Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Say my name

One of the more interesting, and indeed charming, quirks John Elder Robison reveals in Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's is his penchant for renaming people. He names his baby brother Snort, for example, then later switches to Varmint. During his "nightmare years," he called his mother and father Slave and Stupid. He named his first girlfriend Little Bear. "I have always had a problem with names," he writes. "For the people that are close to me... I must name them myself."

I've never renamed anyone, and I have no idea if this has anything to do with being mildly Aspergian, but I have a couple of peculiar quirks about names too. One has to do with other people's names, and one with my own.

First off, I rarely call anyone by their name. If I need to get someone's attention, of course I'll say, "Hey, Joe!" or whatever. But if I'm having a conversation with someone, I probably won't call them by their name, no matter how long we talk. I know that calling someone by name is something one is "supposed" to do, that this is supposed to help build rapport in some way, but I've never really understood the point.

If I'm talking with you, I already know who you are (your name) and I already have your attention (at least for awhile). So why would I need to call you by your name? I don't get it, and I don't know when to do it. Unlike eye contact, which I try to practice even though it's not natural for me, it seems impossibly awkward to me to just throw in your name every now and then at random, so I pretty much never do it.

As for my own name, I've noticed that most people seem to have strong preferences regarding their names. They tell you what to call them. Like Neo in The Matrix. He gets mad because Agent Smith keeps calling him Mr. Anderson. During their final confrontation, Neo angrily says, "My name is Neo," and the audience cheers. If you meet a guy named James Stewart, for example, and call him Mr. Stewart, maybe he'll say "Call me James," or maybe he'll prefer being called Jim or Jimmy. The thing is, he probably has a preference, and he'll probably tell you what it is.

I don't care what people call me. When somebody asks me, "Do you go by Christopher or Chris?" I'm never quite sure what to say. I use both of them sometimes, and I don't prefer one over the other. I don't really understand the underlying premise. They're both my name, so why should it make a difference which one someone calls me? Usually I just say Chris, since that's what most people already call me anyway.

For that matter, I don't care if someone calls me Mr. H_, either. Like when I drove a Super Shuttle back in L.A., the girl at the counter where I turned in my fares at the end of my shift used to call me Mr. H_. I thought that was kind of peculiar, since we were both in our mid-20s and hardly anybody had called me that before. I couldn't figure out why she was doing it, but that's my name too, so I didn't say anything. After that went on for a couple of weeks, I remembered that I had probably been supposed to say, "Call me Chris," or something the first time. But it seemed kind of awkward to suddenly say that after all that time, so I just remained Mr. H_ to her for as long as I worked there.

In Japan, I find the situation even more bewildering. I'm apparently expected to have a preference not just between being called by my first name or last name, but among all the different ways Chris can be transliterated into Japanese and shortened or lengthened or made more or less polite. Christopher turns into Kurisutofaa, which is just too long for anyone to say, but Chris can be Kurisu, Kurisu-san (a little more polite -- most people at work seemed to end up calling me that), Kuri, Kuri-chan (a diminutive, which people rarely use, since there's nothing "diminutive" about me), or even Kurinbo (almost rude, depending on how it's used), and of course, some Japanese people speak English well enough to say "Chris," although in some cases their accent makes it sound more like "Crease."

But I have no real preference in Japanese either. All those names refer to me, so I'm fine with any of them, just like I am with Chris, Christopher, and Mr. H_ (although I'm still not really used to that one, since I don't hear it often). I guess I don't really care what you call me, just so long as you call me.

1 comment:

  1. So that's where Kuri comes from . . . I had wondered. My Japanese is so rudimentary I'd have never figured it out.

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