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July 12, 2012 2:21 PM   Subscribe

In your subjective experience, would you say that you have been treated differently after going by a different name? How so? Tell me

Let's just say that my name is Jeanne Odette Harvey. I've always, since birth, introduced myself as, and responded to, Jeanne. No nicknames, since my name doesn't lend itself to any, no pseudonyms, no cutesy aliases - just Jeanne. I've always been very curious to see what would happen if I were to start going by Odette. Would people treat me differently? Would my subjective experience of my relationships, new and old, change? Would there be some undeniable, concrete shift in how others treated me? I thought about introducing myself as Odette to the new people I meet, but never got around to it, because I thought it might become confusing (with half my acquaintances knowing me as Jeanne Harvey, and half as Odette Harvey). But it's still an issue that, for whatever idiosyncratic reason, intrigues me.

Have you ever gone by one name much of your adult life, then switched to another (in a situation analogous to the one above)? If so, could you answer the following questions:

1. Would you say that, in your experience, people treated you differently based upon which name you used? How so? What did that difference look like?

2. If you do feel that you were treated differently, what do you think explains it? I already have some friends and relatives who switched over to shorter names, or adopted names, to avoid the hassle of dealing with the omg your name is so unique and foreign and hard to spell! set, but I am interested in hearing all explanations, for all situations.

3. Did you experience some difference, but feel that it something grounded in your subjective experience, or in how you interacted with the world under you new name? How so?

4. Do you think I should just go ahead with my little experiment, giving poor, unused Odette a chance to shine in the sun? Or will going by two names with two different sets of people be too convoluted and, frankly, weird?

Thanks; this questions seems a bit random, and possibly a tad frivolous, but is one that I've thought about off-and-on for a while (though never acted on). I'm totally cool with hearing whether you've experienced different reactions after a change to a last name (such as after marriage), but, truthfully, I am more interested in hearing about first name changes and the differences experienced. Or not. It's all good, though.
posted by vivid postcard to Human Relations (41 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
1-3. Nope.
4. Go for it!

I've gone by three names, my full name and two (pretty different) nicknames at different times in my life. I have what I would consider three best friends, each one knows and calls me by a different name depending on when I met them. I think that is hilarious.

I remember playing Doctor & Spy (that sounds dirty but I assure it it isn't) once at summer camp and I was the doctor for my team, there were two people on the other team who knew me by two different names, they spent enough time arguing about who the doctor on my team was that we won. Obviously they were both referring to me they just didn't know it, so that time it was pretty cool.

The only thing I see is that you are totally going to get the whole "omg your name is so unique and foreign and hard to spell" if it is actually something like Odette.

Basically, for me at least, it is my name, not my identity so it doesn't feel any different. You can certainly alter your identity when you change you name, lots of people do but if the only change in your life is the name people call you it actually isn't that big of a change.

You will need to decide very early on how particular about it you want to be though. Are you going to ask the people who knew you before to start calling you by your new name? Are you going to be really annoyed if they don't? For the most part people use the name they were introduced to me by so I still have three names that I answer to. I ONLY let those who were originally introduced to me use one of them though, I forbid all new uses of it. If anyone asks about how come so-and-so can use it I usually say something like "they get a pass, you don't though" and smile. Or something about them being from a different time in my life.
posted by magnetsphere at 2:35 PM on July 12, 2012

It's probably not what you're after, but I changed from a regular, gendered first name to a gender-neutral one (since I don't identify as either male or female). I contribute pretty much all differences to gender stereotypes and them not immediately applying to me anymore, not the name self. That would be the main difference I notice; people don't make assumptions based on a gender stereotype, which is exactly what I was going for.

However, I have a second birth name, which I always liked better as a child than my first one. I often toyed with the idea myself, but it never went anywhere because I was 7 and my parents and teachers would just ignore that I used my second name.
posted by MinusCelsius at 2:37 PM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've gone by all three of my names at some point. I would say I only noticed a difference in how I was treated when I went by my last name, as it's usually a man's first name. After a few years I started to notice that a lot of people were mispronouncing it as a woman's name that sounds similar, and I'd get some very steely looks when I'd correct them. People can be pretty hung up on gender binaries. I find that I got different reactions and treatment from people far more by my appearance (mohawks vs peasant dresses) then I ever did by what name I introduced myself by.

My reasons for going by my other names were due to my first name being so common that I'd end up in a class with 3 or 4 of us. So I did it to avoid confusion both times, and both times went by the different name for about 3-4 years. I went by my last name the second time as there were also people with my middle name in the class, and I've never been concerned with appearing feminine so the assumptions people made didn't phase me.

I would caution against choosing to go by your middle name solely as a social experiment, as you'll find that the majority of people really don't appreciate being used for your fancy in any manner, and you may become the subject of annoyance. Basically, your acquaintances are not your playthings.

If you just want a change however, go for it. I never expected anyone who knew me as a previous name to learn a new one, and I accepted any awkward situations (my Dad had no idea who my 8th grade teacher was talking about) as my responsibility and not anyone else's.

