I hate my nickname and just can’t shake it

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I hate my nickname and just can't shake it
No shame on the name, but it just ain’t me
The Collected Cathy By Cathy Guisewite

My name is Catherine. I was named after my maternal grandmother who went by “Kitty” (very British, very cute). When my mother was looking to nickname me as a baby (since I guess that’s what you do with more formal names?), she settled on “Cathy” since she felt that something like “Cate” was too weird. (Shout-out to Cate Blanchett.) And Cathy stuck. Forever. Despite my first attempt to change it back at the age of eight and the many attempts after. I just can’t seem to shake this name that I don’t like.

Is this a seriously first world problem? Hell yes. Is it inconsequential compared to other struggles (particularly when it comes to trans identity)? Hell yes. That’s a whole other level of struggle I can’t claim. But a benign-nickname-turned-sour I suspect is also pretty relatable and something we could commiserate over to see if any solutions exist out there. How does one shake a hated nickname?

The first attempt to reclaim my name

When I hit third grade, I attempted to have my teacher and schoolmates call me Catherine. I had only recently learned how to spell it and felt like it was pretty cool. It sounded far more sophisticated than that “Ack”-ing Cathy cartoon or Kathy Lee Gifford. Or perhaps a lady in a toothpaste commercial. It wasn’t me. But Catherine could be. It all went well until my mom went to a parent-teacher conference, called me “Cathy,” and my teacher took that opportunity to start calling me something that felt far more comfortable to her. Cathy it remained.

Eventually I just went with it. Like other formal-sounding English names (I’m looking at you Theresa, Victoria, and Elizabeth), I get that it just feels weird to call someone a name like Catherine. They want to call me Cathy, Cat, Cath, anything shorter and less cumbersome. There was no chance of getting anyone in the habit of a new name when they’d been hearing another for so many years. So I waited it out.

Adult time! Name embracing time!

I had gone to college with some high school friends so there was zero chance of getting a fresh name start there. When I graduated, however, it was a clean slate. Time to start introducing myself as Catherine and have nobody around to drop the Cathy bomb. New jobs, new friends, new lovers… all called me whatever I told them to call me. Some shortened it in other ways: Cat, Cath, CC (my initials), Kit Kat, etc. These were somehow all fine, but Cathy had become something else entirely.

As my pleas to call me by my given name went unbidden by my old friends and family, it started to feel like an aggressive name. What was a benign chummy nickname became something angering, when it never should have been. These friends and family meant no harm, of course. I felt petty to even care what people called me and to request something else. Most of my old school friends bewilderingly admitted that they’d never be able to make the switch. When I heard the name, it rang shrill and loud. Nobody could understand why it bothered me and I had trouble articulating why as well. (I mean, it was just a name, calm down, right? It’s not “arseface!”)

True. It wasn’t arseface.

But it sure felt like it at times. To this day, in my mid-30s, there are two sets of people: those from pre-2002 who cling to Cathy as a familiar name they just can’t shake, even if they want to (and I know they mean NO intentional harm in it). My mom, to her credit, totally tries to call me Catherine in front of others. I guess she took that parent-teacher conference to heart.

The post-2002 friends and loved ones easily call me a name that was original to me — at least to them. I wonder what it would be like at an event focused on me — a wedding, say, or a birthday party. I have had neither of these in my adulthood so I’m not even sure what it would sound like. Would half of the people call me something unfamiliar to the other half? Would all of those adult friends and coworkers suddenly start calling me “Cathy” — finally free of the heft of a name they probably think is too formal and stuffy anyway?

My sweet boyfriend knows not to utter the dreaded nickname (he’s in that post-2002 group), despite having to hear it sung out when we hang out with my old pals. He knows that it’s a silly, petty complaint and he abides it anyway. He understands why it has grown into something larger than it ever should have been. And I in turn know that those other friends and family love me just as much. They just can’t wrap their heads around the OG name.

Is this just a matter or getting over my damned self? Do any of you have similar experiences with nicknames or pronunciation (or are on the other side trying to call Vickie, Victoria)? Share your own stories — and I’ll call you whatever name you like when I reply…

Comments on I hate my nickname and just can’t shake it

  1. I can totally relate to that. I’m called Catharina, but luckily my parents never called me Cathy, so I was able to avoid this nickname. My nickname ever since I was a baby has been “Katze” (German for cat), and it is still widely used by my German friends and family (and some colleagues, even), with the equivalent “Cat” among my international friends and colleagues. Only one person calls me Cath, and that’s a special case 😉
    Some friends insist on calling me Catharina, which is fine, though as a teenager it always felt like being reprimanded when my then-best friend called me that.
    Very occasionally someone would say Cathy, and then I tell them calmly to please call me Cat, Katze or Catharina, but not Cathy. For your pre-2002 group of friends it might be difficult or even impossible to adapt. I know I still call some old friends by names that they’ve been trying to get rid of 😉

  2. i know a professional woman who immediately shortens names upon meeting someone. rick becomes ricky, christine becomes chris, with zero prodding. i always cringe and correct her. i believe you should call someone by the name they introduce themselves as and explore possible nicknames after you know them well enough to know what is endearing and what they find annoying. at the point you’re at, i would utter, “i prefer catherine” a hundred times a day until people get the message. you deserve to be called what you’d prefer. my name is ashley and i fought ash for years. i like it now but hate it when someone uses it much too soon. if i met you 5 minutes ago, you are not familiar enough to get to call me by a nickname. that shit is earned.

