“What’s in a name?”

Ever since I retired, more and more people are calling me by a name I’ve never used, worse, a name my parents gave me but never used, namely Catherine.  The reason is that I had to reapply for medical insurance and in the course of doing so used my full name. And this name is on our checks and on every legal document, but only recently have first names become fair game for anyone we do business with.  The bank tellers call me Catherine, medical personnel use this name, and the other day so did a car salesman, though he committed a worse offense by shortening it to Cathy.

“So what?” might be your response, but there is something about a name that contributes to our sense of who we are and I am not Catherine (meaning: pure), much less Cathy.  A name is so important that many people legally change it to better reflect their identity (or, in the case of performers, potential earnings — same for criminals).  We introduce ourselves using our names.  We know we can offend others by misspelling or mispronouncing their names.  I read a piece on name and identity by a man named H. Edward Deluzain, who says, “Freud saw psychological meaning in the accidental distortion of a person’s name. He noticed that aristocrats seemed to mispronounce their doctors’ names more often than other people did.  He interpreted this as one way the aristocracy had of keeping physicians in their place. Doctors might have power over the life and death of their patients, but they couldn’t compete with the aristocrats in political influence and social prestige. By unconsciously distorting the doctors’ names, the aristocracy said, in effect, that the doctors were not important enough for them to bother pronouncing their names correctly. Shakespeare used this idea in King John. In the first scene, Philip Faulconbridge learns that he is really the bastard son of Richard the Lion-Hearted, hence the son of a king. King John, Richard’s brother, changes Philip’s name to Richard Plantagenet and grants him the honor of a prince and nephew. In a soliloquy following the name change, the new Richard says, “And if his name be George, I’ll call him Peter;/For new-made honour doth forget men’s names” (I, i, 186-187). Freud and Shakespeare both recognized that the relationship between name and identity is so strong that the misrepresentation of a name amounts to a misrepresentation of the person (Smith).”  As an aside, Shakespeare provides a different perspective in Romeo and Juliet: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Since no one will change the name on my medical records, perhaps I should just give up and become the new person they want me to be.  What’s wrong with the name Catherine? I’ll tell you.  Besides not being me, it’s going down in the polls.  In its heyday between 1880 and 1890, it ranked 41st in popularity, but dropped to 177th place in 2009.  On the other hand, it belonged to many famous women in history.  There was St. Catherine (who was beheaded for converting Romans into Christians), Catherine de Medici (described as short, plain and having eyes too large for her face), Catherine the Great (a sexual prodigy and creator of serfs), and Catherine of Aragon (wife of Henry VIII, who after 24 years of marriage sent her to live in “dank and unhealthy castles and manors,” so he could marry Anne Boleyn).

One possible alternative to accepting my new tag would be to mispronounce the names of others, something I can test out soon, because I have a doctor’s appointment coming up later this month.

About stillalife

I retired June 30, 2010 after working for 40 years in the field of education and most recently doing school public relations/community outreach in a mid-size urban school district. I wrote for superintendents and school board members. Now I'm writing for me and I hope for you. In this blog, I offer my own views coupled with the latest research on how to preserve our physical and mental health as we age, delve into issues most of us over 50 can relate to like noticing wrinkles and forgetting where we left our keys, discuss the pros and cons of different ways to engage our minds and bodies after we leave the workplace, and throw in an occasional book review, all peppered with a touch of humor, irony, and just plain silliness.
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3 Responses to “What’s in a name?”

  1. MedalistR64 says:

    You are completely ignoring the fact that a Catherine is about to become Princess of Wales or something similar. You can bet the name’s popularity rating will get a bump (as will the princess, no doubt) pretty soon. So, wear your given name proudly!
    P.S. I’ll never call you Catherine, but I would gladly give you a little curtsy.

  2. Sharon says:

    Thou dost protest too much about your given name (one your parents doubtless loved or you’d have been named Maude) …There is also Catherine Deneuve, Catherine Zeta Jones, and countless other glorious Catherines who, like you, reflect intelligence and beauty–and who embrace their purity. N’est-ce pas?

  3. Jill Turnell says:

    At least you don’t hate your first name. I have a name that I usually – at least in the past – would not even tell people. But now that I am on Medicare, the secret is out. Too bad I didn’t know I didn’t have to write my full name when I got my social security card!
    What is this hated name? Clytie. My father’s sister had this name. My mother has apologized every time I berate her for giving it to me, but said she had to. Too bad she didn’t make it Jill Clytie, but that just doesn’t have a good flow to it.

    Why do I hate this name so much? Because when I used to tell people they would either say, “What?” or laugh. Now I grind my teeth every time someone says it – and of course they don’t get it right. So I’ll trade you – I wouldn’t mind Catherine – it is a nice name. Be grateful you aren’t some child of Neptune’s (I guess that’s where it comes from.)

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