And yah, people will think you're weird, but being normal is highly overrated.
posted by Dynex at 2:42 PM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Generally, no. It depends somewhat on your attitude though. I went by a nickname of my given name my first semester in college, and because my attitude surrounding that nickname was different, people treated me in response to how I was acting.

I know people who go by new nicknames and I call them the name I met them as. I have no different view of them now as opposed to when I met them.
posted by DoubleLune at 2:48 PM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I went by my middle name in junior high.

I don't think anyone treated me any different, though each name has particular properties that people react to (my first name is a homophone of a male name, and my middle name has a common nickname associated with it).

It was a bit confusing in high school, when I went back to my first name and people who knew me by different names got together. And it's still a little confusing 25 years later to some of the people who are now on Facebook who I went to junior high with, who don't know what to call me. So it will cause confusion among your friends and acquaintances.

Also, another observation, as someone who has known people who have done name changes like you describe. If you have close, longtime friends, expect that it takes them a long time to get used to calling you the new name, and also prepare for the possibility that one or two of them might refuse to call you by another name altogether.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 2:51 PM on July 12, 2012

1: no.
2: no.
3: that's (as DoubleLune just said) due to my attitude.
4: yes!

Names I've insisted on being called: full/unusual first name with four syllables; weird, one-syllable version of my first name that is easier to spell but has the same unusual vibe; first two syllables of my name; the last two syllables of my first name that is, itself, a name; initials only in college; middle name in high school; random television characters I've over-identified with and used online.
posted by RainyJay at 2:53 PM on July 12, 2012

This is a last-name change story, but after I changed my very Indian-sounding, difficult to spell and pronounce last name, to my husband's very American-sounding simple last name, I noticed a marked improvement in treatment from strangers. Especially if they were interacting with me on the phone or over the Internet, but even if I talked to someone in person (say, the receptionist at the doctor's office, or the cable guy) they just seemed to feel more comfortable with me and treat me as less of a foreigner with my American name. (Btw, I was born and raised in the U.S., with no trace of a foreign accent.)

tl;dr: I think having a foreign-sounding name makes people suspicious of you.
posted by chickenmagazine at 2:55 PM on July 12, 2012 [5 favorites]

My friend switched from her first name (Tammy) to her second (Drew) in her late 20s. She's much more a Drew, and there's been very little confusion. I was known by a diminutive until my 20s, now that's only used by family.

You could get away with saying that Jeanne is common and misspelled (Jean, Geannie, whatever).

Personally I lurve the name Odette.
posted by cyndigo at 2:55 PM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

In college I chose a different public name due to a professor always butchering my first name. This public name has become my name to the point of manifesting on my bank card and professional email address.

What became a convenience has ended up being weirdly advantageous since people always remember my name and the unusual nature of it. For the record, I chose simultaneously an easy but memorable name. I am at a stage of life where frankly hearing my birth name is a bit startling to me. My birth name is restricted to only very close family and friends.

Names are power; experiment, if you dare.
posted by jadepearl at 2:56 PM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I changed my last name when I married, from a Czech name to a bland English surname. I was delighted to not have to correct people's pronunciation, but when I started working in show business, many people asked me if my family had changed the name from a common Jewish surname that relates to being from the tribe of Aaron. I hadn't anticipated this at all, and didn't know quite how to react--"I'm not Jewish but maybe I should let people think so?"
And every Katherine or Elizabeth or Margaret I've ever met has rung the changes of all the nick-names. Kathy to Kate to Kaki or Liz to Libby to Eliza and so on--it's like changing your hair color.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:12 PM on July 12, 2012

I think it can make a difference for women particularly, as we can be given names like Tiffany or Brandi and when we want to embark on professional life it can be wise to switch to something a little less fluffy and girlish.

I have a very serious given name, and merely switched from one diminutive of it to another, less fluffy and with better associations. I feel like this name is much more me, sounds more competent and dependable. Of course. I could be kidding myself...
posted by zadcat at 3:13 PM on July 12, 2012

Best answer: Growing up, everyone called me 'Ricardo' including everyone in my family and all my friends at school. It is the name my parents gave me, after all.

Legally, on paper, I have always been 'Richard', though. That is because, due to a misunderstanding at my birth, they put that down instead. I've never thought about changing it. It is on my driver's license, my passport, my bank accounts - everywhere. So much so that I just switched over to 'Richard' in my early 20's.

So the result is that I get called by both names by different people. It is ok but the problem you will encounter is when these two sets of people mix. Even I, with two such similar names have had people suddenly look confused and say "Wait, that person called you Ricardo! I'm sorry, I've always called you Richard. Would you prefer I call you Ricardo, instead??"
And they are confused and apologetic while I explain that either name is fine and they don't look satisfied because they think you're just saying that to be nice, and so on.

I cannot honestly say whether people treat me differently. They do. But one is a common name in English and the other is not so, in my case, it may be nothing more than that. I can relate one anecdote where a delivery man (here in the UK) instead of asking my name, asked me first how to SPELL my name:

Delivery Man, starting to write: "How do you spell your first name?"
Me: "Richard. R-I-C..."
Him: "Oh! Richard! Hehe, yes..."

