Why is my name so often confused for THAT name?
June 3, 2007 9:05 AM   Subscribe

My name is Christian. It seems that whenever someone mistake my name for another, they mistake it for François at least 80% of the time. Why?

My name has been occasionnally mistaken for François in particular by different people in different environments for many years. There are no other obvious François in my entourage, and Christian and François seem phonetically unrelated, although they are both two syllables (I am a French-Canadian). This week, a new colleague called me François, prompting me to bring this topic to AskMe. Do you have any theory that would explain why my name is so often confused with François in particular?
posted by jchgf to Writing & Language (50 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
By the way, I have often asked people who had mistakenly called me François why thay had called me that name in particular, and I have never received a significant answer.
posted by jchgf at 9:09 AM on June 3, 2007


Some people just seem to be a certain name. (I've known guys who were Mikes or Steves despite having entirely different names.) Perhaps you're a François and don't know it?

I know this might sound snarky, but it really seems to be a genuine phenomenon.
posted by JMOZ at 9:15 AM on June 3, 2007


Indeed, perhaps you "look like a" François.
posted by Partial Law at 9:27 AM on June 3, 2007


Evidently, people looking like particular names is a genuine phenomenon.
posted by danb at 9:27 AM on June 3, 2007


Do you pronounce your name KRIS-chen, or kris-che-AN? If it's with a French pronunciation, that might explain the confusion. ("It's French-sounding.... must be Francois!)

I have a friend whose boyfriend's name is Julio. I always want to to say Pedro. Now I just say Pedro all the time as a joke.

If you don't use the French pronunciation, then I have no clue, other than the "looks like" angle. But for that to happen from different people... sounds unlikely. My name (Darryl) often gets remembered as Darren, Derek, Daniel, etc, but that makes sense anyway.
posted by The Deej at 9:53 AM on June 3, 2007


Addendum: the short A sound is prominent in both kris-che-AN and FRAN-cois.
posted by The Deej at 9:55 AM on June 3, 2007


("It's French-sounding.... must be Francois!)

Of course, this won't apply if everyone around him is francophone. Which, since he's in Montreal, seems likely ...
posted by librarina at 10:01 AM on June 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


I don't know, but that's pretty funny and you've got a good conversation piece for awkward elevator moments or meeting your girlfriend's parents or what have you.
posted by dino terror at 10:08 AM on June 3, 2007


The same thing happens to me... Everyone calls me Sarah, which is nothing like my real name. When I was younger it made sense, because my little sister and my best friend were both named Sarah. I could see how teachers or friends' parents might get confused. But now that I'm older, it keeps happening with people who have never met the other Sarahs in my life. New coworkers, fitting room attendants ("Can I get you any different sizes, Sarah?"), etc. Drives me batty.
posted by vytae at 10:08 AM on June 3, 2007


I'll throw my hat in with the 'you look like a François' answer, given that whenever someone misremembers my name, it's usually 'Christopher'.
posted by holgate at 10:09 AM on June 3, 2007


Of course, this won't apply if everyone around him is francophone. Which, since he's in Montreal, seems likely ...
posted by librarina


Good point, and one I considered when I saw his location. But, I am surrounded by Americans, and I sometimes misremember names that sound "American" to me. "It's Bob or John or Mike or Tom or something..."

I got tired of people misremembering my name, so I started saying "It's Darryl... as in, 'this is my other brother Darryl.'" Of course, once the Newhart show fell out of heavy rerun rotation, that device was lost on younger folks.
posted by The Deej at 10:17 AM on June 3, 2007


Christian could be mistaken for François if you were mumbling... it's the S sound in the middle of the word. If the S stood out and the other sounds were quiet I could imagine mis-hearing. Maybe?
posted by loiseau at 10:18 AM on June 3, 2007


I'm surprised that it has happened so often, but Christian and Francois are both names of demographic classifications. Or, does your last name sound like Francois?
posted by textilephile at 10:21 AM on June 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


I think some names seem to fit in certain categories with others. I get misremembered as "John," (kind of makes sense) and sometimes "Bob," (single syllable, contains the letter O). My name is Joe. I think the common denominator is that these names are one syllable, contain the letter O, and are in some sense "generic" names. Perhaps Francois and Christian tend to seem to belong in some category together.
posted by univac at 10:21 AM on June 3, 2007


Perhaps some folk tend to think of French Canadian men as being "François" the same way I tend to think of male Brits as "Nigel".
posted by Iron Rat at 10:21 AM on June 3, 2007


No no no!! Male Brits are Ian! :)
posted by The Deej at 10:23 AM on June 3, 2007


could just be that françois is just a more "french" sounding name and because you are french canadian (with an accent?), people just call you that as a consequence.

we know a french guy whose name is eric. we call him frenchie.
posted by violetk at 10:25 AM on June 3, 2007


but i also do have a habit of renaming ppl who's real name i don't think fit either. it doesn't happen very often but i have done it.
posted by violetk at 10:28 AM on June 3, 2007


Why Christian/François, I can not say. But the phenomenon is not unique. My name is Forrest and 80% of the time someone mistakingly calls me another name, it's Hunter.
posted by fourstar at 10:38 AM on June 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


I agree with univac -- some names just seem to fit into categories. I currently live just outside of Montreal, so I don't know if it has anything to do with that, but I could see myself making the leap from "Christian" to "François"... just because, to me, they are in a sort of "longish male name that is not Christopher" category (b/c Christopher is my brother's name, and so easy for me to remember).
posted by drycleanonly at 10:40 AM on June 3, 2007


Just to throw another data point out there, when people misremember my name, it is 100% of the time Brian. And my name doesn't share a single letter or phoneme with Brian. Nor (according to a survey of friends) do I look like a Brian.

