Not To Be Trusted With Knives

{July 8, 2008}   Do You Go By Your Real First Name?

While working on my Prime Ministerial Series, I’ve noticed that several of our Prime Ministers go by something other than their real first name:

  • Wilfrid Laurier’s name was Henri-Charles-Wilfred
  • Lester B. Pearson went by the nickname “Mike”
  • Pierre Trudeau’s name was really Joseph Philippe Pierre Yves Elliott
  • Joe Clark’s first name is Charles
  • Brian Mulroney’s first name is Martin
  • Kim Campbell’s first name is Avril (she gave herself the nickname “Kim”)
  • Jean Chrétien’s name is Joseph Jacques Jean

That’s 7 of 22.  Or 32% for you mathophiles.  Is it just me, or does that seem unusually high?  What percentage of the general population goes by something other than their real first name?

I’m particularly aware of people not going by their own first names because I’m one of them.  My name, as many of you know, is Mary Elizabeth, but I’ve been referred to as “Beth” since the day I was born.  I think I was in kindergarten by the time I found out that Beth wasn’t actually my name.  My parents named me “Mary” after both my grandmothers, but then thought it would be too confusing to have a third “Mary” running around, so decided to refer to me as Beth.  Because, you know, having documents say your name is “Mary” when everyone knows you as “Beth” isn’t confusing at all. </sarcasm>.

My ex-husband also goes by his second name, as he shares his first name with his dad and his parents had the same “it would be confusing to have two Williams” excuse.  My grandpa is Charles Desmond and goes by Des, one of my cousins is Desmond Andrew and goes by Andy1. My good friend Therese also goes by her second name and, to further complicate things, both she and her sister share the same first name (Grace Therese and Grace Elaine). When my sister was pregnant, I told her that I didn’t care what they named their baby, so long as they called her whatever her name actually was2.

So, the questions are: Do you go by your first name?  If not, why not?  Would you give you kid one name and then call them something else?  If yes, why oh why would you do that?

1I also have three cousins named Robert, but that is neither here nor there.
2For a little while after she was born, we actually referred to my niece Madeline as “Meg” as her initials are “M.H.Z.” or “MHz” – megahertz, hence the short-form, “Meg.” But then my sister decided she better start actually referring to her as “Madeline” so she would know what her real name is!

Raul says:

I have more than one first name, and Raul is actually the second in the series 🙂

Why? Not sure. My parent’s fault. They started calling me Raul even though my very first name isn’t Raul 😛 Go ask them! 😉

Rebecca says:

I go by my first name, but I won’t answer to any attempts to shorten it – I’ve actually ignored people standing in front of me who keep saying “Becky? Becky? Hey, Becky?”

My Dad’s name is Jean-Camile, but goes by Jean or even John. It used to bug the hell out of me when my step-grandmother would Anglicize my dad’s siblings names (so Luce was Lucy, Marie-Ange was Mary Ann, Gerard was Gerald, etc.)

I have two cousins, born a few weeks apart, who both go by their second names. Don’t know why.

AOM says:

I go by my first name, as do my siblings. My mom made a conscious effort not to give us names that were “nickname-able”. When she was growing up she knew a guy named Bernard whose nickname was “Bunny” and everyone called him that his whole life. His WHOLE life.
Thanks Mom!

Beth says:

@Rebecca – My dad’s name is Jack, which, apparently, is a nickname of John, so people sometimes try to be more formal and refer to him as John, which isn’t his name. It’s just Jack.

My mom’s name is Ann and her siblings referred to her by the nickname “Nancy” (I totally don’t get nicknames that are *longer* than the original name!), and then my parents named my sister “Nancy,” which, of course, leads to confusion when one of my aunts or uncles calls and asks to speak to Nancy. Hmmm.. perhaps the “Nancy” confusion is how my parents realized that having 3 Marys in the family would be chaos!

Sarah says:

As you know – I use my first name,though sometimes, your Dad spells it “Sarsh”.

We have some “first names not used” in our family, too. On the anglo side, anyway. My Grandpa MacDonald was Edward Raymond, but he went by “Ray”. Which meant my Dad went by “Raymond” for his whole childhood. All his brothers went by their 2nd names, too. Not at all confusing. My Grandma’s brother Rocky was George Rockwell, but his father was George so they stuck with the 2nd name.

On the Italian side, everyone is named Maria (my Mom is named after BOTH her grandmothers), but there are few middle names. However, we often have nicknames that are longer than names. Case in point – my Zia Rosina is actually Rosa. Which I didn’t learn until 2002 (I was 25), when I asked who my cousin Rosa (her granddaughter) was named for. WTF?

I don’t think I would deliberately use a middle name for a child. We are, however, considering one first name that would be transformed into a nickname right away (something akin to Maggie for Margaret). It is a family name but we like the nickname better.

