Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What's in a Nickname?

I was tickled to see this article, pointed out by a friend I worked with in D.C., years ago:
If you want to score a meeting with Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), know this: His scheduler/office manager, Elizabeth Becton, is to be addressed by her full name — not Liz or any other variant.
It goes on to detail a rather lengthy and heated exchange over how this person wishes to be addressed. And while I don't particularly appreciate the heat of some of the messages in the exchange (there is definitely a level at which this particular issue is getting in the way of her doing her job effectively), I can certainly relate to the level of frustration.

Probably the single most irritating thing about working on Capitol Hill for me was the glad-handing and false intimacy that was affected by many, and especially lobbyists. Dealing with lobbyists is part of the game, of course, but that doesn't mean they should be able to just assume they can call you by the nickname of their choice.

I realize that some of this is generational, but when I introduced myself as "Richard," it was irritating in the extreme to have the introducee come back and call me "Dick." Not my nickname: never was, never will be. My friends knew I was "Chard," but professionally, I would use my more formal name, if only to avoid having to explain my nom de vegetable to someone who was only a casual acquaintance.

I suppose part of it is an introvert thing: I don't share personal stuff with just anyone. Letting someone call me by my chosen nickname is a way of controlling my personal space. People who call me Chard (mostly) know me. People who call me Dick definitely do not.

I won't claim this is the only or even the main reason I decided to get out of the political life, but it was certainly a factor. The whole question of who owns my identity is actually important to me, and I didn't like the assumption by others that they could decide who I was.

It makes for an interesting step into a forum such as this blog, where my ramblings are available to virtually anyone. In practice, the only ones reading this are, in fact, my friends and family, and you all know me as Chard. Heaven forbid this should ever become "popular," leading all the unwashed masses to my doorstep, armed with my preferred name.

No danger there, I think.

But it's true that this is a personal blog, a place where it's safe to be Chard. I would have to think really hard about what to do if I were to write serious or professional material here. Luckily for you, I don't step into that very often!

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