â€œIt ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to.â€
â€• W.C. Fields
Â A group of older women sat around a beat up table discussing ageism. Coffee cups populated the area like impromptu game pieces, and the cookies were long gone. Â When one of the women brought up the topic of nicknames, things got heated fast.
â€œI hate it when a waiter comes over and says something like, â€˜Would you like another cup of coffee, honey?â€™ Why do they do that? It makes me feel as though they are talking down to me.â€
â€œI know what you mean! My doctor likes to say, in a voice that is too loud and too slow, â€˜How are we feeling today, dearie?â€™ Iâ€™m NOT his dearie, and I have no idea how WE are feeling.â€
Another woman slapped her hand on the table. â€œRemember the first time someone called you â€˜Maâ€™am?â€™ Oooh, I wanted to scream, â€˜Maâ€™am? Maâ€™am? Iâ€™m not a Maâ€™am!â€™â€
All the women nodded in a knowing and frustrated way. I was surprised how much this mattered to them. Did I unwittingly speak to older people with a syrupy level of condescension? I hoped not! And then I wondered how I would feel when it happens to me?
Ever since my children were old enough to talk they have called me â€œHoney.â€ I donâ€™t know why, and I didnâ€™t question it until one day a person told me they found it odd.
â€œWhatâ€™s with the â€˜Honey?â€™ Why donâ€™t they call you â€˜Mom,â€™ or â€˜Mother?â€™â€
At first, I was a little shocked and had to think about the question. â€œThey do call me Mom, sometimes,â€ I said. But then I shrugged. â€œHoney works just fine.â€ And it does. Even now I sign my emails, letters, and cards to my (now) adult children, â€œHon.â€
But after hearing the older women speak so negatively about unwelcome nicknames, I wondered how I would feel when a stranger starts calling me â€œHoney, or Sweetie.â€ It is one thing to earn a term of endearment from a loved one or family member, and quite another from a stranger.
As I thought about it I believe I hit upon the crux of the matter–it wonâ€™t matter that the person means it as a kindness; it crosses a line drawn clearly in the sands of time. Using terms like Honey, Sweetie, or Dear, will subtly imply they have dominance over me. And that will make me angry too.
What do you think? Are there names that bother you now? What are they? Who uses them?