What’s in a Name? (Quite a Lot, Actually!)

susan badgeWhen I was just three days old, my adoptive parents gave me my name: Susan Betsy Rooks. Easy to say, easy to spell, and easy to remember. Susan was for my mom’s mom, Sara. Betsy was for my dad’s mom, Bessie. And yes, I am very glad they made those slight changes (I never could have seen myself as Sara Bessie), while keeping the initial letters as we Jews often do to remember those who have gone before.

In my younger years, everyone called me Sue, Susie, and in some horrible cases, Susie-Q. You know how it is with family, right? All names get cut down into one-syllable words or cutesy versions, and most of us don’t get too worked up about it.

In my teens, though, I begged my family to stop with the Susie and Susie-Q already! Enough! Those were childish versions of my name, which for a quite a long time was simply Sue.

Of course, even that name wasn’t totally safe to have growing up in the ’60s; I paid dearly for it sometimes. How many of you can remember these two songs?

“Runaround Sue” (Dion and the Belmonts, 1961)
“A Boy Named Sue” (Johnny Cash, 1969)

And there were a few choice phrases like “So sue me!” and the endearing way some folks call their pigs “soooooooooooeeey“!

Yeah, it was sometimes not fun to be called Sue.

In my 30s, I finally decided that my name — my given name — was a perfectly fine choice. Short enough. Easy to say. To me it sounded strong but not formal. It would do.

But here’s the rub: I always introduce myself as “Susan.” I wear a name badge to networking events, and I write “Susan” on it.

How do you think about half the folks address me? Yup. They call me Sue. They skip right over what they hear and what they see, and they use the diminutive form that is not what I wanted. Now, I know they’re not meaning anything by it; it’s just their default position. But I do wish I didn’t have to then say “Actually, I prefer Susan” or something like that.

So, to make an incredible first impression — and to let the other person off the hook:

USE THE OTHER PERSON’S NAME
EXACTLY AS GIVEN TO YOU.


If you’re being introduced in person, listen carefully, read the name badge, or check out their business card. Do the other person the honor of respecting their choice for their name.

If you’re responding to a written document, check to see how the other person signed his or her name. The formal one may be typed “Mr. David Wilcox,” but if he signs it “Dave,” you have permission to call him that. If he signs it “David,” that’s what he wants to be called.

So simple, yet so darned effective.

Oh, by the way: my 98-year-old mom, my beloved Aunt Kit, and my brother still call me Sue, and so do a few “old” friends.

And one of my daughters just added a new first name that has tremendous significance for her, and yes, I’m having to really work on calling her that. But it’s what she wants, so I’m using it. Almost.

Have any of you experienced this? I realize not everyone cares about their name being changed, but for those who do . . . ?