May I borrow your name?

Although quite simple, my name is not easy to pronounce in English (even for me). Older people sometimes say “ferris” like a ferris wheel (perhaps in reference to the famous 80s movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). I am not particularly bothered by the different permutations either way, but it can be inconvenient at times.

When visiting a coffee shop, or engaging in any other unimportant event where a name is required for reference, I typically give the simplest two-letter name: “Jo”. It is impossible to cause any confusion or unnecessary back-and-forth exchange. The strategy usually works fine (although on rare occasion I stare blank-faced at the poor barista, yelling repetitively for “Jo” and wondering why I am ignoring them).

More recently I have decided to have a bit more fun with using names. The last few times I was grabbing a coffee with a friend, I would use their name at the counter instead. What I found most surprising is the unexpected response it stirred — a mix of confusion, defensiveness, and a feeling of being insulted:

Friend: “That is my name! What is wrong with you?

Me: Relax. (Always fun to tell someone getting worked up to relax)

Friend: “No! You cannot just use my name!

A name is a highly personal matter. I wonder what set of experiments one can design to formally study the question: to what extent do people feel their names are related to their “identity”? Why does casually using someone else’s name (not even posing as that person, which is creepy, but using a general first name which they happen to have) suddenly make them uncomfortable?

I think Shakespeare said it right. Try it with your friends, and see what reactions it invokes.

One thought on “May I borrow your name?

  1. I have a different problem in coffee shops: the likelihood of collision with a stranger. The result is not offence, but confusion.

    It’s a delicate balance: something that the barista can easily understand, spell, and pronounce, but which is still unlikely to have a collision in the room. It’s analogous to the “playground test” that Debbie told me about for children’s names: a name where the correct child will turn around when you call it on the playground, but to which most other children will not respond, and to which other parents will not respond by telling their children to stop playing with yours.

    What I’ve found is that names of more than two syllables, potentially more than one name at a time, are the way to go. I’m lucky with my given names. In coffee shops, I can simply be “Gregory” or in a busier place, “Gregory-Adam”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *