Thursday, July 15, 2010

That's Not My Name

Bumped into an old work colleague the other day, but the otherwise-pleasant reunion was marred by one thing: she called me by my last name.

Ah, what's in a name, anyway? A rose by any other would smell as sweet, and rudeboy by any other would be as sour. And yet, it riled and rankled me so much that I actually had an "adult moment" and had to tell her "I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but I would appreciate it if you'd call me _______, and not my surname."

She was a little taken aback and gushed a hasty apology before we parted ways with the usual promises to keep in touch and all.

What's in a name, anyway?

Ask Rumplestiltskin. The very premise of his Faustian bargains hinged on the knowledge - or lack thereof - of his true name.

I have three legal names but my work colleagues only know the one I go professionally by. And how they called me was a useful gauge of their estimation of me. It didn't matter if it was a client, a boss, or a peer. Anyone who addressed me by my surname I instantly knew didn't think well enough of me to consider how condescending it was.

Interestingly, I can't seem to recall a client or boss who ever addressed me by my surname. But I most certainly remember colleagues and peers who did. Before entering the workforce, the last time anyone addressed me by my surname was in CMT - and I was an officer, at that. Addressing people by their surnames implies rank and superiority, and the addressee, naturally, would be at the lower end of that rung. It works in the military and other environs where a clear chain of command is essential. But in what should otherwise be a professional corporate environment, being addressed by one's surname is but a power play, and a petty one at that.

Why did I find it insulting and condescending? While my family is by no means of illustrious lineage, my family name bears no shame. I am neither puffing with pride at nor cringingly ashamed of it : it is but my father's name, and the name of the clan I belong to. If I have male children, they will also carry it for the rest of their lives, whether they like it or not.

I had an interesting chat with a fellow blogger (who shall remain - no pun intended - unnamed) about names. He gave his real name (no surnames, though), and wanted to know mine. I demurred, conceding only to give my initials, nothing more. What's the big deal, you say? What's in a name? I could have given him any of my other two legal names and not be accused of lying; yet, at the same time, that wouldn't have been totally honest.

And since I despise dishonesty but couldn't be persuaded to reveal my name, the most I could do was give him the shorthand version. Which was not at all lying; just incomplete truths.

A name is but a marker, a way of identifying a person or thing. It is not the thing itself; merely a way of filing that thing. Nothing exists without a name. Whatever arcane knowledge or fanciful construct, there's a name for it. There's a phrase that fits. Maybe not in your language or mine, but somewhere in the vast repository of human knowledge, anything knowable has been given a name.

It's been said that the Eskimos have 52 words for "snow." There have been many names for me, but I don't think there'd be more than a dozen, tops.

I have been called many things - fondly or otherwise - in my life, and it has become a way for me to "place" people. What they call me tells me at what point in my life we met, what our relationship was, and more importantly, what they thought of me. Friend, foe, lover, colleague, boss, subordinate.

The woman who called me by my surname came from a certain place and time in my life. But that time has come and gone, which is why I felt such an overriding need to put her in her place, so to speak. Had she balked and said "Why, what's the big deal? I've been calling you by your surname ever since." I would've had to retort "Well, then, I'm going to have to call you by your surname from now on, and let's see how you like it."

It rankled me, I know now, because it reduced me to my surname, and the injury was that my own surname became little more than a thinly-veiled insult. That after all these years, in her mind, this is where she was, and this is where I still was.

And speaking of places, we seem to have traded. Where she once outranked me, now she was asking me for a favor.

We could start by saying my name.


  1. knowing the true name of a person is power.

  2. Remind me not to call you by your last name, Rudeboy. LOL

  3. More than the topic, what I like about this post is the ease, and the almost magical way, with which Rudeboy handles language. Very nice! I am an instant fan.


    - From a first-time reader

  4. Similar to what Eternal Wanderer said:

    Words have meanings and names hold power.

    I prefer to be called by my given name as well. Save for the dear ones who baptized me with their preferred nicks. :)

    Nice read.

  5. this reminds me of two things:

    the massaai of east africa who has tons of names for cows that they even name their children based from the name of their cows born on the same year.

    second, death note. scared of knowing his real name to avoid knowing his life years and cause of death.


    hulaan ng name ni rudeboy, game? hahaha

  6. i know the name of ruddie.

    and his name is...



  7. @ Ternie : That last comment was more cringe-inducing than a purple polyester shirt over orange corduroy bell-bottoms.

    @ wanderingcommuter : I guess different cultures have more names for things that are important to them. Like us and our kanin, bigas, palay, sinaing, tutong which in English would all comfortably fall under "rice."

    Love the Death Note reference, too.

    @ jace : "Words have meanings and names hold power."

    Have you ever watched Miyazaki's Spirited Away? The witch in the story would literally take the names of her captives, and give them new ones. Once they forgot what their real names were, then they would forever be under her power.

    @ janjan789 : Awww, gee shucks. Thanks, and welcome to my blog. Hope you enjoy reading.

    @ iurico :

    They call me blud
    They call be rudeboy
    They call me OI
    They call me mate
    That's not my name,
    That's not my name,
    That's not my name,
    That's not my name.

    @ Ternie again : Remember my name - FAME!

  8. Rudeboy, touchy eh? =)

    I guess some things will continue to irk us, whether you're 20 or 40.

    "Are you calling me, darling?"

  9. firstly, I hate my legal first name and the fact that my surname reminds me of my father makes it worse. I'd rather be called Red, but this one guy I'm pining for does not want it because he said its associated with my cinema cruising days. My bad for telling him that, but what can a "Red" do? Help!

  10. @ alimuom aka Red : In very many ways, our names define us. The baggage that "Red" brings obviously weighs hard on your friend. Perhaps a new moniker would be a good start?

    @ Kane : Touchy, touchy. Now if I could only be feely.

    And no, I called you Princess. Hehehehehehe >:P

  11. Perhaps it was the shift of power. I love how this post made me realize that when I was younger, I could tell which friend set I was talking to based on how they addressed me.

    Are you calling me darling? Or are you "calling" me bird. lol

  12. @ citybuoy : What would you like me to call you, Nyl? :P

  13. we used to be called by our surnames back in grade school and high school so i guess for us its not a biggie. i wouldn't mind but i'd rather be called HOT. hehe kidding.

  14. @ icarusboytoy : Well, we haven't been in school for a while, so the rules - they have changed. I guess citybuoy got it right : it's the shift of power. I don't really mind a superior addressing me by my surname; that my reaction was such spoke volumes about how I perceived the woman in question.

    And also - nahhh, you weren't kidding. You know you enjoy it when people call you endless variations of HOT.

    "Scorching. Sizzling. Searing" come to mind. I know I did - until God said "Let there be light!"

    Absolutely nothing wrong with calling 'em as you see 'em. It's un-ironic misnomers that rile me.

  15. well based on the kane interview, i'm not sure meself. haha