About names: I'm flexible ... just keep it clean, please

May 13, 2001|By Susan Reimer

You no doubt have heard this Biblical admonition: "A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches."

And what incurable romantic does not recognize: "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

There is this cliche: "Call me any name you want. Just don't call me late for dinner."

And its counterpart: "I don't care what you say, just mention my name."

Then why is it no one knows what to call me?

Certainly those who dislike me have no shortage of names for me, and I admit to contributing to the confusion by keeping my own name (we don't call it "maiden name" anymore.)

I guess it would be more accurate to complain that no one knows how to address me. Ms. Reimer? Mrs. Reimer? Ms. Mihoces? Mrs. Mihoces?

I answer to them all, but it doesn't seem to help.

Some of my children's friends call me by my first name, and no adult in earshot ever raises an objection, because these children are nearly as close to me as my own.

(Speaking of my own, my daughter refers to me as "Big Susan" when talking to friends. By that, she does not mean that I am large or that there is a Susan Jr. I know this is true because she and her friends also speak of "Big Wayne," and he is short, and "Big Leslie," though, come to think of it, she is tall.)

Some kids refer to adults by both first and last names, or by relationship. Therefore, my neighbor is "Bob Waldman" to some of the neighborhood children and, "Susannah's dad," to others. This works. For years, children referred to a friend of mine, who is also named Susan, as "Paul's mother" to avoid confusion.

Form of address is a sticking point with adults, too. My children's teachers and I are stuck referring to each other with courtesy titles, even though some are my elders, to whom I owe that respect, and some are young enough to be my children, and it makes me feel as if I am patronizing.

It is easier with my children's coaches. I just call each of them "Coach," regardless of their sex.

(This became ridiculous when a mother volunteered to help coach the high school basketball team, and team rules required that her daughter refer to her as "Coach.")

But that doesn't help coaches know how to address me. Though they call my husband by his first name, they go to remarkable lengths to avoid making a choice in how to address me. I swear, they'd address a Christmas card to "Resident" before they would face up to this awkwardness.

Occasionally, things will fall apart completely, and a caller will ask for Mr. Reimer. Although my husband has come to terms with this in his own quiet way, my 17-year-old son is indignant, and considers it an insult to his father's manhood.

My son declared that if any fool ever called him by his wife's name, he'd throw her out of the house.

"Let me get this straight," I said. "Your wife -- and that is a whole other topic -- would be punished by you for someone else's mistake?

"And further," I said, warming to the topic, "you expect her to blithely toss aside the name by which she has been known since her birth and take yours, thereafter sharing your view that the use of her family's name is an insult to you?

"Have I got that right?"

Having been down this road before, my son turned on his heels and left the room, muttering.

He might have called me a name, but I didn't hear which one, and that is probably a good thing.

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