What’s in a name?

Lately, I’ve been contacted by a number of men with formal names: Patrick not Pat, Charles not Charlie or Chuck, Richard not Dick or Rick or Rich. I’ve also noticed that people who use the formal version of their name are different than those who offer the informal version.

Since I use the formal version of my name and loathe the informal version, I am sensitive to how people call themselves. I notice how someone introduces him/herself and I make a point to call them by that name. Many people automatically assume the informal. If you introduce yourself as Patricia and someone says, “Nice to meet you Patty” it says a lot about them. They are insensitive to how others prefer to be addressed.

It can backfire, too. I have a friend whose business cards say “Frederick.” People who don’t know him shorten it to “Fred.” But he goes by “Rick.” So he knows immediately if someone is trying to seem too palsy too soon.

My ex used his formal name, too. It astounded us to introduce ourselves at a party and hear someone immediately call us the informal versions. With few exceptions, those people did not seem to be astute about other things as well.

I’m not sure I can articulate what it is about people who use the formal versions of their name. They are not better — I don’t mean to imply that. They can be down-to-earth, funny, and warm. But there is something different about Bob than Robert, Richard from Dick, Charlie from Chuck.

If I’m in doubt — a man introduces himself as Robert, but then someone calls him Rob — I ask which he prefers. Once I asked a man if he’d like me to call him Mike or Michael. He paused, thinking, then said, “My mother calls me Michael. I’d like you to call me Michael.” I was hoping that was a good sign!

If you use the formal version of your name — say, Suzanne or Susan — but a date calls you Suzi or Sue, what do you think that says about him? And if he introduces himself with the formal version, have you noticed a trend with others who also use their formal name?

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10 responses to “What’s in a name?”

  1. Cupertino Avatar

    This is a fun topic. You’re right — it’s important to use the name people want to use. I don’t like the formal version of my name, so I have the informal version on my business cards, my checks, my credit cards, etc. The only time I use the formal version is on legal documents. I hate when people call me by the formal version. On the other hand, I don’t like it either when people go too far toward the familiar (think Elizabeth-Beth-Betty or Robert-Bob-Bobby).

    When I was growing up, *nobody* used the formal version of their name. For a long time, when I met someone who did, I thought he/she was just being snooty. Now I’m used to it. So what bugs me today is someone who uses a formal version in one place and an informal version in another, and when I ask which they prefer, they say, “It doesn’t matter.” Well, it does to *me* — make my life easier by telling me what to call you!

  2. Gatti Avatar

    I have the same first name as a **very** famous person but no matter how clearly I introduce myself, many many people get it wrong, changing it into a form I detest. I try to correct them right away but it’s sort of embarrassing for both of us. The Sweetie has a fairly common name with an unusual spelling. At least they pronounce it correctly!

    So, I’m sensitive about this. I like to call people what they like to be called. Even though I’m terrible at remembering names, I do try to get them right. This didn’t stop me from calling a student (in a one-to-one class) the wrong name all morning! I apologized profusely! And with more than one I want nametags.

  3. JustJenny Avatar

    As my name says, I’m just Jenny, not Jennifer. My birth certificate says Jenny. It irks me to no end when people try to be formal and call me Jennifer. I don’t respond to them. That’s not my name.

    Funnily enough, my boyfriend is Charles. Its too weird to hear others who have known him for years call him Chuck. I always have to stop and think who they are talking about. His mom calls him Charlie. I think I’ll stick with Charles.

  4. hw Avatar

    I can’t use an informal with my name so I am very sensitive to what someone really wants me to call them when I see formal and informal referenced (Robert, Rob, Bob or Bobby). I really do hate it when those people tell me it doesn’t matter. However I do not see any thing different in people who use informal and formal. Example would be my nephew as Robert, a friend as Bob and another uses Bobby.

  5. Elena Avatar

    Since most people, for some weird reason, have trouble pronouncing my name, even though it is pronounced exactly the way it is spelled, I don’t get bent out of shape when people mispronounce it since I’m used to that. If it is a boyfriend, of course, I correct him, but shop clerks, co-workers, etc., I don’t generally correct them when they call me Helen, Allana, Ellen, etc. because I’m tired of correcting people on such a simple name. But when I meet people who introduce themselves as Patricia or Robert, etc., I call them by that formal version of that name unless they suggest otherwise.

  6. HEATHER Avatar


  7. Kvetch Avatar

    Such a great topic! I have found that there is a disproportionate number of Jewish men in my age range (40’s) who are named Rick. I went searching my archives and here’s what I wrote about that!


  8. bookyone Avatar

    Hi DG,

    Interesting thoughts here. I prefer the formal version of my name as well, but I find that here in the American South, total strangers tend to use informal names more than formal ones. They also use endearments such as “dearie,” “honey” and “darling” far more than Northern types like myself do, and have an alarming tendency, (alarming to me, at any rate), to omit last names in formal situations. I was once introduced to an interviewer and addressed him as Mr. Smith. His response? “Calll me Charlie.” For some reason, this degree of informality bothers me, I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I was born and raised in NY, where you never address anyone unless spoken to, and only then if he/she looks like they aren’t a potential mugger. 🙂

    That said, while I prefer the formal version of my name, I can deal with the informal version. Just don’t call me “sweetie” or “darling” unless I’ve got a ring on my finger and we’re contemplating sharing a last name for life.

    Best wishes from bookyone 🙂

  9. Christine Avatar

    Kvetch – Definitely like Rick better than its often used alternative, “Dick”. So many of us know so many disproportionately named that!

  10. hunter Avatar

    …I learned my lesson,

    I used to kid around with a woman, that I was infatuated with, and, I use her informal name. She told me once to stop that, I was bored, and kept doing it. She, asked her supervisor, to have a talk with me……oh yes, I remember that, ever since, I say the correct name….needless to say my fire went out,……now if I am working with a group of guys, that is a different scenario, mostly, we don’t care what you call us, just so you don’t call us late for dinner…….