    • Yes! This is SO pretentious and overly-familiar. Husband’s name is Nathan,
      and some people just take it upon themselves to call him Nate despite neither of us referring to him as such. I want to punch them.

  3. My name is Margaret. I’m on the opposite side of this – my mother was very insistent that no one shorten my name (which people really want to do). So I’m called Margaret where most people are called Maggie, Meg, Marge, Peggy(?). Which I’m truly grateful for. As an adult I still have to be very insistent that people do not shorten my name. I generally remind them a few times, nonchalantly but firmly, and then consciously stop responding to the nickname they are using (that’s going to be harder for you I imagine).

    But you can absolutely be insistent that people switch. People switch to using a new last name for someone all the time. People are stubborn about this for some reason but it’s your name. You get to decide what you want to respond to.

      • yes you can! adults are capable of honoring that request. an initial slip up or two is understandable but an adult should be able to remember your name, even if it’s an adjustment.

        • I agree, Ashley! A dear friend of mine from college decided in her late 30s that she wanted to go by her full name, largely for professional reasons. Was it difficult to make the switch? Yes, very. Did I force myself to do it because it was important to her? Absolutely. Occasionally I slip up, but I laugh and apologize, and she knows I’m trying and appreciates it.

    • I am also named Margaret and my parents did the same thing. They had everyone call me Margaret from the beginning because they didn’t want me growing up with a ton of nicknames. Only my immediate family calls me Maggie. Even my husband refers to me as Margaret. I had people for years ask me why I didn’t go by Peggy, Peg, Marge, Maggie or anyone of the million nicknames that come with Margaret. I just feel that Margaret fits me the best.

    • My mother is a Margaret (Peggy) and the reason of too many nicknames is why I was not named Elizabeth. Instead I am Elise which is frequently mispronounced to Elsie…which really isn’t any better than being improperly nicknamed.

    • I had an aunt who’s given name was Peggy. She had a teacher that INSISTED on calling her Margaret even though my grandmother explained to her that she was NOT named Margaret. Some people, amirite?

  4. I’m a firm believer in calling people whatever they want to be called. Not that I ever thought about it much, until I was at university and someone queried why I called one teacher Dr Fish and another Gina, within the same sentence. The answer to me seemed obvious – that’s how they’d introduced themselves to me, so that’s what I called them. (Also Dr Fish taught marine biology – it was too perfect not to!)

    My take on it is that you tell me what you want me to call you and I’ll call you that.

    …With two exceptions. One is a guy I know called David who HATES being called Dave. I don’t have any idea why but I find that habit impossible to break – every single time I have to consciously remind myself to call him David and on more than one occasion it’s come out as “Hey Dave-id”.

    The other is my sister, who at 25 I’m still calling by her childhood nickname, which isn’t even similar to her real name or her preferred nickname. In that case I think it’s a simple matter of habit. After calling her one thing for 18 years it’s hard to switch to something else, even something I’ve heard her friends call her for years.

    So between the two I guess I kind-of know where your family are coming from. Somehow society has ingrained in us that certain names are shortened, and once you’ve got into that habit it’s really hard to break out of it.

    My suggestion would be simply to keep reminding them. I understand that it’s aggravating for you to keep having to tell your family to use your actual name but I think catching and correcting it each time is probably the only way to break that habit.

    • Also, for what it’s worth it absolutely does happen the other way too, although probably not as often.

      My name is Katy and it’s pretty common, especially when I’m filling in a form or meeting a new work contact or something like that, for me to have to explain that yes, that is my full first name, it’s not short for anything and I didn’t change it as an adult. (I was once told that Katie is a nickname and Katy is a full name, but having met various other Katy/ies I’ve found there’s actually no consistency.)

      But usually it’s not a problem. The only time it was REALLY a problem I was 9 years old and my teacher refused to believe me – she insisted on writing Katherine on my year-end report and actually argued with my mum about it afterwards. Accusing a 9 year old of not knowing their own name seems odd to me, but she was very much in the “I am older and therefore know better” school of thought, but trying to tell the woman who had chosen the freaking name and specified how the hospital should spell it that she did not know what she had called her daughter was just crazy.

      • My mother had a similar problem when she was in school. She is a Peggy. No nickname, that is what her parents put on her birth certificate. In school she had teachers who insisted on calling her Margaret.

