty years. Yet when I see them, I have to make an association - "ok, the guy's name is the same as my brother-in-law, so her name must be Lou." Same with another couple I know, even though it's Jo (ann) and Charlie. It should be obvious, but I still want to call the woman Charlie.
posted by notsnot at 12:37 PM on May 18, 2012

Response by poster: My name is two syllables and more often male than female. I also have tended to have the more forceful personality in my relationships. Interestingly enough, all of my partners have had single syllable names, though they've been very different names. Perhaps the combination of these things has brought this on.

wwax, do people end up calling you Samantha? I want to avoid that, I'm not a fan of my given name.
posted by thrasher at 12:39 PM on May 18, 2012

Response by poster: notsnot, friends of my family are Chris (male) and Charlie (female, short for Charlotte). I've known them forever and have never confused them, though most others do. Thanks for reminding me, I'll ask them what they do about it.
posted by thrasher at 12:41 PM on May 18, 2012

My name has two spellings (mine is the more common), and at least two or three times a year I get email replies addressed to the other spelling... from people who are directly replying to an email address (with my spelling!) and an email (with my spelling at the bottom of it!). These are people I have never met or even spoken to. It drives me crazy! I guess they are aural learners, even with written language? (I am a very visual learner and would never ever make that mistake)
posted by superfish at 12:42 PM on May 18, 2012

Response by poster: superfish, that happens to me all the time as well, people spelling it Tony even though they're replying to Toni, and like you, I would never make that mistake either. Not sure if that's because we're predisposed against it, in addition to being visual learners.
posted by thrasher at 12:44 PM on May 18, 2012

My wife and I have two friends; Pina and Dénis.

"I'm up for gelato, let me call Dina and Pé ... *doh*"

So it could be worse.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:45 PM on May 18, 2012 [13 favorites]

Best answer: When people meet a female Toni their brains have to do a little bit of extra work to associate you w/your incongruous (to them) name. Then when they see you or the person they associate with you, their brains scream TONI!!! at them even if they're looking right at Jake. By trying not to get Toni wrong, they get Jake wrong.

(This is a totally made up theory.)
posted by headnsouth at 12:53 PM on May 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: (though he was probably thinking "Tony.")

I think this is a big part of it, assuming your analogy holds to the point where your actual name is one of a pair of homophonic names, one being usually male and the other being usually female. Try introducing yourself as "Toni with an i."
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:54 PM on May 18, 2012 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Do they ever call you Jake? Or do they just call your partner Toni?

If it's the latter, here's my theory. Their brain filing system has two names in the folder "that couple I know". They want to say your partner's name, and are thinking "I need the male name from that folder". The first name in the folder is "Toni", for whatever reason (you describe yourself as the stronger personality, or maybe your name just sounds better first). Because it's a fast-moving conversation and their brain doesn't *immediately* flag it as "That's a female name, dummy", that's what pops out of their mouth.

(My grandmother has a folder in her head labeled "family", and will call any child or grandchild by 3 or 4 different names in the course of any conversation, and has been doing so since her children were children.)
posted by tchemgrrl at 1:04 PM on May 18, 2012 [7 favorites]

I have an aunt and uncle named Pat and Lou, and have not once in my life been able to say their names out loud to them without stopping to think before speaking. I know damn well who is who, but my mouth would be happy to screw it up every time if I didn't put it in its place using brain.
posted by etc. at 1:05 PM on May 18, 2012

Response by poster: Tchemgrrl, never have I been called by the name of my partner, so your theory definitely holds water.
posted by thrasher at 1:09 PM on May 18, 2012

FWIW, both my dog and my son have two-syllable names that end in "O". I obviously know what their names are, I named them, but I still call them by each others' names. Brains are fallible.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 1:15 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've called my partner "mom" before, and my mom "babe." I have also called my son "kitty" and so on... My mom calls her grandson by her son's name, and also calls my husband by her son's name too. I don't necessarily think your situation is only just about you having a masculine name, it's just that names get confused on the tongues a lot.
posted by katypickle at 1:18 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: katypickle: I've called my partner "mom" before.... names get confused on the tongues a lot.

I suppose as long as it doesn't happen at a really inappropriate time... !!
posted by thrasher at 1:25 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

More anecdata: I know a (hetero) couple who both have names that usually, though not always, belong to the other gender. The woman's name is Chase, and the man's name is Kerry. I have called her Kerry or referred to her as Kerry on several occasions, I think because of the following:
- I have a close female friend name Carrie (spelled differently, of course, but my brain still equates the sound of that name with a woman).
- I have a family friend named Chase, who is male.

I have another close friend with two children, a boy and a girl. The girl is named Alexandra, but goes by Alex for short, and was introduced to me as Alex. I have accidentally referred to the boy as "Alex" more than once.