Rebecca says:

One of the former priests at my parent’s church used to pronounce my dad’s name like “Gene”, to which he wouldn’t answer. He really doesn’t care what he’s called (as long as it’s not “Gene”), so I’ve taken to calling him The Big JC (which can also apply to Jean Chretien, Jesus Christ and Joan Collins 🙂

Incidentally, everone calls my Oncle Gerard “Tico” but absolutely no one remembers why or how he got the nickname. A lot of their cousins are named after their parents, so the kids got called Ti (or “little”) such-and-such, but Tico remains a mystery. The joys of a large French family 🙂

Kalev says:

Having your actual name be a diminutive of another is so the epitome of trailer trash-ness, so I’m not surprised it happens in your family, Beth. :p

Alex’s first name is actually John.

My first name is actually “The Most Awesome” but I figure that would be a little pretentious so I just go by Kalev.

I think people who give children the first names of other relatives (especially of their parents) to “honour” those people are really selfish and retarded. That’s what middle names are for. Everyone should have a somewhat unique first name, not that I’m biased or anything.

All that being said, it’s good that people do call me by my first name since, as some of you know, Estonians don’t have middle names, so no one in my immediate family aside from my traitorous British mother had a middle name. And being called “Hunt” is just not that fun. Although if people called me “Hunter” that’d be hot. Just because Hunter is such a hot gay name.

I think I’ll call you “Medical Examiner” from now on, Dr. Beth.

Beth says:

@Sarah – Your mom and I are like twins – both of us named after both our grandmothers, who all have the same name (granted my “Mary” is the anglo version of her “Maria,” but still). Also, I think I may know what name you are thinking of… does it start with an “F”?

@Rebecca, ya, I can imagine that someone named Jean (French) would not like to be referred to as “Gene”! My dad, being a J. Snow sometimes get phone calls for “James Snow” (as in the guy the James Snow Parkway is named after), as they live in the same time.

Dan says:

In my immediate family we are all referred to by our first name (or some derivative of it). Gerry (my father) is actually Gerard, but he is also referred to as dork, old man, grandpa and dad. Marnie (my mother) is actually Marlene. She also gets shorty, old lady, grandma and mom. My oldest brother Sandy is actually Alexander. Apparently ‘Sandy’ comes from the ‘Xander’ part of Alexander – or so I’m led to believe. Why his name wasn’t shortened to Alex, I’ll never know. When we were younger he also had the nick name of Pooh, or Pooh Bear, but that changed to Diggy when we got older. Bernie, the second oldest, is actually Bernard. He is also referred to as Beast. I fail to remember where that nick name came from, but he’s had it as far as I can remember. My younger brother Aidan is actually, surprise surprise, Aidan. I do have to say that he had that name far before ‘Aidan’ became a cool trendy name. I’m not sure why I feel the need to inform you of that, but there you have it. When we were young, I often referred to him as Aids, but that was before the disease of the same name usurped the name in the lexicon. I still tend to refer to him by the even shorted Aid or A. He also got AJ, or Aidan Yawn (in place of the actual Aidan John) and at one point, Shmoo. As for myself, I was referred to as Danny until late in high school when friends decided that it wasn’t really cool or manly enough. I’d never really thought about it until I heard people calling me Dan and decided that I did in fact like it more. Granted, my full name is Daniel (Joseph) but I typically only go by Daniel in the academic world. I have also had the following monikers:

D, DD, DJ, Deej, Danny, Danjo, Daniel Jo, Danielson, Dan Dan, Dan the Man, Danny Boy, Dan, Daniel, Pooh, Pooh Bear, gillis*, dangillis**, unca da***, and finally the slightly less favourable assface, jerkface, and jerkpants. I sometimes get Mr. Magoo or Helen; these being affectionate if not disturbing references to my vision issues. Mr. Magoo came from my brothers, Helen from a drinking night with some friends. Personally, I find them hilarious despite the fact that my mom finds them disturbing and unfortunate.

* where the g is pronounced either as a hard g (the way it should be) or as a j.
** where the g is pronounced as a j making my name sound more like a bacteria or mould – a la aspergillus. This is also where the phrase “I’ve got the dangillis” came from.
*** an attempt by my many nieces to say Uncle Dan.

EVERY first day of school and university was plagued by having been called out by my first name. Since every kid in our family is called by the second name, I had to do the same routine over and over. Some of the kids had to hear my schpiel about as often.

Finally as an adult one passport renewal I simply dropped the first name. Nobody noticed, and have been living without it ever since.

Karen says:

As you may guess from my domain name, Karen is not my real first name. I’m actually Julia Karen Parker.

Similar story to yours. I was named after my mother and grandmother, but my parents decided that it would be confusing having three Julias around so they called me Karen. Because yeah, calling your daughter something different from the first name on her birth certificate is not confusing at ALL. Sigh.

I have managed to switch over most of my ID to “J Karen” or just “Karen” – Even my passport! But my BC driver’s license and health card still have the full first name, because apparently the BC government has to go by whatever is on your birth certificate.

If I ever have kids I will most definitely NOT name them one thing and call them another.

Stacia says:

My husband’s situation is confusing. He grew up going by his middle name, since his first name is the same as his dad’s (but his middle isn’t, so he isn’t a junior). I met him in high school, so I know him by Wes. However, he went into the military and they don’t really care what you prefer to be called, so they called him Rob. Before we married, I went to a party with all his military friends, and about half way through I had to ask Wes who this Rob guy was and why was everyone talking him up to me! But at least when people call, I can tell what “era” they know him from based on who they ask for!

