Saturday, January 26, 2008

Jane, not Janie

Often I'll start writing a post and set it aside, only to discover that a friend has beat me to the posting. Usually it's a current event or reaction to another blog post. I generally choose not to post my repetitive post and leave a lamenting "you beat me to it" comment on the other blog.

But this week it has happened with an un-timely, un-current topic. And since I already had my post on names mostly written on Wednesday morning, I'm going to go ahead and post it, even though Pastor Petersen posted about names already this week.

So here's my original post:

Last night I was talking to some friends about what we call certain people and why. It was an interesting conversation and it got me thinking about the relationships between what we call each other and how we perceive each other and the power that names have.

Growing up I was Janie. I hated the nickname almost as much as I hated my name. In a world of Lauras and Loris and Lisas and Amys and Julies and Kims and every variety of Kr/Chris(ti)(na)(ne) I was plain Jane. When I was going into eighth grade we moved and I decided to shed Janie. I was Jane. I still didn't like it, but at least it wasn't a little kid name.

Of course, it wasn't quite as easy for the people who had called me Janie for 14 years to embrace the new name. It took years before most of my aunts and uncles called me Jane. Sometimes they still slip. My mom caught on the most quickly, because she was likely to be in trouble with the teen-aged me if she didn't. My grandma still called me Janie until she died last year. She also had the most nicknames for me. Now, no one calls me Janie except for my mother-in-law, who didn't know me when I was, but picked it up from my husband.

We were raised to call adults not related to us Mr. & Mrs. Aunts and uncles are called Aunt and Uncle, even when they were only a few years older and we sat and nursed our babies together. My mom is Mom, after being Mommy when I was little. But for some reason, I'm Mama. I don't know how or why, but that's what my kids call me. My kids are taught to call adults by their last names, although from time to time there are adults who end up being on a first name basis. I'm never quite comfortable with this, even though it doesn't bother me when certain kids call me Jane.

Sometimes it isn't easy to know what to call someone. One of my friends is often in business situations with her mother and feels awkward calling her Mom, so she calls her by her first name. But she's been called to task for it, and wanted to know what we thought. I told her that I still call my mom Mom, even in business situations. That relationship trumps business relationships.

With blended families come new name challenges. My mom started dating Ron when I was a senior in high school. He told us to call him Ron. Twenty-five years later, when he has been married to my mother for over twenty years, is Grandpa to my kids, and has been a wonderful father to me, Ron doesn't seem sufficient. I can't call him Dad. There was someone who had that name. My brother calls him JR, his initials. I call him Wicked. He used to identify himself as my wicked step-father when he called, and it stuck. It is an ironic and completely affectionate name for one of my favorite people, but from the outside it probably sounds strange.

Nicknames can be affectionate or the opposite. When my brother calls me Sis 'O Mine or I call him Martian, it's affectionate, but we had less affectionate names for each other as kids. My kids are Beppy, Patchy, Jon-Jon, & Gussy. (Or as they've gotten older Bep, Patch, Jon and Gus.) D

Don't call them Beth, Pat, Jonny, or Andy. Especially not Andy.

By the way, I like my name now. I was named for my great-grandmother.
Jane is a good grown-up name.

4 comments:

Rachel said...

I have always loved the name Jane- I think it's my fondness for Jane Austen that brought it about. It's a lovely, sensible, girly name to me!

Marie N. said...

We like children calling adults Mr. or Mrs. with their last name. But sometimes that information is not readily available. When the dental hygienist tells my three-year-old "My name is Mary" we taught her to address the adult as "Miss Mary". I like that hearkening back to my southern heritage. And when I taught ballet lessons as a teen I found I was called "Miss Maria" but when I was a student in class the same people called me Maria.
I shed a hated nickname in the middle of fifth grade when my family moved too. I've never regretted it and I still hate to be called the other name.

The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

I hated Lora when I was a kid. I was one of three in my class, so I ended up being "Lora K" When I was in 5th grade I had the bright idea of being "Lori" since no one else was (and my parents told me that was a nick-name of Lora). I was still Lora at home, but it went okay at school...until in 7th grade the guy I had a crush on asked me if I go by Lora or Lori, and I blushed and said "either" and he said he didn't like Lori because they were usually (and he didn't use a nice word). So I was back to Lora. I would've killed to be a Laura. But my mother thought that with a last name like Ketzenberger, she was making it easier for me...it just meant I had to spell my WHOLE name.

Now, I like it, too.

It made me determined though....I could give my kids unusual names, but I wouldn't give them common names and spell them bizarrely.

I do prefer to have my kids call people by their last names as well...but other people often don't cooperate with me. Though even 13 years later, I still don't respond easily to Mrs. Horn.

Jane said...

This resonates. I also changed to Jane the first year I was old enough to register for school by myself. However, I was changing to my middle name from my first name, the then-MADLY-unattractive Hazel. Now that name is hip. I'm glad for all the new little Hazels out there, but I am firmly Jane for the rest of my life. I did not go through being called Janie, except by my husband when he was trying to be annoying. Even that is endearing in memory, especially since I discovered that the little ditty he'd sometimes hum (Oh, my little Janie . . . ) actually was a line from a Three Stooges episode. I never knew, and it was a real kick to learn something new about him so many years later.