        I think my grandparents made this decision because my grandmother’s name was Marjorie and she absolutely hated being called Marge. Though I don’t know that anyone besides family knew that.

        Rach never really bothered me, but I don’t really see the point, either.

      • So much this. My name is Jenni. Not Jennifer. Jenni. That’s the whole name. Sometime, particularly in professional settings, people will feel that’s too familiar and call me “Jennifer,” and then I’m left wondering if this is someone I’m going to interact with enough to correct them, because they’ll be embarrassed and it will be awkward. And I have repeatedly over the years been told that Jenni simply *can’t* be my full name, because apparently I’m too stupid to know my own name.

        Since my name is a nickname, I’ve never really had much of a nickname except for the old friends and family who call me “Jen.” My choir teacher in HS gave me a nickname that I hated (and will not put here) and it took me years to get my HS friends to stop using it.

        • My husband has a cousin who named her youngest child Shelly. Not Michelle, Shelly. Of course people assume her “real” name is Michelle. Also worked a few others who legal names were really Bob, Terry, and Larry, not Robert, Terrance, and Lawrence.
          On saying that, my name is Mitzi. So of course the first couple of questions are:
          1) Where you named after Mitzi Gaynor (as that is the only Mitzi people know of and that is not her real name. You never hear people whose name is Theodore if they were named after Teddy Roosevelt or Elizabeth if they were named after Queen of England or Elizabeth Taylor. Even though I am sure there are people out there who were named after Elizabeth Taylor or whatever).

          2) They hear Misty or Missy. If they are hearing Missy, they think my name is Malissa/Melissa. So they ask me if that is my real name (Missy or Malissa/Melissa, as some people are really called Missy).

          3) Other Misc. questions/comments (I have a dog/cat/parrot named Mitzi. I had an Aunt Mitzi and I did not think people still named their kids that (mind you I am in my 40’s)). about my name.

          My name as short as it is, gets shorten to Mitz. Which used to impress me as a kid that people could do that.

          I do agree that it does make me mad that people assume if your name is James you want to be called Jim. I learned the hard way never to call anyone a nickname unless they introduce themselves that way. I did to James actually, “What’s up Jim?” He quickly responded, “It’s James.” So I always ask if they want to be called Jim, Liz, Dave, or Mike (or whatever other common nickname).

    • Totally agree on the professor naming debacle. I had professors that I refer to as Madison (her first name), Westenburg (his last name, no title), Dr. Sokol (title and last name) and Doc (nickname based on title, no formal name at all). I think it is all about self-identification. In higher education there is also the added layer of whether or not people want to be addressed as “Dr.”. Getting a Phd is hard and some folks really want to be recognized for it, while to some it is just too formal.

      I have a two-word name that I actually really like now, but in school people insisted on shortening my name to the first word, which I really hate on its own. Not to be undone, I shortened my name to my “middle” name only and now only my family calls me by my full name.

  5. You are not overreacting. This is a huge pet peeve of mine as well. I am also Kathryn, also named after my grandmother. Because of this, my parents did not give me a nickname, and insisted that people call me by my full name. And yet….everyone still wanted to call me Kathy. It was actually easier when I was a kid, because I had the force of my parents behind the desire to be known by my full name. As an adult, I’m constantly having to correct people (often folks I’ve just met, and almost exclusively in professional scenarios) who immediately shorten it. I cringe every time I hear myself referred to as Kathy. Why would someone make that assumption? It’s honestly thoroughly insulting, and I WILL (politely) call you on it. I usually smile and say something like “My parents named me after my grandmother, so I prefer to go by my full name”. What’s really annoying is when I have to say it repeatedly to the same person. Eventually, I jokingly say something like “Now, Robert – I know I’ve told you I prefer my given name. Am I going to have to start calling you Bobby to prove the point?” Or, I’ll look around in wonder and say “who’s Kathy?” They usually get it after that, but as a conflict-averse introvert, the whole situation makes me incredibly uncomfortable.

    It has, however, made me a better colleague. I’m always the one who says “Hi David – I heard someone call you Dave earlier. Which do you prefer?” I’m also the person who corrects others if I hear them use a nickname I know someone despises. Names are important, and everyone has the right to be called by the name they prefer.

    When I was in high school, one of my teachers (an elderly woman on the brink of retirement) insisted on calling me Kathy. I had told her, politely, numerous times, that I preferred Kathryn. Finally, I just stopped answering her. She sent me to the principal’s office. When asked why I wasn’t responding to my teacher, I calmly stated that if she refused to call me by my actual name, then I was under no obligation to answer her. Kudos to my principal for letting me go back to class unpunished.

    Now, don’t even get me started on the various ways to SPELL Kathryn/Katherine/Catherine/Kathryne/Katheryn/etc, and the fact that so many people don’t even care to try to get it right!

