Monday, August 30, 2010

My Name

I get all sorts of reactions to my name. Mostly, people just want to know how I came to be named Michael. The questions have been strange to get used to, because growing up, I didn't actually use it.. When my grandparents learned that my mother named me, a girl, after my father, even though she was not expecting a boy, they decided they would not call me by my given name. Rather than use my middle name, they started calling me Misty. I have no idea where they got it, or who picked it. I probably should have asked my grandmother before she died. However it came to them, that is what I was called in all circumstances--excluding getting in trouble--for the first 14 years of my life. In fact, as a child, I hated when people learned my real name because it led to teasing.

Then I went to high school and, because I was terrified of the new situation in general but also specifically because I was in a new district and had no friends, unless a teacher asked if we'd like to be called something other than what appeared on their roster, I was too scared to speak up and asked to be called Misty. So in a few classes my freshman year (bio, PE, and French, where it was "Mee-shell" anyway), I went by Michael. Still, most people knew me as Misty.

At my community college, I largely didn't bother with the nickname, because so few instructors have an opportunity to address you by name anyway. If I met people, I still introduced myself as Misty, but there were a handful of classmates that called me Michael. On leaving for San Diego State University, I decided it was prudent to include the nickname on the documents submitted to the dorm, lest they accidentally place me in a room with a dude. As it was, when I got a letter indicating my roommate would be named Izzi, I wasn't assuaged of that concern (Izzi turned out to be a lovely girl). So my dorm-mates knew me as Misty, and that seemed fine, because that's how I was called by my family, by my boyfriend and his family, and by my oldest friends.

Then, during my first year at State, I met a woman in an interior design class who changed how I felt about my name. In an art class, names are actually relevant because of presentations and critiques, and I was using Michael. However, our first project was done in pairs and my partner, Monica, had been to my room in my dorm to work on the assignment, so she learned of my nickname and called me that. Our classmate, Joy, heard the nickname, and asked about it, explaining that she was "not comfortable" calling me Michael. This kind of irked me. Shouldn't it be about what I'm most comfortable with? Who is this near stranger to make choices about my name? I had never before had such a strong desire to go by my name, my real name, as I did after that conversation. I mentioned Joy's comment to Monica, and she seemed to agree with me, indicating she intended to call me Michael from then on.

The transition wasn't easy. As I mentioned, most of the people closest to me called me Misty, and to this day, my family, oldest friends, and former roommates still use the old nickname. However, I started introducing myself as Michael as much as possible. After breaking up with my ex, that dramatically reduced the number of people that use Misty. Now, most everyone calls me Michael. While my mother could hardly change her habits now, she did tell me she's glad I use Michael, since she chose the name.

Although I hated it as a child, I've grown quite fond of my name, although it sometimes feels like a bit of a burden because I get so many comments and questions. For my first two jobs, both as cashiers, I wore a name tag, which people inevitably assumed wasn't mine, even though my first name tag HAD MY PICTURE ON IT. People also frequently assumed name was pronounced Michelle, which is an honest mistake, and doesn't really bother me when people are reading it and not hearing it.

At my current job I talk to people on the phone and I developed the habit of saying, "Like the guys' name," because it seems to be the most concise thing to say. Those of us on the phone all have our little habits; for last names I know a "Glaze, like a donut," and a "Melrose, like the avenue," but because we only give our last names when asked, those don't come up as often. My spiel produces the occasional chuckle, but nearly always ends the discussion of my name and therefore saves time. This is because it confirms the listener heard me correctly while also confirming that I am not a man with an extremely feminine voice, which is none of their business but you'd be surprised at what people will say on the phone. On the occasions I skip the phrase, I've received such responses as this:

  • "Michael? Like, Michael? Like my son's name?" -Man on phone recently
  • *outright laughter* "You sound like a girl!" -airline representative in India (or where ever)
  • "Michael? You sound like a female." -some guy, more polite than the Indian guy but odd word choice
  • "Thanks for your help, Michelle." -innumerable clients (seriously, do you even listen?!)
And so, while I do like my name, I'm with Johnny Cash on this one, if I ever decide to procreate and produce a daughter, her name will be any damned thing but Michael!


  1. maybe this is because i've only known you as michael, but i think your name suits you & i can hardly imagine calling you misty.... girls w. guys names rock, imho.

  2. Thanks! I feel like a Michael now, too.

  3. People are terrible, I still don't know why it's such a hard concept for people to grasp. It's a lovely name.

    But I like Misty too, it's quirky-cute and uncommon as well.

  4. I love your name. Its part of the reason I was brave enough to name my daughter Harper, even though its one of those vague unisex names.

  5. It certainly is not a name I come across everyday (for a girl, I mean). I'll be heading back to France soon where I will meet a whole bunch of Michels and Michelles; no one bats an eye when the name is said.

    -Barb the French Bean