So, clearly my name was not in line with his cultural expectation of what my name would be. And that cultural expectation probably has affected me in many ways.
posted by vacapinta at 3:17 PM on July 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

1. I use a different online name than an IRL name for security reasons, and people seem to like the online name much better than my IRL name, so much so that even IRL friends call me by my online name. I suppose it seems like a "friendlier" name. I'm a friendly person no matter what, but the online name seems to be more "flower child" while the IRL name seems to be more "straight laced."

My twin, on the other hand, changed her name to a diminutive of her name in her mid-thirties and while no one really took her seriously before, I noticed that after she took the diminutive nick-name that irreverence rose remarkably.

2. see above...

3. I don't think my online name affects how I interact with the world around me even though it seems make others friendlier toward me when they think it is my real name.

4. Sure, go ahead. I don't think it's weird. If you find you like Odette better than Jeanne then adopt it as your real name. I've been thinking of adopting my online name as my real name... even though a lot of people know me by my IRL name and it's nothing like my online name.
posted by patheral at 3:20 PM on July 12, 2012

I began going by Michele when I began going to college again as an adult and getting more out in the world. My uncommon first name gets routinely butchered, both in spelling and pronunciation. That mattered very little when I was mostly at home. It mattered more as I interacted with more strangers. As Michele, I can order a pizza and although they probably put an extra L in it, I don't have to ask "did you mean me?" when my name gets called.

I feel different as a person and at one time might have attributed it to the name change. These days, I don't think it is quite so clear if there is anything to that or if it is sort of coincidence. My life has changed a lot. "A rose by any other name" and all that.

I still use both names. Generally speaking, my first name gets used on official paperwork and Michele gets used socially. I do find myself in settings where one person uses my first name and another uses my middle name. I just affirm they are both me.

Changing names has failed to significantly reduce long discussions about my name but it has changed those discussions. I get a lot fewer apologies for mispronouncing my name. Overall, I think Michele works better, though I have at times contemplated going back to my uncommon first name. Uniqueness has it's advantages, not just disadvantages.

I have gotten some feedback from other people about how they feel about the two names. One friend said Michele gave her a particular impression of me and if I was going to go back to my first name, it would (kind of negatively) impact her impression of me.
posted by Michele in California at 3:22 PM on July 12, 2012

My full name is very formal, serious and old sounding and the diminutive form conjurs up the exact opposite feeling--young/naive/airhead stereotypes (think Tiffany or Brandi like zadcat mentioned). I grew up with the diminutive and switched to the full when I saw that putting down the diminutive on my resume could only hurt me, if anything.

1. Yes, people treated me differently after I switched. People are more comfortable with the diminutive and sometimes try to use it even when they hear everyone call me by my full name (for the record, it's not like my full name is super long or weird--it's an easy two syllables, just like the diminutive is).

2. This usually happens with people who are especially gregarious and outgoing--they want to feel familiar with me and are uncomfortable using my full name. People see me as more serious and standoffish with the full name, which is actually what I prefer.

3. Yes, it did help me feel more secure, especially for professional purposes. I tend to be more serious naturally, and the diminutive (which a grade school teacher started for me--my mother never planned for me to go by that name) always made me feel like I had to prove the name wrong.

4. Yes, go ahead with your experiment! I'm still called by the diminutive by my lifelong friends and family...those who have known me growing up. I actually like that feeling as if I can feel a little closer to that group of people. The few times when a person in one group found out that I go by another name at work/home, the response is always disbelief. They can never believe that I could go by the other name and claim that I'm "nothing like" that name, which I always find amusing.
posted by dede at 3:22 PM on July 12, 2012

I haven't noticed significant differences between the people who called me by first name, the people who (I hate these people) call me by my name-turned-into-the-name-of-a-certain-celebrity (it's a similarish name), the people who call me by just my last name, the people who call me by one or more of my initials (as everyone does here) and those who use my chosen-at-age-11 online moniker or a shortened version thereof. All of these people know all my names, though.

I think this might make more of a difference if you (or the person you're talking to) have/has a strong opinion about one or more of the name choices. Like, I hate the stupid nickname people always think they're so clever in giving me - and I think that probably colors our interactions. But it's hard to tell, because these oh-so-jovial persons of questionable judgment would probably find some other thing to do that aggravates me, you know?

Anyway, the only things that come with a package of being clearly treated differently are when a) someone thinks I'm a Mrs. P-A, and accords me ten to fifteen years of additional responsibility and standing in the community, or b) when someone clearly thinks I'm very young, and calls me Miss/Sweetheart/Dear/Dearie. There's also a difference between the salespersons who look at my credit card and call me by my first name and those who look at my credit card and call me by my last name.
posted by SMPA at 3:23 PM on July 12, 2012

I will add, by the way, that my mom changed from the diminutive "Mickey" to the grown-up Firstname Middlename ("Mickey" was diminutive for her middle name) after she divorced my father. She claims people treated her much more like an adult, but I personally believe it's because she changed how she dealt with the world, quite radically - she went from being an itinerant part-time piano teacher to a licensed high school English teacher, she took on a grown-up hairstyle and all new and more serious clothes, she stopped being a Unitarian Universalist and became a Mormon... she even moved far away and had more kids! "Mickey" doesn't fit her now, but I don't think the change of name had anything significant to do with that.

