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Naming The American Way

, , , , , , , | Learning | January 2, 2018

(I managed to earn a scholarship to a small, highly-rated private high school a little over an hour away from where I live, in a MUCH wealthier area. The community is very welcoming, but there are a few small differences in culture and attitude that sometimes leave me a little confused. I discover one of these when a foreign exchange student transfers into my small, tight-knit English class and we all introduce ourselves.)

Me: “Hi! My name’s [My Name]. It’s really nice to meet you!”

Teacher: “Wait, [My Name]? I thought you preferred [Variation of My Name].”

Me: “I don’t really have a preference. I usually just go by [My Name], since it’s what’s on all my important documents and such. But as long as I know you’re talking to me, you can pretty much call me whatever variation you want.”

Classmate #1: “Is that why you never correct your partner in engineering class when he calls you [Yet Another Variation of My Name]? I tried to correct him once, but he said that was how you introduced yourself to him, so he wasn’t going to change.”

Teacher: “Seriously?! Has everybody been calling you the wrong name this whole time? And you never said anything?! Addressing someone by their preferred name is a sign of respect! We can’t do that if you don’t let people know they’re using the wrong one!”

Me: “Really? I guess I never really saw it that way. People around me growing up pretty much just used names to refer to someone or get their attention, but not really out of respect. I guess this explains why people around here call people by name so often, even when it’s already obvious who you’re referring to.”

Classmate #1: “Well, it definitely explains why you never seem to use names in conversation. And if you only use names out of necessity, not as a matter of respect, then I guess it wouldn’t matter so much if people use the wrong one.”

Teacher: “Hm. Well, that was educational. So, it’s cool if we keep calling you [Variation of My Name]?”

Me: “Yeah, totally fine. So, back to introducing [Foreign Exchange Student]. Enjoying classes here so far?”

Foreign Exchange Student: “Yes, but I’ve been in this class all of twenty minutes and I’m already confused. Should I use first names often? Avoid using them? Which one is more accepted throughout America?”

Classmate #2: “Heck if any of us would know. I’d say, if you remember someone’s name, use it. If you don’t, mumble something close and hope for the best. Or, maybe just ask their name again.”

Teacher: “Yeah, if teaching the kids from [City I Grew Up In] has taught me anything, it’s that even Americans don’t totally agree on the finer points of culture and etiquette. Seems like you’re better off just going with the flow wherever possible.”

Foreign Exchange Student: “That… doesn’t actually sound like very helpful advice.”

Classmate #1: “Brace yourself, dude. American culture only gets more vague and weird from there.”

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