It seems that many have trouble using people’s names – a quick Google search reveals that I am not alone in my name anxiety.
Below are a few comments from a thread on SocialPhobiaWorld.com:
- I didn’t feel cool enough to call her that.
- It’s probably because using someone’s name seems to imply you’re on friendly, intimate terms with them and using a nickname seems even more uncomfortably over-familiar. On the other hand have you noticed people sometimes use your name in every sentence, particularly when they’re trying to sell you something and they appear to have no shame about how phoney it sounds?
- I feel like I’m crossing some boundary, that it’s too personal, and that it makes them uncomfortable.
Embarrassment is the main theme that arises in thinking and reading about name anxiety – fear of making a mistake and being humiliated. Familiarity is the second theme – not feeling comfortable enough with people to use their names. Identity is a third theme I’m adding.
I immediately assume that I’ve made a mistake when people use my name.
- I’ve said something wrong and they are exasperated.
- I’ve done something wrong and they are using my name to emphasize a point.
- They are trying to get my attention, as I’ve has drifted.
I was the kid who never knew what to call adults – Do they prefer first name or last name? What if I get it wrong?
Unfortunately, this quandary persists in adulthood. I’ve taken to not using names unless absolutely necessary. The “What if I get it wrong?” piece figuratively feels like life or death.
This is yet another situation where writing trumps speaking: In writing, your audience is generally a single person and you need not use names at all. If identifying a single person is necessary (as in a group email), then you can simply wait to see how that person self-identifies. Easy.
In college, most of my professors signed emails with their initials. My theory is that they were uncomfortable with both Dr. Lastname and with students using their first names, yet could find no middle ground.
Signing correspondence with initials is extremely appealing; it says “I’m cool and confident” even if it means otherwise. Unfortunately, I have yet to muster the confidence or find the right situation to begin initialing.
One of the ways to force a connection is to use someone’s name. We’ve all encountered the person who overuses a waiter/waitress’s name – it makes everyone uncomfortable because it’s phoney, falsely familiar, and inauthentic.
Using someone’s name is a privilege, not a right. It’s earned through a sense of familiarity – a sense I lack.
A second dimension to this, one that I’m not sure everyone encounters, is my memory. I remember names and faces. How often do you hear (or say), “Oh, I’m so bad at names.” Are you actually bad at names or are you anxious about using names so you pretend to forget them?
It’s a blow to the self-esteem when you remember everyone and no one remembers you.
I’m more shaky on this section; the words are sort of tumbling from my fingers and I’m not sure if they’re real. The whole thing might be nonsense and can be solved by deciding whether you think names have inherent meanings and/or value. What’s the difference between those who choose to go by Bob versus by Rob? Is there a difference and does it matter? Do Bob and Rob automatically have value because they have names?
This part of the anxiety exists because I don’t like my own name and prefer no one use it. Unfortunately, I’m not one to acquire nicknames, so I can’t say, “My name is Percival but I go by Ace.”
By using my own name as infrequently as possible (referring to myself by my last name in speech, not signing my name in written correspondence) I am that much more taken aback when someone uses my name in real life.
For a long time I assumed that the anxiety around my own name related to wanting to go unnoticed, but now I’m questioning whether it’s actually because I don’t think I deserve to be noticed. Perhaps it’s a bit of both.
Never have I been a commanding presence. Never will I be a commanding presence. Countless times I’ve heard, “You’re so quiet I didn’t even know you were there!”
You give something an identity once you name it. You assign it character traits, a backstory, conflict. To give something a name is to give it meaning. Is meaning a right or a privilege? Should it be a right or a privilege? Nonsense.