She also went out of her way to ensure my sisters and I had names that were very hard, if not impossible, to turn into nicknames.

(The family/friends from the old days are almost invariably uncomfortable with the change, and virtually all of them pretend they don't know about her preference; after almost 30 years I believe they may constitute a lost cause. You can always spot how long my mom's known someone by the first five words out of their mouth, which is helpful for my sisters, who know a lot fewer people from "back home" than I do.)
posted by SMPA at 3:31 PM on July 12, 2012

I experimented with going by a non-obvious nickname of my first name at a summer program in high school, which nobody has ever called me (except on occasion as a family pet name) outside of it.

I accidentally introduced myself by the nickname to half the groups of people I met there and by my full name to the other half, so I can say fairly confidently I didn't observe a difference in how people treated me.

I did find that I was self-conscious about introducing myself by the nickname and would explain unprompted what it was short for. If I were doing it again, I would avoid that--if you're acting like your name is weird, it makes it weirder to others as well.

However, I'd definitely start by testing out the name change in a social group that's disconnected from your other groups, and perhaps one which you won't be around for particularly long, if possible, since you're just experimenting with it. (A short-term volunteer gig, class, or temp job, perhaps? Even using it online could give you a sense for what it's like to be called that.) If you discover you strongly prefer not to be called by that name later, it will be easier to escape.

With that in mind, do go for the experiment if it's something you want to do--playing with identity can be fun and illuminating, even if, in my case, it simply cemented that I prefer my original first name most.
posted by beryllium at 4:30 PM on July 12, 2012

Best answer: I shall give you three stories, although predictably the names have been changed.

When she was younger (teens), my sister changed her name from Mary Ethnicazinski to Rowanda Jones (the implied ethnicities of both names is intentional in my telling of this story, although I suspect my sister did not consider that concern at the time.) I still call her by her old first name once in a blue moon*, but for the most part the family has gotten used to it and doesn't give it any thought, although we quickly shortened her new name to a nickname (as we do for everyone.) To my knowledge, the only impact of this has been some surprise on the part of job interviewers and similar folks, when they discover my sister is white upon meeting her.

I dated a girl in my 20s who went by the name "Ginnie", and I had no reason whatsoever to distrust that her name was actually "Ginnie", but eventually she revealed that her name was legally "Mandy", which she'd always hated, so she just used "Ginnie". The desire to change her name didn't strike me as odd, but finding out it wasn't legally her name left me feeling a bit odd, and as other aspects of her best-foot-forward, beginning-of-dating personality began to fall apart it was certainly a contributing factor to me calling the relationship off. Also, when I met her father (with whom she had a somewhat uneven relationship) he called her "Mandy" and refused to call her anything else, so her names became tied up in a power struggle between the two.

I changed my name a bit more than a decade ago, adopting my nickname as my legal name (because I'd always preferred it) and changing my last name from "Ethnicazinski" to "Evan" because I had gotten sick-to-death of spelling it on the phone and getting mail to horrible misrepresentations of my name. Nobody batted an eye at it, although (like my sister) a lot of job interviewers had subconsciously assumed my name was "Evans" and seemed a bit surprised that I was white.

The short answer I'd give to you is this: have a good reason to change your name, one you can explain easily that doesn't make you seem like a wacko, and actually change your name legally. Also, before you do either, mention that you're thinking of this to some of your friends and see what they think.
posted by davejay at 4:36 PM on July 12, 2012

*then again, I sometimes call my dog by one of my kids' names, so that's really a personal flaw on my part rather than a reflection of name changes being confusing in the long term.
posted by davejay at 4:37 PM on July 12, 2012

I haven't tried it (this is kind of why), but a friend of mine in middle school moved from one school to another and decided that she wanted to go by her middle name rather than her first one. Her experience was that nobody who knew her before the change would call her by the middle name--family, old friends. Only the people who hadn't known her before would call her by the new name. When she was going to switch back to her old school district, she gave up and went back to the original first name again.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:14 PM on July 12, 2012

I changed from Joy to Jo. I get less people singing at me "joy to the world" and other such nonsense. I do feel younger because I see Joy as a name from a couple of decades or more from before I was born. There are slight difficulties as there are different cohorts who know me by each name, and invariably I use the wrong name when answering the phone, confusing whoever is ringing me.
posted by b33j at 5:21 PM on July 12, 2012

I think you might behave differently with a different name, and therefore be treated correspondingly. Is there a group you could start out as Odette with?
posted by theora55 at 5:28 PM on July 12, 2012

I used my shortened nickname (Kathy) socially from childhood through grad school, but then decided to switch over to my full, slightly more formal name (Kathryn) when I moved and switched jobs about 10 years ago. I have not noticed any difference in how people treat me, although I also don't think there's a huge gap between the two names in terms of their "feel" or connotation.
posted by drlith at 5:31 PM on July 12, 2012

I have used my full name, and a shortened nickname at different points in my life. No difference in treatment, other than when people I know from different eras of my life get together and there is confusion about which name I prefer--and as someone mentioned above, people don't really believe me when I say they can call me whatever they want.