It's probably what everyone else said, and add the mysterious way that people remember names. The way my memory works, I'd never call Christian "François", but I would call a Forrest "Hunter" because I usually remember them by association, and there are hunters in a forest... but which one is the name? I forget.

Just ask my friend April. Whom I called "June" for the longest time.

If I meet a David or a Tom I will undoubtedly call them one or the other since they're my brother's names.
posted by Ookseer at 10:54 AM on June 3, 2007


I often get called Heather, though my name is Hazel. My sister is called Heather so when I was younger I just figured people couldnt tell the difference, even though we're nothing alike - physically or personality-wise.

But now I'm older it still happens, which is a little weird since people dont know my sister - or even know that I have one. Maybe I look like a Heather or maybe people are just confused but they're in the right kind of area - its a 'H' name with a vaguely planty theme but Christian/Francois I have no idea.
posted by missmagenta at 10:59 AM on June 3, 2007


My name is Rachel. However, when I've talked to customers on the phone, a lot of them call me Lisa for some reason! It's happened pretty consistently at both the papers where I worked. (my standard greeting: "Thank you for calling (company), this is Rachel, how may I help you?" Response: "Yes, Lisa, I would like...") I have no idea what part of Rachel sounds like Lisa!

However, my younger sister got named Rebecca because my pediatrician always called me Rebecca, and the name stuck with my parents.
posted by SisterHavana at 11:18 AM on June 3, 2007


Is it the case that both names are particularly common in your birth cohort? I get called Heather and Amanda, only one of which sounds like my name but both of which were very popular when I was born.
posted by amber_dale at 11:37 AM on June 3, 2007


Just to throw another data point into the mix.

My name is Jason and throughout school it was common enough for teachers and others to call me Josh. This made enough sense as my older brother Josh was a grade ahead of me and we're noticeably similar as brothers. Of course now that I'm out of the homogeneity of K-12, people that have only met me recently will end up calling me Josh. Granted these are at least similar names.

As to your name confusion, I'd say the most likely culprit is the short A sound that The Deej mentioned along with the central S sound that loiseau talked about. Those two sounds combined make the names sound somewhat similar to me.
posted by mindless progress at 11:45 AM on June 3, 2007


Perhaps some folk tend to think of French Canadian men as being "François" the same way I tend to think of male Brits as "Nigel".

If that were the case, they'd probably call him "Mario".
posted by watsondog at 11:48 AM on June 3, 2007


Well, I just looked up my name on a baby name site and apparently Jason is a variant of Joshua. I have no clue if this actually has bearing on why people confuse the two names though.

Perhaps Christian and Francois have some sort of deeper relation that you don't know about?
posted by mindless progress at 11:50 AM on June 3, 2007


My name is Rachel. However, when I've talked to customers on the phone, a lot of them call me Lisa for some reason!

How odd... my name is Lisa, and when people get my name wrong, they almost always think I'm a Rachel. I've always blamed it on the fact that the consonants "L" and "R" are interchangeable in some languages.
posted by arianell at 12:12 PM on June 3, 2007


I'm Rachel, but people always call me Rebecca.
posted by belladonna at 12:32 PM on June 3, 2007


No no no!! Male Brits are Ian! :)

And male Australians are Bruce. And -- gay!
posted by ericb at 12:33 PM on June 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


Hey, Frenchie, it's possible that "François" is being intentionally used as a pejorative.
posted by univac at 12:37 PM on June 3, 2007


I had a judo coach who almost always called me Jason, even though my name is Greg. This is after multiple people correcting him, and he being suitably emabarrased. Apparently, I looked like a Jason that he knew. People don't usually have a problem remembering that I'm Greg, though. I've never noticed another systematic error.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 12:38 PM on June 3, 2007


In a similar vein....many years ago I read an article in Good Housekeeping by Charlotte Montgomery. She was lameting the fact that so often when she made reservations somewhere, they had her listed under "Anderson." The article went on to relate other anecdotes from folks named either Montgomery or Anderson and how they were always being transposed. There was no rational explanation given in the article, it was more of an open-ended "Why does this happen...?"
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:48 PM on June 3, 2007


My last name is Bradford, and I get called "Brad" a lot...
posted by mrbill at 12:49 PM on June 3, 2007


I get Stephanies and Jennifers confused and mixed up *all* the time. The office worker in my doctor's office had one of the above names and she finally just went with whatever I called her after I explained I confuse the two. She said she has it happen to her frequently . . .
posted by 6:1 at 1:07 PM on June 3, 2007


I'm a Michelle and yet I have gone through my entire life being called Melissa. In grade school, it made sense because my best friend was a Melissa and people always confused us. But now? No sense at all. Yet another case of "you just look like one."