I promise I'm not a crappy friend who doesn't pay attention to people's names - I just seem to have a lot of brain lapses, so to speak. It seems like my brain has already equated the name Carrie/Kerry with female, and the names Chase and Alex with male. That could be what's happening in your situation, too. They've already made a connection in their minds between your name and maleness, so when they refer to your partner, your name pops up in their minds.

If you are using a nickname, one strategy for avoiding this is to introduce yourself to new people with your full given name, then immediately explain you've always gone by [nickname]. E.g, "Lovely to meet you - my name's Geraldine, but everyone's always called me Gerry."
posted by pecanpies at 2:08 PM on May 18, 2012

If it's the latter, here's my theory. Their brain filing system has two names in the folder "that couple I know".

This is somehow related to the fact that I such a hard time remembering who is who with lesbian couples. It’s really embarrassing when I’ve known some of these people for years. But I think of the couples names as a unit (usually because they were introduced to , and usually interact with me that way) and then try to place the name to the appropriate person. If there are no clear markers like "Dave is the male" then it goes haywire.
posted by bongo_x at 3:37 PM on May 18, 2012

Like tchemgrrl said, my mother has told me that she would quite often be called by all of her brothers' names in a row before her mother found the right name in her mental folder.

I have one specific female friend who I consistently call by the name of another female friend. My brain just can't get a handle on the right mapping of name-to-person with her. She's the only one that I actually have to consciously check myself on otherwise I will call her the wrong name every time. It's really weird.

(superfish, the same happens to me, though my name is the slightly less common spelling. It drives me CRAZY. My name is right there in my email address!)
posted by corvine at 3:48 PM on May 18, 2012

I am almost always called by my surname, which is a boy's name. It annoys me as I am a girl and have a feminine first name. Some people just seem to short circuit on these things! I do wonder though if the reverse happens to men with women's names as surnames...
posted by ozgirlabroad at 5:10 PM on May 18, 2012

Somewhat related....I get my last name mispronounced 30 seconds after I've introduced myself way too often.

One of the students in Up the Down Staircase told the teacher he had trouble remembering Hero was female in the Hero and Lysander story.
posted by brujita at 7:46 PM on May 18, 2012

I agree with the brain short-circuiting theory. Two examples from my life are: I have a friend and massage therapist who I have known for twelve years. Both her first and last names sound like girl names, something like Joanna Jessicani. When I think of her and speak to her, I never forget that her name is Joanna. But every single time I go to write her a check I start writing thinking it's Jessica J... and then when I can't figure out her last name I realize my mistake. But, weirdly, it will also confuse me for a while about what her name really is. And now, because it's something I'm self-conscious about, it's become a thing that has sown confusion for me. (My kid also has a classmate whose last name is Philie and I always want to call her dad Philip, but then, again, I get to the last name and realize, Oh, yeah, his name is Patrice, Philie is the last name.)

Similarly, when my parents come to visit and we are hanging out with my daughter, all three of us often refer to her by my younger brother's name. My father will sometimes flip through my brother's name, then my name, before getting to hers. I think it's because there's a long ago habit of my parents and I being the "grown-ups" compared to my "little" brother, who is five years younger. His is the first name in the file marked "little people over whose head we are sometimes talking and/or who are being annoying right now." Because obviously I know my kid's name!
posted by looli at 10:59 PM on May 18, 2012

Ah yes, I know the feeling! I'm an Amanda and I used to go out with a Jess (a man). Even when were both standing in front of people, after being introduced they'd still try and call me Jess or worse, Jessica.
posted by teststrip at 6:44 AM on May 19, 2012

I agree with the filing folders thing. I have a very feminine name and my brother has a very masculine one. I am also fairly small with a typical feminine appearance and my brother is huge and looks like a caveman. When my dad is distracted by watching golf or playing computer games he has called my brother by my name before. He is just reaching into the "kids names" folder and grabbing whatever comes up first.

I also tried to quickly call my dog the other day as he was about to eat something I didn't want him to eat. The first name that I grabbed out of the folder was my boyfriend's name. Then it was the name of my deceased dog. On the third try I got the right name. I think this is just how brains are.
posted by cairdeas at 11:16 AM on May 19, 2012

My sons' names are Nathan and Evan. My dog's name is Horton. My chances of yelling the correct name at the child or dog are less than 20% in any given day.
posted by kpht at 8:03 PM on May 19, 2012

When people meet a female Toni their brains have to do a little bit of extra work to associate you w/your incongruous (to them) name. Then when they see you or the person they associate with you, their brains scream TONI!!! at them even if they're looking right at Jake. By trying not to get Toni wrong, they get Jake wrong.

This is the possibly made-up theory that my brain also uses to describe this phenomenon. It is familiar for almost any value of "don't say the wrong name don't say the wrong name remember to say the right name DAMMIT WTF."
posted by desuetude at 9:30 PM on May 20, 2012

I had neighbors named Kim (male) and Kelly (female). Since those names were so similar and could be used for folks of either sex, I had to think about which was which every single time for as long as I knew them.
posted by MsMolly at 10:26 AM on May 21, 2012

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