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
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…