I think if you name your kid something, it should be something banal that no one at the playground can mock.

Jorge says:

ninja, people can make fun of ANYTHING.

First name: Jorge
Middle names: Arthur Joseph.

I go by Jorge though.

My parents named me after my dad (George) but changed the spelling so we could sort our mail.


Beth says:

@Dan – I didn’t realize that dangillis was pronounced like “aspargillis.” That rocks!

@Ian – Now I totally want to know what your first name is! Or “was,” seeing as you appear to have gotten rid of it.

@Karen – It never occurred to me to just list myself as “M. Elizabeth” or just “Beth” on my ID! I publish under “M. E.” or “M. Elizabeth” sometimes though.

@Stacia – I didn’t know that Wes’ name is really Rob. I’m learning so much from these comments!!

@Homeimprovementninja – That reminds me of the Simpsons episode when Homer & Marge are naming Bart and Homer says, “You have to make sure other kids won’t be able to rhyme it with anything embarassing… Art, Cart, Dart, Eart… Yup, Bart should be fine!”

@Jorge – I did know the story about George/Jorge and the whole mail thing. But how often do you meet people who have seen you name only in writing and they end up pronouncing it like “Hor-hey” instead of like “George”?

Sarah says:

Wow, Kalev — who knew how adamant you’d be about naming conventions?! What about if that person has already died, thereby using their first name as a memorial tribute. Much like Beth’s family and their umpteen kids named Bob…

Beth — the name you are thinking of (i.e. the “F”) is still reserved for the middle name of a daughter. That was my plan long before she got sick, and so it shall remain. The other name is a boy name, one I actually mentioned in my first comment.

Also – remember your plan back in high school that in University, everyone would call you “Mary” so you would have to switch to it? I am glad that it did not occur as I cannot imagine EVER calling you by that name. The day of your defense, when the woman who unlocked the door kept wishing you “Good luck, Mary”, I really thought she was talking to someone else. Then again, it felt so odd saying my wedding vows to “David” as I have NEVER called Dave that.

Kalev says:

@Sarah: it’s fine if it’s just one child being named after someone who is dead. But multiple Bobs or Marys or whatever in a single family? That’s unfair to the children. Talk about (a) unnecessarily confusing and (b) unfair to the child who deserves some attempt at originality. Why couldn’t Beth have been Elizabeth Mary Snow, given that everyone calls her Beth and no one calls her Mary? People are by and large called by their first names, so making someone’s first name something you know you’re not going to call them is a little ridiculous.

Beth says:

@Sarah – That narrows it down to either Eddy (from Edward), Ray (from Raymond) or Rocky (from Rockwell)… unless there is some nickname form of George. And I don’t think you’d go with George, due to confusion issues with Jorge/George.

@Kalev – Elizabeth Mary just sounds wrong, though. Plus, then I wouldn’t have cool initials (M.E.S. is way cooler than E.M.S.). Also, I’m in favour of people have somewhat unique (can something really be “somewhat unique”… isn’t that like being “somewhat pregnant”?) names, but only to a point. Otherwise, you end up with a kid named “Apple” or “Sunday.”

My parents picked Derek because it was difficult to shorten or otherwise nickname, and because it was easy to say (if not spell properly) in all three languages my family spoke: English, German, and Finnish. (I only learned one of them, but it helped for my grandparents.) I did have a semi-nickname as Dik Miller, Private Eye (no really) in high school and university, but it was mostly a student newspaper alter-ago, and not many people called me that.

My dad was Juergen Karl Mueller when he came to Canada at fifteen in 1955, but so he hated how mangled it got by English speakers here that he has gone by J. Karl (“Karl” to everyone who speaks to him, including my mother) ever since, and changed his last name to Miller to simplify pronunciation early on.

Oddly, my mother never altered her first name, nor had a significant nickname, even though her first and middle names are Hilkka Annikki (very Finnish). Our kindly neighbour across the fence, who is from Saskatchewan originally, never could get that, and calls her “Hildy,” but she’s the only one I’ve ever known to do so.

Kalev says:

@Beth: what are you talking about?! EMS were the initials of my grade 8 school! 😛

I’m fine with Sunday; Apple I would sue my parents over for child abuse.

Rebecca says:

@Kalev: Awww… I thought Apple was a cute name! Kal El, on the other hand…

@Dan: My sisters and I have special names for each other. My youngest sister is Stinky (Rachelle… Rasmell… Smelly… Stinky). My middle sister is Sneezy (because she has really bad allergies in the late summer and fall). I’m Schmedrick (after the clumsy, half-wit magician in The Last Unicorn because… I’m clumsy and half-witted at times). We call our cousin (who’s an only child and never had the pleasure of sibling rivalry) Squishy because she plays squash a lot.

Kalev says:

@Rebecca: oh gods yeah, Kal-El… talk about trying to torture your child. “Hi… I’m named after Superman because my dad is a crazy movie star.”

Or then there’s Lourdes and Rocco. *barf*

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