Friday, July 29, 2005

What's in a Name?

BabyJamesII.bmp
This once was Jimmy, then Jim, and now he's James

This has been on my mind lately, the name thing. My name, as many others, runs naturally to a diminutive and, again like many others, a childish one at that (put "ie" or "y" after a given name and you have a child's name, which I've come to find happens in Farsi, the language of Iranians, too, so my guess is that this is likely a cultural rule of thumb of some sort.) In the days when I was a young boy growing up James was invariably turned into Jimmy. I don't recall having a problem with that, and inasmuch as my father was "Jim" it didn't seem out of place to me. Eventually I, too, became Jim, and somehow James was relegated to signatures and roll calls, but otherwise never spoken as a personal identifier. That said, my mother still calls me "Jimmy", a luxury conferred only upon her at this point in my life.

Believe it or not it took my getting out of the Navy to change that. I don't recall when, it was a few years before I actually got out, but I started to see myself more as a James than a Jim. I
can't say what specifically drove me to that, though part of it was a correspondence with a wonderful friend in Saudi Arabia who flat out said, "I can't begin to think of calling you Jim; you're James to me." That declaration got me thinking. Somayya, my Saudi friend, never explained why this was so, i.e. why to her I was a James vice a Jim, but there was no mistaking the fact that the more I thought about it the more I realized that I preferred James over Jim.
So James I became.

Transitioning out of the Navy made this a bit easier as it made for a huge change in many aspects of my life. People I was involved with professionally, who heretofore knew me as Jim, I no longer saw every day and with my traveling and their eventual transfer to other commands
(we military people are a decidedly nomadic lot) I found that I was interacting with fewer and fewer people who knew me as Jim, and new people were introduced to me as James. There are many in my past who know me as Jim and that's how they'll always know me, though my wife and our friends here all know me as James. It sort of creates a split social existence, but that's ok especially since I find that many friends and relatives who once called me Jim (I do not force the Jim to James thing with them, with my seeing it as not their problem given that this is how they knew me for many, many years) begin to call me James when they see that this is what my wife calls me.

You don't run into many James', though today it's more common than 20 or 30 years ago. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's too much a name of King's - the King James Bible. Or too otherwise pretentious in some odd British way; saying you were Sir Jim somehow doesn't have the same verve as Sir James. Whatever the reason it's not common to hear "James" and then from there not take it to Jim; my life is now studded with, "I'm sorry, but I go by James, not Jim." Jim, or better yet Jimmy, is perceived to be more common, more a "people's" name. It's not that I don't see myself as common, or a people, but rather that I more prefer James to Jim and according to my birth certificate I'm entitled to be called what I prefer.

What I find interesting are the number of people who automatically call you Jim. If you write to them and sign off your email/letter as James, they'll respond to you with "Dear Jim". You'll be introduced to someone as James, and immediately they'll respond to you with, "It's nice to meet you Jim." Now the latter I can more easily understand, people do what they naturally do and most take James and turn it into Jim. But when someone signs off their name as James you'd think that the person who's responding would take the hint, take notice of how someone identifies themselves in their sign off --- frequently no, they don't.

I suppose in one respect it's odd for me to decide that I wish to be called something other than what I've normally been called most of my life, especially when given the choice the average person will take James and turn it into Jim - so what if James is your name, the "rules" say we can call you something else. Well, yes, I suppose it's odd, but then it's sort of nice, it's not often you get to re-discover your name, and then find that you prefer it to the one you've been living by for the past 45 some years, and moreover make it the name you go by. I suppose it's never too late to find some part of yourself.

5 Comments:

Blogger waxwing said...

This is a topic that has interested me for a long time, too. The name on my hatching certificate does not easily lend itself to nick-ing and one would think 'waxwing' would not, either. Yet I am called 'waxie' by some, 'wingie' by one, and 'ww' by others. Never expected that to happen and I'm still amused by it.
I prefer James to Jim for the sound alone but it is certainly your choice. If you decide to become Jymee I'll go along. I dislike diminutives that end in the "ee" sound personally and have never named any pet (no offspring to worry about here) with such a name, either. It's funny but names that normally end in the sound don't bother me ~ Mary, for instance. I never realized that before.

1:09 PM  
Blogger James said...

The post mostly came from my thinking about how my own name gets mutated the way it does. In the course of that I then find myself asking why I like this name over that, and it's a complicated concoction of reasons, really, but mostly falls down to I just like the way it sounds. But that, and the fact that at this point in my life I opted to change what I call myself seemed worthy of a blog entry as I was pretty sure, and you have confirmed, that I'm not the only one to think about this "weighty" issue.

You're right about names that end in the "ee" sound --- Mary, Larry, Barry, Sally, etc., I never really gave any thought to those names. I would guess that when family members, in particular parents, look for an affectionate way to refer to their children of such names they come up withy some odd variant that wouldn't carry over into a certain age of the child, whereas with names that fall into a natural diminutive for some reason seem to last. Something more for me to reflect on I guess.

1:29 PM  
Blogger Out From Within said...

My Dad's name is Jim. It would seem that James Clager is dead. Even as his son I thought his name was just Jim until I was 12 or so.

And this also reminded me of that NPR segment a long time ago we had on in the basement of CORE, about the reporter searching for people with his same name... I don't remember a lot of it though, so this whole thought may be a bit useless.

2:19 PM  
Blogger QuickSauce said...

I'm glad you recognize how hard it is to mentally change what you call someone when you're someone from a different period of aquaintance. I recently discovered that someone from my high school works in the same company, but at a different location. When I was asked, "Do you know James L____?" My first response was "Jamie L____?" He's about 3 years my junior, and it's just hard to think of that high school freshman as a "James," but I understand the conversion.

I was always a little weirded out when my grandparents referred to my dad as "Bobby."

4:19 PM  
Blogger James said...

"I was always a little weirded out when my grandparents referred to my dad as "Bobby.""

That was definitely good for a chuckle on this end ... I know exactly what you mean!

4:31 PM  

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