This morning, I sent out a work-related email signed with my full name: Kathleen [MI] [Last].
The recipient sent me a response with the following salutation: Hello Kathy.
Later, I was on the phone with someone wise enough to ask before proceeding: “Do people call you Kathleen or Kathy?”
Kathleen. People call me Kathleen.
I don’t know if you realize this, but Kathleen is a problematic name. It’s rarely on those iridescent magnets or “gold” nameplate necklaces you find at drugstores. There’s an overstock on Katherine and Catherine, but rarely a Kathleen. People aren’t used to the name and hearing it confuses them. It took Buckie 7 years to remember my name was not Kaitlin.
When I was 9, all of my friends were developing nicknames — Danielle was becoming a Dani, Jessica was turning into a Jess, and everyone wanted to call me Kathy. I know a grown-up Kathy who played golf, voted Republican, believed in creationism, and liked Florida. No, I couldn’t be a Kathy. My father thought it was cute to still call me Poo-Poo Head. No, that wouldn’t do either.
“Your name is Kathleen. If we had wanted to call you Kate or Katie or Kathy we would have named you Kate, Katie, or Kathy,” my parents said when I whined about not having a proper nickname. “Don’t ever let anyone call you Kathy.”
Apparently, my mother almost called me Ashley. If you knew me, you know I could never be an Ashley.
It wasn’t until college that the need for a nickname would turn into a full-fledged identity crisis. On the first day of orientation I met Mike and we instantly became best friends. “Can I call you Kat?” he asked. “I like to have nicknames for all my girl friends.” Sure, why not! College, I decided, was a time for reinvention and so I likewise decided to accept Kat as my new identity.
But given “Kat’s” newness, I was awkward with introductions and never fully embraced the adopted persona. Soon, I found that all my teammates and athlete friends were the ones that called me Kat while everyone I met outside that community called me Kathleen. Kat became not my new incarnation, but an alter-ego. It was all very confusing.
By the time I finished grad school, Kat had faded to the name I gave at Starbucks when ordering my venti latte.
The truth is, my parents’ adamant rejection of a diminutive form of my name had instilled in me a general distaste for nicknames and pet names. Whenever a guy calls me “Honey,” I cringe inside, while a “Baby” makes me feel like a cheap teeny-bopper. Once upon a time, there was a guy I would meet for drinks that insisted on calling me Kitty. He didn’t last long. Though, maybe the biggest problem I have with being called Baby or Honey or Kitten or Pumpkin is not that its a pet name — it’s that it’s insincere and impersonal.
How many people in your life do you call Hon or Sweetie? I bet far more than the number you call Kathleen.