        • I have the same name and I HATE being called Kat for short. I love Kathryn, but if one must shorten it, then I’d rather be called Kate. Why Kate but not Kat? Personal reasons, but I don’t feel the need to explain that to everyone. If I want to be called a certain name, I think that should be respected. After all, I’m the one who will be responding to that name. It’s common courtesy to call someone by the name they prefer, and to pronounce it correctly.

  6. This, except I also hate my ‘real’ name too, so there’s no winning. I’m a Michelle, but it’s often shortened to Shelly – which I absolutely loathe. Every time I hear it I cringe and all I can picture is the character from South Park. Every. Single. Time. I abhor people saying my name – either version – but it feels too weird and pretentious to change it.

    • I think you should change it if you want to!

      Honestly people will get used to anything given time. I’ve got friends and family I call everything from Catherine and Margaret to Cathy and Sue, to Flick, Duff and even Psycho. (That last one is a friend I originally met online, Psycho is a shortened version of his screen name.) It might seem weird at first, but over time people will associate whatever name you choose with you and it will just become your name – a word that means you.

      I know one guy who gave himself a new nickname as an adult – his name is Christian and he hates it (mostly because he’s a practicing pagan) but never really liked Chris either. One day he met a Christopher who went by Kit and decided to call himself Kit too. Literally just came in to college one day and announced “I’m Kit now.” It did take a while for it to catch on, during that time he kept having to remind people to call him Kit. But eventually everyone made the change.

  7. I know men who are David (not Dave) and Jacob (not Jake) and so on. When nicknamed, they simply say, “I go by David” or “I prefer to be called Jacob” as calmly as if they were saying, “It’s raining,” and as often as they need to say it. After awhile, people g used to it and start correcting others for them: “He goes by Michael not Mike.” I don’t see why women couldn’t do that just as insistently.

    • Agreed. It probably feels “rude” when it’s totally not. For me, it’s all about those people who are really used to the nickname. But we could all learn from those dudes who handle it with ease. 😉

    • Yeah, my name is Allison, and occasionally people will try to call me “Alli.” It isn’t as common as with “Mike” or “Jake” might be, but it still happens. I’m pretty firm, I just say, “Oh, I don’t go by Alli. Just Allison. :)” If they still call me Alli, I don’t answer. Not intentionally, but because it isn’t my name and I just don’t answer to it! It doesn’t register that people would be addressing me when I hear it. (Of course, Catherine, that isn’t the case for you!)

  8. I got much more comfortable with “I prefer Melanie” when I realized that letting people shorten my name at their choice/convenience was part of a larger issue for me of letting people talk over me, ignore my ideas and input…in short, allowing others to make me small. Only people who know me truly may shorten it now (friends, family, my partner). Along those lines, wanting to be known by your full name is not a small or petty thing, regardless of whether others think it is. 😉

  9. Though not as drastic as Catherine to Cathy. I am Alison (with one “L” which is another pet peeve as so many people spell it with two.) and I really cringe when people shorten my name to “Ali”. There’s only one person who for some reason it works. He’s not a romantic interest, but he’s got this old crazy uncle vibe so that might be why it works. But anyone who hangs out with him a lot or met me via him try to call me “Ali” and I can’t seem to come up with a polite way of saying “No… only ‘Q’ can call me Ali.” And so the cringe remains.

    • High-five from another Alison with one L. I feel like “Ali” is the nickname for my younger self, and when people call me that now, it feels weird (except for when family members use it). On the other hand, a couple of my online handles have “Ali” in them, so I guess it’s a natural thing for folks to say, and I shouldn’t mind. That brings up the whole online/IRL thing, though, as well.


    • I’m Alyssa, and I have always gone by Aly socially/personally and Alyssa professionally. I answer to either. My biggest problem is people misspelling my name – it’s ALWAYS spelled Ally, Ali, or Allie.

      When I first started working at my current job about 2 years ago, I came in on the first day to discover that all of my official documents – email address, business cards, name plate, etc. – were listed as “Ali.” I have no idea where they got that, as my application, resume, etc. were all listed as “Alyssa.” It took weeks to sort out – and all because they somehow heard me referred to as “Aly,” but took it upon themselves to guess how it was spelled!

  10. I have the opposite problem – I disliked my birth name so much that I legally changed my name to my nickname! Now when people call me by my old name (mostly older family), I just smile and gently correct them. Sometimes it feels awkward, especially if it’s multiple times in a day, but it’s SUPER important. To me it’s about claiming my agency and being free from the expectations of my parents. Not that you need anyone’s permission, but you totally have mine to tell people 1000 times a day which name you prefer until they get it right. And they absolutely can if they actually see it’s important to you – don’t let them off the hook! 🙂

    • I think it’s that 1000x reminder that has kept me from ever changing my name. Really wanted to switch to Mischa in 10th grade (had an uncle who called me Meesh so it wasn’t totally random. Plus I had a serious Silence of the Lambs phase happening…) but I’m such an introvert that the idea of having to engage that often about something that I knew people just wouldn’t ‘get’ seemed Sisyphean.

  11. I got the name no one call spell or pronounce. It’s just a hair off nornal. Genny (yes with a G) first name. Bee, as a middle name. Teachers tried to call me Jennifer during elementary. And I got so mad that my mom had to tell them to stop. But at the same time I hated being called Genny Bee. It sounds to me anyways, like a little kids name. It never really fit me. Someone started calling me Gen sometime in my teens and for the first time I didn’t cringe. I moved to SF from LA and just started introducing myself as Gen. I still get people pronouncing my name with a hard g all the time. It’s really annoying to have to correct every spelling/pronoun citation. I just start with the spelling now. But even then you have no idea how many times the J just slips out of other people.

    • So I am a Jennifer. When I was growing up in the seventies everyone else seemed to be a Jennifer too..or a Heather. Waaay too many Jennifer’s in a single classroom in school and in dance class and on the soccer field. It was an epidemic! Jennifer’s everywhere (now it’s kinda cool go Team Jennifer) teachers liked to give us nicknames and add last name initials. So there it began…Jenny B. UGGHHH!! I hate even typing it still! It stuck with me like gum on the bottom of your shoe. So annoying and always making me feel like a little kid cuz when it wasn’t Jenny B it was Jenny and that isn’t any better. I tried making it better by insisting my name was spelled JENNI but yeah no this really wasn’t any cooler and still made me feel like some kid. I was sooo over it by high school I shortened it to Jenn and would correct anyone who said different with a simple.. It’s Jenn, thanks. New people would know me as Jenn. And in classes where there were still a plethora of Jennifer’s I asserted myself and asked to be called Jenn because by this point everyone had a name preference and I was fine with that. The Jenny still wouldn’t go away though. In my junior year in my drivers ed class I decided…F this! I am going to be Jennifer and I am going to spell it Jenipher!! (I saw some chick in Sassy magazine spell her name this way and thought it was so awesome!) I signed and wrote my name like this everywhere. I was sooo very happy to have this new fun name and spelling until..welll…the documents for my soon to be Driver License had this spelling on it. And I thought nothing of it until my Dad and Mom about throttled me because this name did not match my birth certificate and now well…all my drivers ed documents were invalid and would have to be redone! Hahaha! OMG this was hell. I don’t remember the process or what exactly had to happen but a trip to DMV was there and it wasn’t fun. Anyways….so that! AND Jenny was still here! She hadnt gone away yet! Grrr! Every family function where people that attended who knew me when I was little would still call me Jenny. And they would introduce me to their friends that way too and I would quickly correct them and say it’s Jenn now but you know how it is and they would usually smile and shake their head and say Nice to meet you etc etc Jenn. And then in college the Jennifer population was still quite present I actually had my very cool English Lit instructor call me by my middle name which is Jene’. (Pronounced Jen-A) and that was fun until I would forget and she would be staring at me calling me Jene and I was like Who!? Oh yeah…so I gave that nickname up after that class. Lol
      Now in my fourties, I am Jenn and most everyone calls me that and I have no issues. My Grandma and maybe a handful of others from when I was little call me Jenni (my Grams still spells it Jenni with an I so she rocks and gets extra credit). But I still have idiots now and then who when they meet me say oh nice to meet you “Jenny” CLEARLY after I have said Jenn and then I quickly give them the smack down and correct them and say It’s Jenn thank you and I am sure I give some sort of dont fuck with me look as I say it because usually it quells the situation. I don’t let it bother me any more because 9 times out of 10 these people that do not know me and still address me as Jenny are true idiots and have no regard for anyone else other than themselves and I don’t care what they think of me anyways. Never be afraid to assert yourself and correct someone. If they can’t address you by your name then they do not deserve to know you.

      • LOL. My grandfather refused to spell my name with an i. He always spelled it Jennie. As far as he was concerned, my parents made a mistake and it was on him to correct it, apparently.

      • Another Jennifer here. I completely relate. We Jennifers have been sorting this shit out for our entire lives.

        My parents chose “Jenny” for me. I tried out several variations (Jenni, Jenna, Jenn…) in grade school and middle school, none of which my family would even try to use.

        I think because I wasn’t allowed to choose a nickname, I’ve always felt like my name had nothing to do with me. It felt completely forced, and I hated it. In high school, people usually called me by my full family (“Jenny Cary”) because it flows really easily and because there were so many Jennys.

        It wasn’t until I got married that I felt I had the “right” to use a name of my choosing. Ironically. My husband didn’t care if I took his name, but we ultimately decided that we would both use my maiden name as our middle names and his last name.

        Professionally, I use my full name– including middle. That feels most like me. My family and close friends still call me Jenny (or often “Jenny Cary”), and I’m at peace with it.

