On the perils of having a unique-ish and recognizable first name

I don’t like my first name. I mean, I like it enough. It sounds exotic and somewhat romantic.

But it’s too recognizable.

It’s one of the few that turns up right at the top of a google search. It’s not an entry in any baby name website. (Hence the resulting google results.) In the 18 years I’ve been teaching, I must have gone through literally hundreds of students, talked to hundreds of parent who all know my name.

Big deal, I can hear you think. So what if your name is recognizable?

Here’s why.

I cannot hide. My country is small. You can cycle around its perimeter in a few hours at a good click. And its population density is about 8000 people per square kilometer. (And imagine my surprise when I read that somewhere people think the ideal population density is 100 per sqkm. We are way oversubscribed.) So while there aren’t many people around here compared to say Indonesia or America, there are a lot of people in close proximity to one another. And information, well, information gets around. I have been planning to set up a small business. Before that business gets a chance to garner those first unbiased, non-preconceived impressions from would-be patrons, my name pops up and those who recognize it have an impression of the business based on their impression of me.

So what?

It’s restrictive and stifling, that’s what. It pigeonholes the company. Who I am as a teacher of teens is one aspect of me. Teaching teens requires a different persona, if you will. That they will judge my business with this one aspect is confining and unfair to the business. It doesn’t help that the business is in the education arena. So the impression will translate even more easily.

Even if it’s not me they recognize, my name itself is exotic-sounding. That in itself might give a different impression of the business. Imagine how many of how us have an idea of what an Andrew looks like. Or an Albert. Or a Randy. Or an Albus Dumbledore. We form impressions of people based on some vague collective “knowledge” of what they seem to be like based on their names, influenced by our media consumption that has in turn been propped by globalization.

So an exotic-sounding first name like mine might give the impression that I’m either selling some new-age hippie educational mojo or some things for women only. (I did say my name sounds somewhat romantic.) That’s not going to be accurate and might turn off some patrons before they gave the business a chance. You might think this doesn’t happen but the truth is people are less rational than they can be and many go by this vague idea of “feeling”.

The other thing is that people butcher my name. A lot. They misspell it, mispronounce it, and misremember it. It’s fucking annoying but understandable. The most convenient nickname derived from my name is something that gives the impression of someone from the 70s – someone unpolished, backward, not well-informed. If I use the nickname I like, also derived from a syllable from my name, it’s likely people will go huh? because it’s a syllable more frequently used in Japanese and mental code-switching is not something you’d expect to need to do when you first meet someone. In misremembering it, they add a syllable. And then I judge them for not paying attention when I say my name during our introductions. I make sure to get their name right.

When students have to write the teacher’s name on their worksheets, I find myself either having to cancel a letter or add one. I know, it’s just a name and a rose by any other name and all that. My beef with it is that it’s inaccurate. That’s what gets to me.

So in light of these reasons, I’ve been thinking about using a nickname. In particular, I want to use it for my business email address. It will have to be something that can reasonably be derived from my first name – I don’t want to give the impression I’m a fraud – and not sound unsuitable for the field, which is education and philosophy. For instance, the last syllable of my first name is na. I don’t think a mere na is suitable. Nana is also not. It carries all sorts of impressions. So that syllable is out. It shouldn’t sound kiddy or “unprofessional” because the target audience is working adults. So no names that end with y or an ee sound like Bobby or Jacky or Jimmy. Jesse and Jaime end with ee sounds but somehow they don’t present as child-like in written form. I’m wondering if Bobbie looks child-like or not.

I understand this all seems soooo minor, and on some level, I agree. If you think about it, though, our world has long moved beyond substance and has gone on to impressions. Seems like we’ve regressed somewhat but I suspect it’s kind of always been like that. It’s just that the media makes this a lot more apparent and accessible now. What can I say? If I can capture an audience with the impression first, though, maybe they’ll give the substance a try.

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