(I initially did this change because I started life as Daniel, went to college and found people naturally called me Dan, and it stuck, but when I started working I thought Daniel sounded more professional. But both names are neutral and normal enough on their own. YMMV.)

On the flip side, all the people I know who have changed their name in adulthood (to something completely different), have been totally crazy and have had a lot of drama surround them. If I found out someone I knew did this, I would probably have slight feelings of mistrust. My personal bias.
posted by danny the boy at 5:53 PM on July 12, 2012

I think it can make a difference for women particularly, as we can be given names like Tiffany or Brandi and when we want to embark on professional life it can be wise to switch to something a little less fluffy and girlish.

This is what I did. My first name was about as girly/young/cheerleader-y as you can get, and also had a nonstandard spelling, and was very similar to two other girly names, so it got butchered all the time. I started to hate it in high school and switched to my feminine-but-distinguished middle name in college. I don't expect anyone who knew me by the first name to use the second, and you do really get used to it; my family calls me by my first, but my husband and his family by the second, but there's still only one of me, so no worries.

It's easier to do it when you are already in transition, like going to college or changing geographic locations; then you have at least one set of people who know and accept you as New Name.
posted by emjaybee at 6:42 PM on July 12, 2012

...and to answer your original question, I definitely feel like I'm treated differently. So much so that when I reveal my real first name, people look at me puzzled and say "You don't LOOK like a FirstName at all!".
posted by emjaybee at 6:45 PM on July 12, 2012

Best answer: I was Jess until college and I had a boyfriend who started calling me Jessamyn and it pretty much stuck. My family calls me Jess and friends from college and before, everyone else calls me Jessamyn. This is a mixed bag.

1. Yeah I get a few responses to Jessamyn ranging from "That's so pretty, where is it from" to "Jessica? Are you sure it's not Jessica?" to "Oh I have never heard that before." It's tough to spell so there is always more emphasis on what my name is than there might be otherwise if my name was Jen or something.

2. My telling someone my name now opens up a door to a short conversation where it didn't used to. It's also a more feminine name I think and people get a vibe off of that.

3. I feel like Jessamyn is a more mature name, for me anyhow, and so when I say it it's always sounded like a grown-up name. At the same time, I went to a hippie college with students with names like Ptolemy so there are some people who felt like it wasn't my real name. And of course here on MeFi it's a little odd having your handle be both your name and something fairly unique, so sometimes people think it's my handle and not my real name. Also my old name rhymed [Jess West] which i always hated, was teased about and which made me surly. I am happy that is no longer the case.

4. I'd totally go for it! Some people are weird about it [see what vacapinta said] but if you make it out to be no big deal most people won't either. I often say "Yeah I started using Jessamyn more in college and then it just stuck" and told people I'm fine with either and I really am fine with either.
posted by jessamyn at 6:45 PM on July 12, 2012

I have an old sounding first name "Constance", which I found hard to love as a kid. Instead I went by my middle name "Catherine", which invariably becomes Cathy/Cat.
I switched to C.c. as on online name in my mid-twenties, and it's stuck.
Now I only use Constance on legal documents, and I *dare* anyone to use the diminutive and walk away with all their teeth.

All of my family save one addresses me as Cathy, and my friends by ceecee. It's who I am.
posted by whowearsthepants at 7:35 PM on July 12, 2012

I changed my last name and got a lot of questions about it but was not treated differently. Changed it back, still not treated differently.

For about 6 years I've been going by a new first name, and still don't feel I'm treated much different. Hard to parse because I now use a male first name (Felix) even though I'm a woman (if a butch one), so I think there may be some subtle differences that are more about gender identity than anything else. People do ask me which pronoun I prefer now.

Anyway, I don't think it will change how people treat you, but I do think it will change how you see yourself - at least it does for me.
posted by latkes at 11:24 PM on July 12, 2012

Anecdote from the other side of the name fence: I had a new colleague whose email address was (let's say) Jane.H.Doe@company.com, and then a week later her email address was Helen.Doe@company.com, and for about a week after that I was very confused as to whether there were two of them, or just one. My only contact with her was via email, you see.

So it is a bit confusing initially- I imagine she had to explain to a couple of people that she preferred her middle name - but now she's just Helen to everyone, and it's fine. Go for it, why not?
posted by Xany at 12:50 AM on July 13, 2012

My name is Richard which comes with a handful of nicknames including the where-the-hell-did-that-come-from: "Dick".

1. Most people know me by Richard or Rich and I get treated the same with either name.
In college though I picked up the nickname "Dicky" and it stuck with a few people. Now whenever they introduce me to new people it is often assumed that I'm a super fun party boy ready to get my drink and dance on and I get treated as such... but this is exactly the opposite of who I am.

