Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Power of Wielding Names

I'm not crazy about my name, but I don't hate it either.  I love my sister's name, Shannon. It rolls off the tongue like a soft whisper. My name uses harsh, very unsensuous sounds...the sort of hard syllables that babies are able to babble early on because they are easy to pronounce.  It's one of those in between names.  It's not a beautiful name, like Cadence or Serena, but it's not as plain and uninspiring as Joan or Sue (if there are any Joans or Sues who read this blog, I hereby apologize!). 

Yet despite my indifference towards my name, I absolutely love it when people say my name.  For example, if I'm walking past a colleague at work and he or she utters out a quick "Good morning", naturally I will reply back with a cheery greeting, but the brief exchange will have already been forgotten in a matter of minutes.  Yet if this same colleague greets me with "Good morning, Jodi," I will remember it for the rest of the day, if not longer.  Something about having someone use my name makes even the most casual greeting seem so much more personal.  It's strange though, because hardly anyone is bold enough to regard acquaintances directly by their names.  It's almost like you have to cross a certain unwritten threshold before regarding others by their names, and if you haven't reached this point yet, using their names too soon is like some kind of violation of personal space.  I people feel invaded on some level when someone they barely know uses their name?  I hope not, because I am a massive name-user.  I make it a point to learn others' names as soon as possible, and I am often calling people by their names before they even know who the hell I am.

I remember back when I was a waitress, I would have the occasional complete stranger--usually a male--call me by my name (having read it from my name tag).  This would generally throw me off a little.  On the one hand, I would admire this person's boldness in being willing to look me straight in the eye and use my name.  That, from my perspective, takes some confidence.  But on the other hand, hearing my name roll off of the lips of a stranger could sometimes create a very subtle, unsettling feeling...perhaps because it almost felt like the balance of power in the situation was shifted to his advantage.  He was now able to use my name freely and command my attention, but the same was not true for me.  Maybe that's why people, in general, are reluctant to use others' names.  Maybe it's a subtle way of wielding some kind of authority over that person, and people lack the audacity to do that.  Maybe I should stop doing it myself.
On the other end of this spectrum, it doesn't matter how long I know someone--if he or she fails to call me regularly by my name, I simply feel no closeness with this person.  I have a few coworkers who fall into this category.  We're great friends, we get along famously, we laugh a lot; but they don't call me "Jodi."  They walk up and say "Hey, how's it going?" and such, but they don't regard me by my name.  I feel like telling them "Grow a pair, will ya?  The planet will not suddenly spin off it's axis if you call me by my name."

And then there are others who, when they do utter your name, it almost makes your heart beat perceptibly faster.  Those are the smooth ones who know the power of saying your name, and they aren't afraid to brandish that.