Names Matter

Photo taken around the time of my naming ceremony

Preparing for the first day of 5th grade, in a school new to me, I made a resolution. From that day forward I would be called by my given name. “Cathy” is a perfectly fine nickname, but I preferred the name I was granted at birth, “Cathryn”.

Mother drove me to school and introduced me to Mr. Anderson. He was young and enthusiastic. He was friendly, and he was handsome. Turning to the class, he asked everyone to welcome the new girl, “Cathy”.

I was disappointed but tongue tied.

For the next thirty years, I accepted the nickname and thought little about it. Then on my 40th birthday, I reclaimed “Cathryn” by throwing myself a naming ceremony.

At the time, I was focusing on storytelling so had a lot of artistic, creative people in my circle of friends. I invited everyone to come with a story, a song or a poem – something to commemorate my name. It was one of the best parties I’ve ever had.

From that day forward, I gently but firmly corrected anyone who called me by my nickname, whether they had been at my naming ceremony or not.  It was the right thing to do. “Cathy” was satisfactory for my younger years, but “Cathryn” was the woman emerging into full maturity.

That’s why I don’t automatically shorten “Thomas” or “Elizabeth” or “Richard” or “Judith”. Names matter. Using them in the way that calls to us acknowledges an essential part of our identity.

So, thank you, a quarter of a century later, to friends and family who retrained your minds and tongues to honour my request. You played a role in the person I have become today, and I am happy to be that woman.

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20 comments for “Names Matter

  1. September 14, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    I’m sure you can guess why I would find this one really interesting! I’ve always been fairly content being called Kathy, but I like being Katharine in print (though oddly, I’m Kathy on my blog). I also decided my mother should call me Katharine. I grew up at a time when LOTS of little girls were named Kathy/Cathy, and I can even remember being in classes where one girl was named Kathy, and I was “the other kathy.” Yuck!

  2. September 14, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    No one wants to be “the other” anything. Ah, well – names go through popularity spells. Every Kathy/Cathy I knew went by her nickname when I was growing up. We’re lucky to have a name we truly like. I’ve known so many people who dislike their names but never change them.

  3. Cathy Richards
    September 14, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    Catherine, or rather Catherine Elaine was when I was getting scolded. All the rest of the time I was Cathy, until high school when I tried to complete my individuation and changed Cathy to “Cathi”. My family and friends complied. For my first Dietitian job, my wonderful boss Atholl Forbes, near retirement in the 80’s, looked over her dignified reading glasses to confirm the spelling of my name for my i.d. badge — “C-a-t-h-y, correct?”. Uhm. Yup. So the high school Cathi was shed, a “maturer” Cathy emerged. Or not! My family still often spells it c-a-t-h-i, including on my 50th birthday card today! Names matter, but knowing people who’ve known you so long that they know all your iterations is good too. Pugsley, Little Richards, Cathi, Cathy, they’re all me. Cathryn is definitely you though!

  4. September 14, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    I loved your story, Cathy/Cathi/Little Richards/Pugsley. We Catherine/Cathryn/Catharine, etc., women go through life spelling our names. Might as well have fun with them.

  5. Michelle
    September 14, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    Having met you after 40, I could never imagine calling you Cathy! Definately Cathryn, but better yet – Tutu 

  6. j
    September 14, 2011 at 9:32 pm

    I’ve always known you as Cathryn, but that was even before your 40th— How do I know that for sure? Because i recognize the silver Guatemalan “milagro” you’re wearing at your naming party!!!

  7. September 14, 2011 at 10:06 pm

    The photograph was actually taken a couple years after my 40th birthday. But from my 65th year, that looks very close to the naming ceremony. I introduced myself occasionally as Cathryn before the party, but it was only after that date that I really took the name on and gently turned away the nickname.

  8. September 14, 2011 at 10:49 pm

    Funny, I did the same thing at 40. I had been called Nikki for so many years but decided that a mature woman of 40 (!) should have a more mature name so I reverted to Nicola. Never regretted it. Close family still call me Nikki and it sounds odd to me now. Many of my friends that I have now have only ever known me as Nicola, which is easier.

  9. September 14, 2011 at 11:03 pm

    Omigosh – this is so much fun, hearing other stories. I can’t imagine you as anything but Nicola.

  10. September 14, 2011 at 11:30 pm

    And isn’t it funny that there are so few Gen Y Cathys/Kathys? Anyone named Katharine/Katherine/Catherine (etc.) today is Kate or Katie.

  11. September 15, 2011 at 4:28 am

    I completely understand, Cathryn. I always introduce myself as Charles, however, there are so many people who have called me Charlie all my life, including my wife, I imagine it’d be hard–yes, not impossible–for them to break the habit. I like the way you did that, tho. Very creative


  12. Casey/Cassandra
    September 15, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    I can totally relate. I was born Cassandra but always called Casey. This complicates matters because most want to call me Cassie. As an experiment when I was 17 and had my first “real job” out of high school I experimented with the name Cassandra at work. No one there knew I went by Casey. I think in my heart I knew I wasn’t ready for Cassandra. I think I am growing into it but still not quite ready – maybe 40 is the magic age???

  13. September 15, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    As long as they say it with warmth…

    When someone slips into my nickname now, I hear it the way I do when they call me Carolyn – doesn’t compute. If it’s a one-time meeting, I don’t bother correcting them. But if I figure they’re going to be in my life for a while, I’ll ask them to use my full name. I haven’t felt like a “Cathy” for a long time, though I still like the name.

  14. September 15, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    Cassandra is a beautiful name. Casey has a very different feel. I can see you as either – just happy to know you.

  15. September 19, 2011 at 8:13 am

    Yes, Cathryn is a beautiful name. And it’s important to feel at home in our own names. Good for you for making it so! — Daiy

  16. September 19, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    Or Daisy, rather 🙂

  17. September 19, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    Cathryn, do you know how many times I have heard Mr. Bill? LoL

  18. September 19, 2011 at 6:34 pm

    And every time, the person who says it is sure it’s for the first time?

  19. September 24, 2011 at 8:34 am

    I hear you!

    I, too, made the decision to go with my name as it is written on my birth certificate at a juncture in my life – when I entered university.

    Now, when people call me “Marianne”,I’ll say,with exaggerated emphasis, “AH”! I usually get a smile and “MariannAH” the next time around.

    I love that idea of throwing yourself a naming ceremony, Cathryn.

  20. September 24, 2011 at 4:44 pm

    MariannAH – perfect. Names do call to us – or not. It’s fascinating to read what other people experience.

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