2. I think I get treated differently because the name has the word dick in it for starters and then adding the ee sound at the end of names makes them more fun and endearing. And of course I often get the question, "Why do they call you Dicky?" as they gaze down at my crotch. But at the same time I still get, "So your name is Rich... does that mean you're rich?"

3. I don't feel like I act any differently when I'm being referred to as Dicky. I sometimes wonder if the name gives me permission to act a bit more wild, but I never take it up on its offer.
Sometimes I refer to Dicky as my naughty alter-ego. Usually he's the person who forgot to pay the electricity bill or didn't turn off the iron.

4. You should totally do it. I don't find it confusing at all, however sometimes it can get a little weird when people randomly change it up and start calling you by your other name. For example, only my relatives who knew me as a child call me Richie. When people outside of that specific group use Richie it's the biggest mind trip.
posted by simplethings at 1:18 AM on July 13, 2012

One of my university friends called herself by a shortened version of her first name (let's say Lizzie) when I met her and then once she left university introduced herself as the longer version (let's say Elizabeth) to everyone she met from that point onward, and this has had an effect of sorts on our relationship with her, albeit a very, very slight one. It is in our case complicated by the nature of the relationship itself, because there are two opposing factors at work: we as her older group of friends occasionally feel the teeniest bit of resentment that she makes more effort with her newer friends than with us, but because we call her by the nickname and they call her by the more formal name, I think we also feel a slight sense of - not quite ownership, but certainly familiarity, like we're the closer friends because we get to call her by her nickname and nicknames tend to be reserved for intimates rather than acquaintances. In our case whether you call her by Lizzie or Elizabeth immediately indicates how long you've known her - so when someone calls her by the nickname you know they've been around for a long time. I think in a sense I do think of Lizzie and Elizabeth as two different people but not immediately because of the name: she has changed a lot since I met her, but when she's back with the same group of friends that were all together at university she goes somewhat back to being the person she was then. (I think that makes sense.) It's a case of correlation but not causation, I would say; she called herself something different at a point in her life where she herself was becoming someone different, rather than becoming a different person because she changed her name.
posted by raspberry-ripple at 2:41 AM on July 13, 2012

Regarding some of the remarks about nicknames, I have had a lot of them and that is sometimes territory ripe for misunderstanding and misinterpretation.

As a teen, I was a female RPGer in a (naturally) predominantly male group. One of the games we played was based on X-men. I played Kitty Pryde. This was thirty years ago. At that time, Kitty Pryde was a skinny, flat-chested and kind of nerdy character with the power to walk through walls. (I googled the name a few months ago and was shocked at how much the character has morphed into a sex bomb. I could not find pics of the Kitty Pryde I once knew.)

I vaguely looked like her as I was skinny, flat-chested and had wavy brown shoulder-length hair, just like she had. And I was definitely kind of nerdy. So the name "Kitty" stuck as a nickname. Many members of the group were adult men, so I was on the youngish side for that crowd. Some members called me "kitten". This was invariably misinterpretted by new members, who did not necessarily know it was an X-men reference, as indicating I was some kind of shared sex toy for the group. The main group was made of people who were all good friends and very protective of me, so they reacted pretty negatively to blatantly disrepectful behavior aimed at me.
posted by Michele in California at 3:23 AM on July 13, 2012

Response by poster: Hooray for the responses! How interesting!

On my end, both my first and middle names are foreign, and come with their own set of logistics: the first is really easy to pronounce, but difficult for many to spell (though I don't know why, grumblegrumble),* while my middle can be intimidating to pronounce, but is (counterintuitively) easy to spell.

However, this thread brings up something that hadn't clicked for me before: I am beginning to ascertain that many mistake my first name for a strange spelling, modification, or derivative of an anglo name.** I've noticed an increase in the number of people who say things like, "that's so pretty and unique - how did your parents come up with it?" or "awesome! my niece has the same name, except it's spelled the boring, standard way: W-x-y-x (i.e. a name totally unrelated to my own)." Or, uh, who try to tell me what the "correct" spelling is (and are m-effin' wrong). I think they think it is a custom job, as opposed to what it really is: the absolute dead-standard spelling of a name that is fairly common...in another country.

My middle name, when heard aloud, is unmistakably not of this country.

So, based on this, going by my middle name might actually encourage a different reaction, given that tl;dr: I think having a foreign-sounding name makes people suspicious of you.

Oh, wait. Sigh. As many of us already knew. But sigh.

you'll find that the majority of people really don't appreciate being used for your fancy in any manner, and you may become the subject of annoyance.

This, too, is what I was concerned about. I think experimenting with a nickname, like using Kathy in some situations and Katherine in others, might fly, but comparing a Jeanne group to an Odette group might not.

Is there a group you could start out as Odette with?

Gosh, maybe. I kind of want to! But if I want to see how Odette goes over in the long term -as opposed to just seeing how the people in Starbucks react to it- that might get tricky; you never know when your casual acquaintances might become actual friends, and then resent being treated like experiment subjects.

Maybe I can register for one underwater basketweaving class as Odette, and see how that goes.

