This week, Graham's post about names reminded me of a thread I had started years ago in a forum I hardly ever visit anymore (you know, the usual thing - it fizzled out, but it was great fun and very interesting while it was active).
So I decided to revisit the old forum to try and find my old thread, and use some of what was written back then for this post about names.
When I was a kid, I disliked my name, Meike. I wanted a name that sounded like blonde curls and pink satin, in short: a name fit for a princess, with at least three syllables, such as Felicitas, Victoria, Isabella or Amaryllis. Blonde curls and pink satin? I was anything but! My hair was always kept short, it was straight and brown, and since I loved climbing trees and fences and walls and playing in the woods and with animals, none of my outfits was pink satin; instead, I usually ran around wearing jeans and t-shirts, and often wellies.
Today, I feel comfortable about and in my name; with my current surname, it makes a very nice symmetrical sound, and I have no inclination to call myself Felicitas or Graziella any longer. Somehow. though, I have never lost my dislike for the mono-syllable German names for boys, such as Lars, Ralf, Rolf, Gerd, Bernd, Heinz and so on, while some of my friends who I care a lot about have such names, and I certainly do not like them any less for that. I have no children, but I would never have chosen a mono-syllable name for a boy or a girl. My favourite female name is, by the way, Mathilda, and I would NOT shorten it to Tilly! As for a favourite male name, I don't actually have one.
In fact, in the south of Germany, where I live, Meike is not a very common name. You find a lot more Meikes (sometimes spelled Maike) when you go up North. It is an ancient Friesian name (nothing to do with cows), meaning Maria. Now, I know few people who have less Maria-lish qualities than I, but I don't think my parents had those qualities in mind when they named me, since our household has never been particularly religious (and definitely not Catholic).
My sister was my parents' first child, she was born 14 months before me. Her name (which I am not going to reveal here, sorry, she wouldn't like me to) is also of Friesian origin and quite melodious. Had I been a boy, they would have named me Kai. Both our first names match our family name, since it is one found more often in northern Germany as well (my Dad's paternal side of the family are originally from Lüneburg, about 60 km from Hamburg).
Often, my name is spelled wrongly. I am used to have people address me as Mike, or Maike, or even Heike (that does not occur so often anymore). When I receive business emails to "Dear Mr. ......", I always, always correct the sender - and it does make me angry that they can't be bothered to read my email signature properly where my first name is clearly given as Meike. I don't blame foreign customers for not knowing that Meike is a female name; they can easily mistake it for Mike and think I am a man, especially if they have not spoken to me on the phone before. But 99% of my customers are Germans and live in Germany, and they SHOULD know that Meike is NOT the same as Mike.
They simply can't be bothered to read properly, and it is that careless, "get it over with quickly" attitude that I dislike. Even if I spell my name out to someone on the phone, they often get it wrong - because they don't listen properly, just as they don't read properly. What ever happened to the attention for detail?
To me, it is a sign of respect for a person to make sure I spell (and pronounce) their name correctly; if I am not sure about pronounciation, I ask, and if it differs greatly from what I thought it was, I add a little note to this customer's file so that I know it next time I speak to them.
Is it too much to ask for the same respect from others? I think not.
Graham said in his post that an incident in 1965 caused him to have difficulties with names. Now, names are always important, no matter what job you do, but maybe they are even more crucial when you work in sales, like I do. Customers want to be addressed properly, and I am glad to have a good memory for names. Back in February at the fair (you can read about it here), I surprised a customer who I had not seen in years by greeting him at our booth by his name. He said he was amazed that I remembered who he was, and was obviously well chuffed.
That wasn't always the case; there were one or two people visiting I knew I'd met before but could not remember their names, but I had no problem in telling them exactly that - I knew I "knew" them but would they please be so kind and remind me again of their name? And of course, as soon as they'd said it, I knew in what context to place them, and I didn't mind admitting my little black-out.