        • One more from the ranks of the Jennifers here. Parents called me Jenny. Switched to Jen in middle school; my mom successfully switched but my brother and my dad only occasionally manage it. Grandparents and extended family didn’t particularly try. Then my brother fell in love with a Jenn, so my nephew will probably always know me as Jenny. I use Jennifer at work because clients, who I talk to by phone, can hear it more clearly than Jen. I have to remind my coworkers about once a year. I’ve never felt like any of the variations really suit me, but Dad loves it and I’ve yet to find anything that feels more apt.

      • I know a “Nifer” (rymes with Swiffer). There were so many Jennifers in her school, she just chose a nickname from the second half of JenNIFER. Just keep asking for the name you want. It’s not rude. It’s just asking for common courtesy.

  12. I don’t think this is petty or trivial AT ALL. Names are so important and you should be able to be known as your given birth name!

    If someone calls you Cathy, be insistent. Don’t even say it’s what you “prefer”, just flat out correct them: if they say Cathy, you politely but firmly correct them: “Catherine.” I’ve had to do this just with the pronunciation of my name, Corinne. It’s pronounced Core-inne (like let’s go get a room at the inn) but I get Core-eene a lot (rhymes with Maureen). To me that’s like nails on a chalkboard but I know some people spell their name the same as mine but pronounce it like that. But no one I know calls me that because I make sure of it, and when I meet someone who says it wrong I simply correct them. It gets easier the more you do it. Most people WANT to call you by the name you prefer, and might even be embarrassed and apologetic if they found out they’d been calling you by the name you hate all these years. Those who have known you forever can and should respect your wishes. It’s hard at first but takes effort–with regular reminders it’ll stick. You deserve it.

  13. I was named after both my grandmothers, so I’m an Elizabeth Margaret who goes by Liz. My dad is the only person who can get away with calling me Lizzy, and my mom is the only person who insists on calling me Elizabeth all the time. When I was born, she was dead set that I would be Elizabeth my whole life. No nicknames. Then WHY, Mom, did you give me a name that has so many nicknames? Eliza, Liza, Liz, Lizzy, Beth, Betty, Betsy, Libby…THE LIST GOES ON. Honestly, being called Elizabeth just makes me feel like I’m in trouble (and if I hear Elizabeth Margaret, I’m in trouble with my mom, which is worse). Liz is so much easier and fits who I am much better.


    • ARE YOU ME?????? I am an Elizabeth, and my mother told me it was because she didn’t want me to have nicknames. (?????!!!!!) I introduced myself as Liz the first day of college and I am Liz to everyone in my life except my immediate family.

  14. I’m very much the other way around!
    I’m a Victoria, but I’ve been Tia since I was a toddler who couldn’t pronounce their own name right. Only a few people have ever got away with calling me Victoria regularly and I’ve never been thrilled about it.
    And, as I begin to realise that I identify as agender, it’s even more important to me- but I’m not out so it’s harder to insist. But people at work who get it wrong when “Tia” is everywhere and “Victoria” is just part of my email address that’s a hassle to change (I’m on a temporary placement), are reeeeeally beginning to wind me up…

  15. I’m a Heather Nichole who has always rather disliked her first name. I don’t hate it as much now as I did when I was a kid, but I ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS have liked my middle name better. I knew so many other Heathers who were around my age, and I even knew another Heather Nicole (sans the h).

    When I moved to Louisiana to live with my dad, I wanted to have new people I met in high school start calling me Nikki. My dad and stepmother were absolutely insistent that I didn’t, because “it’s not your name and that could get you in trouble sometime if someone else has that same name,” as if that couldn’t happen with my birth name?

    When I moved again for college, I decided that this is absolutely what I would do. The only people who still call me Heather are people who knew me fairly well before the name switch (family, childhood friends). It doesn’t bother me that they do, because I know that’s how they know me. I would prefer if everyone called me Nikki, but I don’t really insist on it among family or old friends. I’m closer with people I met in and after college anyway, and I don’t live near family or old friends, so I don’t hear it a lot anyway. Maybe if I did, I’d request it a bit more often. I find it funny, though, when a friend who has always known me as Nikki finds out my first name is Heather. They almost always have a completely shocked look on their face, then they usually say something along the lines of “…Heather doesn’t really fit your personality anyway. You’re way more a Nikki.” I know names and personalities don’t really correlate, but it still makes me happy.

    I know, that was really ramble-y. I hope it made sense.

  16. Girl, I so feel you. I have many levels of this issue. Maggie is my full given first name, it’s not Margaret. I once had a teacher argue with me and insist that I use my full first name. I grew up living primarily with my mom, step-dad and sister, visiting my dad, step-mom and brother every other weekend. My dad-family called me Mags. Always. Nothing other than Mags. They introduced me as Mags to other people. I hated it So. Much. Thankfully (I guess), they’re the only people who have used this nickname, but every once and awhile I’ll run into someone who will use it and I just cringe every time.