...and to answer your original question, I definitely feel like I'm treated differently. So much so that when I reveal my real first name, people look at me puzzled and say "You don't LOOK like a FirstName at all!".

See, this is such an interesting phenomenon, but it seems really difficult for people to articulate why they say things like that. Which is why I get so curious. I think some posters above tapped into something when they referenced the cultural stereotypes surrounding Tiffany or Brandi, but I've always wondered what other baggage, impressions, or interpretations get bound up in other names. There is research out there related to issues of names that are viewed as being connected to certain racial or ethnic backgrounds, but I've always been interested in hearing more...

Which leads me to: One friend said Michele gave her a particular impression of me and if I was going to go back to my first name, it would (kind of negatively) impact her impression of me.

Eek. Because of the name itself, or because you keep changing it around?


Great answers. Feel free to keep more coming, if you have them. I'll probably mark those that were the most evocative or detailed as the best, but all of these were interesting.

And, yeah - the whole gendered thing, and the negative reactions that people can have when they think binaries are being messed with, is interesting, but not surprising.

*This is not really an issue in larger, more cosmopolitan cities, where I think enough people have encountered the name from time to time in their own experience.
** Again, not an issue in larger places, but a seemingly common reaction in smaller, or more conservative, towns. I think.

posted by vivid postcard at 8:44 AM on July 13, 2012

Best answer: I started going by Name B (common) when I was 29 years old (I'm 36 now). My real name is Name A (uncommon), and Name B isn't my middle name. I never legally changed my name because it just seemed like too much of a hassle.

1 & 2. Much to my surprise, not really. It could be that people have, in fact, treated me differently and I just haven't noticed. It is far easier to introduce myself to people, though. I don't have to repeat myself. But then, people also don't compliment me on my name when I introduce myself as Name B. A lot of people like my real name, perhaps because it is uncommon or because it sounds musical or maybe it sounds exotic. A few people who knew me as Name A prefer Name B, maybe for the same reasons I like the name. Some have even said I seem more like a Name B than a Name A, but I think it was, like raspberry-ripple wrote, that I was becoming a different person.

3. Overall, though, nothing much changed, not even in the way I experienced myself. I mean, lots changed, but these changes had nothing to do with changing my name. From time to time, I certainly feel more confident introducing myself as Name B, and I feel like I will be taken more seriously. I used to associate Name A with all I didn't like about myself and attracting toxic people into my life. I figured that with my Name B armor, this wouldn't happen nearly as much. While it's true I attract less toxic people into my life now, I don't think going by Name B has much to do with that. I think the changes I made were the result of hard work, not because the name Name B came with toxic people repelling powers.

4. Yes, definitely. I started with a class I was in at the time. When, on the first day of class, I was asked if I prefer another name or nickname, I said Name B. The teacher didn't so much as raise an eyebrow, wrote Name B next to my name, and I went by Name B in that class all semester. It branched out from there, until one year I spent two months in India by myself, came back, and announced to everyone that I was going by Name B, even to those who had known me for a long time. Most people didn't think much about it. Some said they loved my real name but would call me Name B anyway. Some liked the name Name B more. And yeah, I think there was probably one or two people who thought it was weird or convoluted, but no one that I considered a real friend.

It's funny, but it was harder for me to hear the friends that had known me longest call me Name B. I still have a hard time with it. As the years have gone by, I've found myself liking my real name more, and now I go by both names--and both feel like me now (that took a year or two). There are dear friends that were just getting to know me when I started going by Name B and, to them, I will always be Name B. Oddly enough, with them I would feel weird if they called me Name A. Someday, maybe, I'll legally add Name B as another middle name, make it official, but Name A stays. I like the name now. The why of that would add considerable length to an already lengthy comment. I remember reading an essay written by someone who had added names to her legal name over the years and she described her name as a sort of map or shorthand of her life's journey. My name has become just that, no longer just a name given, but more like the titles of chapters in a book, the names of parts of the journey that has made me who I am today.
posted by katherant at 9:15 AM on July 13, 2012

I was Kitty until age 17, when I wrote Katrina (real name) on a job application. It serves as a nice demarcation re: "when did I meet you" for me. I noticed even as a teenager that I was treated more like a grown up with a "grown up" name. Like vacapinta, folks who hear someone use my "other name" express concern that they've been doing it wrong.
posted by ersatzkat at 9:18 AM on July 13, 2012

Best answer: I work in a field where until recently, everybody had two names - an air name, and their birth name. Chet Michaels in the Morning (let's say) is really Emmett Percival Fabbergass II on his paycheck. Lots of people with ethnic names changed them to English or Irish sounding ones (that was the preference for some reason). Everybody wanted something short, easy to pronounce and understand. The holy grail was, choose a name with "crackle."

I hated my name as a kid. It was an old-lady name, similar to Virginia. Everybody else had a cute name - Cathy, Tiffany, Gillian, Brandy. I HATED my name! There was also the issue that my name had so many negative associations for me. My parents were abusive, and I was bullied my peers. Any time I heard my name, I was being yelled at or jeered at. When I was thirty I changed it legally to something I liked better, while keeping my original first name as my middle name. The psychological relief this conferred made me slightly happier. I got out from something important at a time when I needed to do it. I don't think the name change affected other people's perceptions of me, but it helped me to feel that I had escaped something unlucky that was holding me back. Illusory, maybe, but that's why it worked for me.

