Thursday, February 26, 2009

Whatopher is in a man's name?

I work for a man named "Donald M. Suggs". I have heard him introduce himself to a lot of people. He always introduces himself as "Donald Suggs".

I have heard a lot of people call him "Don Suggs". I have never heard him correct anyone. However, I am well aware of the scruple against calling a man "out of his name".

So, sometimes, I give someone the heads up, if I like the person.

"His name is 'Donald'," I say. "Not 'Don'. He will never correct you. But I can tell you, we all know. Anyone who calls him 'Don' is pretending to an intimacy that they are betraying by calling him 'Don'."

Amazingly, some of those people I correct actually look at me like I am a child and persist in calling the man "Don". There are arrogant fools walking around this town like masters of the universe. What can I say?

When I used to teach literature and history, I often would make this point. Read the autobiographical writings of Frederick Douglass. Note how the man signed his name. "Frederick".

When he is remembering dialogue, and someone calls him "Fred.", he always prints the abbreviated name with a period, "Fred.", to indicate his name is "Frederick," not "Fred", and therefore "Fred." is an abbreviation of his name.

Frederick Douglass did not appreciate being called out of his name.

Anyone who does not understand why this is so does not understand much about race and American history and power and names and who does and does not have the power or assume the right to call someone by any name other than the name by which he identifies himself.

As for me, a mixed blood "white" boy, it's all different. They named me "Christopher". I call myself "Chris". So, that's my name, not "Christopher" nor "Chris.", which would suggest that I consider "Christopher" to be my name and "Chris." to be an abbreviation of it.

So, when someone calls me "Christopher," after I have identified myself as "Chris", I tend to respond, "Whatopher?"


Image if of Frederick Douglass.

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