    • Oh god the random weird nickname that only 1 person uses. Those are the worst!! I had a friend in high school who had one for me that was absolutely awful and i hated it. But i couldnt get him to not use it “because that was his special name for me”. It made me cringe everytime. It was Holls. My name is Holliann, most people around that time called me Holli. This jerk decided he was going to call me Holls.
      Eww. Gross. Dont call me that I sound like a coughdrop.
      I quit talking to him several years ago. Refusing to listen to me about my name just shows a blatant disrespect that i dont want in a friend.

    • Ha! I end up having people assume my first name is a nickname quite often. When I was 11 I got sent to summer camp. When we had to introduce our selves this camp employee (who was easily in his 40s) was infuriated that I wouldn’t tell him my “real name”. I tried to explain that no, my mother really named me Stormy. Guy just kept screaming over me, “That’s just stupid! That’s not a real name!” Even threatened to get me sent home for “lying to staff members”. One of the other staff members intervened and that guy wasn’t allowed around the campers anymore, but it still strikes me as one of the stupidest over reactions ever.

  17. My partner gets this all the time. His name is Christopher and always introduces himself as such so when people say “do you prefer Chris or Christopher?” It kinda makes our head explode… he just introduced himself as Christopher *twitch*.

    He also has a cousin who just made the switch from Katherine to Kate and while it took a bit and a lot of apologies on my part it’s slowly becoming normal. You have the right to be called whatever you want. If you say “stop calling me that” it’s rude for people to say “no, that doesn’t work for me” or “it’s too hard”…

    • So when I was in college I was introduced to a German guy who they called Chris. When they said his name i saw his face kinda fall just a little bit but then perk right back up. Later when we were walking to class I asked him (because of my personal experience with people’s determination to shorten names) if he actually preferred Chris or if that’s just what people called him. He did the same “oh, it doesnt matter, people can call me whatever” that I always did. I told him no, it does matter. It’s your name, it’s your identity and you have the right to decide what it is. He smiled at me and said he preferred Christopher and thanked me for caring. He started correcting people and eventually most were calling him Christopher. It was really cool.

  18. I was lucky that my mother was VERY insistent that people call me by my full first name, Tabetha. Which meant it was ingrained in me that people were to call me that and not Tabby, Tabs, TabbyCat, or any other nickname. It also helped that I went to school with a Tabitha and a Tabatha who did prefer nicknames. Teachers and other students didn’t have to specify which of us they were talking to or about. (Don’t get me started on the spelling confusion though 🙂 ) As an adult I do not respond to any other version of my name, which quickly discourages people from using it. If a person uses it in conversation and I can’t ignore them then I correct them asap, even if it is mid-sentence.

    On the other hand I know people who have tried to drop the -y from their names, Ricky to Rick, Katy to Kate and I honestly had a hard time with it. I had known them for so long and now they have a “different” name. After reading your situation and thinking on my own name woes I feel like I should really work on that now. So thanks!

  19. HI Catherine My full name is Jacqueline and as a child I hated it because parents and teachers only used my full name if I were in trouble, (frequently!). The spelling of my shortened name, Jaqi, varies according to who writes it, and at one point it used to infuriate me if they got it wrong.

    Now, nearly 60 years since I started school I’ve tried using my full name, but almost no-one ever uses it. Sigh!!!!!!!

    Only my 3 sisters and 2 brothers know my middle name. I loathe it with a vengeance!

  20. My comment touches on 2 subjects:

    1) Re: People immediately using a nickname.
    I feel like that might be a very U.S. or English-speaking thing to do. I live in Québec, and using a nickname to refer to someone one’s only just met would probably be viewed as very rude and unprofessional by most people. We also have two people in my office who go by another name than the one on their record, and they had no problem getting everyone to call them by their chosen name once they explained. Names are your identity and I find it’s very insensitive to call someone by a name/nickname they don’t like.

    2) Re: Name problems
    That being said, I have a very unusual name, both in how it’s written and in the fact that it is usually a name for men. Most people will get my name wrong on their first try, but most people also use it correctly after I’ve corrected them once. However, some people will just never call me by my proper name, it’s like they can’t wrap their head around it, or they just can’t be bothered. That is very frustrating. It’s especially a problem if they end up introducing me to someone else, because then I have to correct them in front of someone else. Correcting them then is basically exposing their douchebagery to someone else. But I wouldn’t have had to do it had they made a little effort to show me basic human respect, right? I try not to let it bother me, but as I child, I contemplated changing my name numerous times. Nowadays, I just keep correcting people no matter what, unless it’s just not worth it, like at a coffee shop I’ll never visit again.

    That gives me a little (and I stress “little”) insight in how trans people must feel when people misname them or misgender them (which also happens to me, since I have a traditionally male name); and let me tell you: it’s a pain, to say the least. And that’s just me as a cisgender person with an unusual name I’ve had all my life. I can’t imagine how much worse it feels when the majority of people will just flat out refuse to change how they refer to you because “moral reason”/laziness/grammatical obsessions.