Years later I got into radio, and by some accident of fate my middle name ended up being the one I started using on the air. So my brand was again my original name, the tragic, unlucky identity I'd hated for years and had tried so hard to get out from under. But - since I was in a different place in my life, with a fun new job in a field that felt exciting and people around me who thought I was a big deal, this old name became detoxified. Now people thought my name was unusual, elegant, dignified, exotic. People often remark on my "great" air name, and then ask me what my real name is. It's been healing to have reclaimed my original name.

Why not re-invent yourself if you feel like it? Actor Cary Grant was really Archie Leach. Hedwig Kiesler became Hedy Lamarr. Denis Crisp became Quentin Crisp. Everyone is a brand these days. If you think changing your name to something that suits you better will help you to inhabit your brand, then go for it!

America is the land of self-reinvention. Yes, life has limits and there are so many things we can't control. But you can be anyone you want to be, if you have the courage to try. Changing your name won't confer instant success or happiness, but it can make you feel like you're in charge of your own identity.

Bottom line - how your name makes you feel about yourself is more important than how it's perceived objectively by others. Whatever your name is, just sell it! A short, fat guy with weeping sores named Everidge Melchior Glasscock III could still be an intimidating badass, a charming womanizer, a megarich interactive media mogul, a sensitive guitar player and charismatic guru, or whatever - all depending on how he approached the whole being-alive thing we each have to deal with.

Seriously - feeling good about yourself, saying what you feel and think, striving for integrity, treating people well, and approaching each moment and each person you meant as a unique and unrepeatable gift, will change your life faster than changing your name.

And if changing your name would help you to reach that place by increasing your sense of yourself as magical, powerful and charismatic, I'd recommend it.

Changing my name didn't erase the trauma I experienced as a child. But something happened to me psychologically - I suddenly had the strength to take a new path in life. I gave myself permission to become self-directed for the first time, and it made a difference. It might for you too, though your background and reasons might be different from mine.

So - I wish you good luck!
posted by cartoonella at 9:37 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Re: my friend saying it would give her a different impression of me:

She said she felt Michele was like a lion roaring and that my first name felt a great deal meeker to her. She knew me through a list where I was kind of popular and I guess she felt that her more brazen impression of my middle name was somehow a good thing and fit more with my popularity, thus presumably fit more with my personality. I can't say that I agree that it is necessarily a good thing or that such an impression fits me better. The degree to which other people see me as a type A personality does not sit well with me. And I find her observation kind of counterintuitive and annoying since I began going by my more common name in part to blend in and go more unnoticed, not as a ploy for attention.

I can sympathize with some of the problems you have with your first name. I recently realized that my uncommon last name is so problematic because in addition to the obvious issus that it is one letter different from a common last name and sounds just like a real word it is unrelated to which has a different spelling, it is also linguistic nonsense to Americans. The more common last name is a historical profession, like Smith or Wright. My actual last name is an anglicized French name, which also had a meaning originally in French but one no one would guess from what it is now. So it sounds/looks like either gibberish or a word it is not or, when read, gets misinterpretted as a more common name to which it is unrelated.

So, using Wright as an example, people want to turn it into either Wight or Write, depending on whether they read it or heard it.
posted by Michele in California at 10:07 AM on July 13, 2012

vivid postcard: "On my end, both my first and middle names are foreign, and come with their own set of logistics: the first is really easy to pronounce, but difficult for many to spell (though I don't know why, grumblegrumble),* while my middle can be intimidating to pronounce, but is (counterintuitively) easy to spell."

This new piece of information actually changes everything in my mind. Unfortunately, without knowing the exact names, it's hard to give you an idea of what other people might think. It's a really unfortunate situation, but Westerners, and Americans are pretty specific when it comes to foreigners and foreign sounding names/words/ideas.

So while someone might be annoyed at an Indian sounding name because it's very difficult to parse and reminds them of all their horrible call center experiences, a French name might sound romantic and elegant to them. It's really unfair and pretty biased. Same with accents. People are generally positive to English accents due to popular cultural associations but find Chinese accents harsh and annoying.

I think you might need to find some trusted friends to ask about your specific name-change idea.
posted by danny the boy at 10:26 AM on July 13, 2012

Response by poster: So while someone might be annoyed at an Indian sounding name because it's very difficult to parse and reminds them of all their horrible call center experiences, a French name might sound romantic and elegant to them. It's really unfair and pretty biased. Same with accents.

You can maybe split the difference: both are western European names. However, the first might be considered elegant, while the middle pretty much reminds people of why they failed their HS language class.

For slight clarification: I would probably never permanently or legally change my name, as I have a professional reputation attached to what it is now. I have long been interested in adopting the other as a social experiment, or for certain spheres in my life, or in my personal life. That's where this question is exactly grounded.
posted by vivid postcard at 12:47 PM on July 13, 2012

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