At least in my case the names sound somewhat alike.
posted by wildeepdotorg at 3:00 PM on June 3, 2007


This is such an entertaining thread!
I can't say that I've run into the same problem, but FOR THE LIFE OF ME I cannot stop confusing Megan and Melissa, and Paul and Tom. Both of these make sense, but it does make things awkward when I call my boyfriend of 5 years Paul instead of Tom, especially since we have several friends (and an uncle) named Paul...oops!
The thing is, I know better...I'm actually good with names, those particular names just come out wrong.

I'm kind of thinking along the same lines as Iron Rat and the case of people who interchange Julio/Pedro. Just one of those things...
posted by criticalsass at 3:48 PM on June 3, 2007


I am a Sara, but for some reason people will occasionally call me Beth.
posted by nekton at 4:26 PM on June 3, 2007


what's your last name? I get timothy sometimes, my lastname is my handle. I think it's just looking at the wrong name and not really looking.
posted by thilmony at 5:17 PM on June 3, 2007


I'm a Robin, but always get called Rebecca or Heather for some reason.
posted by Glitter Ninja at 6:20 PM on June 3, 2007


I quite often get called "Mary Jane" instead of the correct "Megan Jane".

I guess the first one is just more commonly heard.

I should be grateful they are not calling me "Wacky Tabaccy"....
posted by gomichild at 6:56 PM on June 3, 2007


On a few occasions, when I have told someone my name in a noisy environment - "Dave Sherman" - they hear it as "Steve Truman."

If I ever write The Great American Novel, I'll probably do it under the pen name of Steve Truman.
posted by davidmsc at 9:17 PM on June 3, 2007


Well, I'm a "Dan", and well over half the time that I'm given the wrong name, for some reason it's "Dave". (David was 4x as popular as Daniel in 1963, my birth year; now Daniel leads, but only by 10%.) I also get "Mark" occasionally. Well, they're both books of the Bible....

I'm thinking there's a factor here with people of a certain age "look" like other people of a certain age and thus a more common name will get transferred. This is sort of a subset of the "people look like their name" phenomenon.

But I think there's also a sort of a category technique going on, as with "Forrest/Hunter" and "Daniel/Mark". People -- especially in business -- are taught memory techniques for names that involve visualizing something about them. Maybe for Forrest they associate him with green and trees, and the recall process brings out Hunter. For you, Christian and Francois (French) are both categories of people.

There's probably no one simple answer, but as with my mystery and the other anecdotes, delving into it is more of an exercise than a resolution.
posted by dhartung at 9:28 PM on June 3, 2007


I'm fascinated by this. I'm Jayne, but when people get it wrong I get 'Kate' most of the time.
posted by corvine at 4:54 AM on June 4, 2007


A little different, but for the longest time, I would get occasional emails to "Amy." I am Kim. Not wanting to make them feel poorly, I ignored the error, but it was very curious. Finally I asked someone, "why Amy?" Well, my email address is scram in pig latin, amscray, and apparently when looking at it quickly, they were just seeing the AMscraY part!
posted by Scram at 6:29 AM on June 4, 2007


Yes, it happens. My name is Rebecca and out of the blue someone calls me Rachel about every other week. Its bizarre.
posted by stormygrey at 5:44 AM on June 5, 2007


But I think there's also a sort of a category technique going on, as with "Forrest/Hunter"

I had an acquaintence named Forrest Hunter. I never knew what to call him. In fact, I'm still not sure if it's Forrest Hunter or Hunter Forrest.
posted by The Deej at 5:52 AM on June 5, 2007


The Deej- no kidding? So did I, back in college.... I guess it's not an absurdly uncommon name, but come on, parents- that's just a bit wrong.
posted by JMOZ at 8:27 AM on June 5, 2007


I don't see Francois and Christian being confused by Montrealers merely because they're both in the same French-y category. Perhaps they're both in some other category, though. I would consider Rachel and Rebecca two of the four most prominent female names in the Bible. I think they're associated in my mind on that basis.

Christian and Francois also feel very differently phonetically. I get called George. Mouthing "George" and "Stuart", I think phonetics is the culprit in this case. Phonetics and my poor diction.

I like another theory. I was called Michael once. The confusion was obviously based on an association between Michael and my last name. Not Jordan. A friend recently mentioned something similar about her last name. Obviously, this is only plausible if this is happening with people who know your last name and if someone famous is named Francois Yourlastname.
posted by stuart_s at 7:43 AM on June 6, 2007


I'm Rachel, but people always call me Rebecca

Yes, it happens. My name is Rebecca and out of the blue someone calls me Rachel about every other week. Its bizarre.

In the book of Genesis Rachel and Rebekah were mother and daughter-in-law and vice versa (since Rachel's mother-in-law was also named Rebekah). Perhaps that is the association?
posted by levijk at 9:02 PM on June 9, 2007


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