    I mean a name is the most basic part of one’s identity. Refusing to make an effort to get it right is like saying “I don’t care about you. In fact, I care so little than the tiny inconvenience of me actually remembering how you want to be called is too much.” Honestly, people that will just never remember how to name me properly just advertise themselves as uncaring and not worth my energy.

  21. I completely feel you on this. My name is Holliann. Everyone wants to call me Holli. Ive always preferred my longer name because I simply think it’s prettier and more unique. Most people called me Holli growing up and I didnt mind. But as I got older I wanted to have my own identity so I decided I wanted to go by my full name. It never failed that I would introduce myself as Holliann and they’d immediately shorten it to Holli. People were so determined that I actually would introduce myself with both names and say it didnt matter which. If pressed I would reply “I prefer Holliann but that second syllable is too difficult for most people”. I know, kind of an ass thing to say, but oh well. At some point my indroduction became “Holli, well.. Holliann” and sounded super ridiculous. When i met my boyfriend I introducted myself like that to him and he asked me about it. It turned into a (somewhat drunken) existential conversation about who I wanted to be and why I’d given into what other people wanted to call me instead of making a stand for my desired identity. When we started dating he introduced me as Holliann to all his friends. Finally! A group of people who call me what I want. It really gave me the courage to demand people call me by my right name. It’s amazing how something so simple can change so much. Not cringing everytime your name is called is a major stress relief.

    As for people spelling it correctly, Ive accepted my fate on that one. Ive never met a single person in my life to spell it correctly. Thats what happens when you have an unusual name…

  22. I’ve had this problem my whole life. My name is Katrina, but as a child everyone called me Trina because my mother hated the nickname Kat. I’ve accepted that my family will always call me Trina- though several family members are making the effort to switch- but no one else is allowed to call me that. I will answer to a laundry list of names- just not Trina!

    • Haha! Hi, name sister! Though mine is spelled with a “C”, which nobody can EVER get right. Fun story: When I was three, my aunt tried calling me “Trina,” and I would look around for another little kid, because she couldn’t have been talking to me. That wasn’t my name. (She STILL gets crap for that, 20+ years later.)
      My family has always called me Katie or Kate, which I don’t mind too much, but I always get the “wait, you spell it ‘Catrina’ with a ‘C’, but ‘Katie’ with a ‘K’?” and it’s apparently so confusing that no one can keep track. (It doesn’t help that my last name is ONE letter off from a common noun, either.)
      So I’ve started spelling it “Caity” because I like it better and it cuts down on the weird looks I get about my name. Nobody has complained about my spelling since.

  23. I am with you on this one. My name is Jennifer. Not Jenny (although my mother cried when I told her that if she wanted to call me Jenny all along she should have named me that), Jen or any other spelling. I never liked the nicknames and am adamant to make sure when people are introduced to me that they know, it’s Jennifer. Full stop.

  24. Well CATHERINE it would seem we have the opposite problem. 🙂

    I’m fortunate I never wanted to be called anything but “Kathy”. Sure, the name is pretty mundane but I’m surrounded by Greek relatives with less anglicized names so when I was young, I felt like I dodged a bullet. Now, of course, I’d prefer a more exotic name. ( Or would I? My parents’ second choice was Demetra which is constantly misspelled and mispronounced as “Demeter” so … maybe not. )

    But I am a little embarrassed sometimes when I meet another Katherine who makes it plain she’s NOT KATHY NO DEFINITELY NOT KATHY WHO THE FUCK WOULD CALL THEMSELVES KATHY. And then I have to introduce myself, in the smallest voice possible: Kathy. I feel like the people we’re being introduced to are either rolling their eyes at her or wincing at me. LOL. Silly, I know.

    • omg that’s so interesting! I definitely have nothing against the name itself, especially when it’s someone else’s name like yours, it’s just been transformed somehow by the situation, you know? It really could be any nickname and it would still not feel voluntary. Don’t feel bad about your name, it’s you!

      • Oh I’m fine with my name and usually when I meet a not-Kathy, it’s very casual :
        “I’m Catherine.” “I’m Kathy”. And really the non-Kathies are doing me a favor. I spent a good chunk of my childhood as “Kathy R” because of too many gradeschool Kathies.
        Really there’s only been a couple times I got the preemptive “don’t call me Kathy” speech. Most people will wait for you to fuck up their name before they correct you. 🙂 Only once did somebody declare my name “stupid” before I had a chance to tell her! The faux pas was all hers.

  25. I went from being called Becky 100% of the time to be called Rebecca 75% of the time at age 27. I never did convert my parents and childhood/university friends to Rebecca, but everyone I have met since call me Rebecca, including my husband, my colleagues and most friends I’ve made since. I could have pushed harder on the folks I’d known since I was younger, it didn’t bother me that much, especially since I don’t see them every day. Rebecca is also a 3-syllable, formal-sounding name but no one nicknames me spontaneously–maybe because you can’t just stop after the first syllable or add a y. I’m grateful for that–I think renaming a person without their permission is beyond disrespectful.

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