What's In a Name?

Two standard questions often asked of pregnant women are 1) Do you know the baby's gender? and 2) Have you chosen a name? Without the possibility of having answers to more specific questions available (Is the child a nose picker?), we stick to the basics.

It just so happens, though, that these basics form what will be the quintessence of that little person's identity, even many, many, many years down the line. What is a bigger identifier than gender, even for (especially for?) those who identify with a gender other than the one they were born with?

Name is a very, very close second.

My parents must have thought about this at length before they gave me my name. I hope so anyway, otherwise all those years of searching in vain for a damned keychain with my name on it would have been for naught. Ditto for terrible bastardizations and mispronunciations I've had to endure.

My name is Kisa.

(KEE-suh), to my mind, would be the American brain's natural first guess on how it's pronounced. And that would be correct. But somehow that's not the most common guess I hear. My name is mis-said at the outset so often that I'm shocked when people get it right the first time.

I've heard many creative versions, including those that insert letters not present (like KRIS-uh) or those that correct it to what it seems it should be (LEES-uh), but this is my list of most unpleasant wrong guesses:

Third least favorite version: (KISS-uh). This pronunciation has on occasion, from (corny) men, been accompanied by something along the lines of "oh, KISS-uh, as in give me a kiss-a?!"


Second least favorite version: (KEEZ-uh). This one I can understand, but it hurts my ears like teeth scraping against utensils. I had a professor call me KEEZ-uh for an entire semester. After correcting him twice in front of the class when he called on me, I was too embarrassed to bring it up again.

Shakespeare wrote:
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet
I don't think so. I think KEEZ-uh smells like poodoos.

Least favorite of all version: (KEESH-uh). Sometimes this pronunciation is my fault. I think over the phone it actually sounds like I'm saying it that way. That must be the case because whenever I introduce myself over the phone people follow with "KEESH-uh?"

No! No no NO!


I bring this up because this week I've been wrestling with the question of what is (or should be) contained within a name.

A couple of years ago I wrote about how meaningful it was to take back my maiden name after getting divorced. It didn't have so much to do with the divorce; it was about the fact that the person I always felt/knew myself to be was called by one name, and for a period of time I had taken on another.

It had an impact. How could it not? It was my NAME.

I was recently introduced to a woman who has repeatedly said my name wrong (wrong in my least favorite version sense of wrong). I have corrected her at least four times and have heard others correct her as well (she's said it multiple times in front of groups of people who have miraculously learned how to pronounce my name in the same amount of time that she hasn't). Each time I correct her, rather than apologizing or showing embarrassment, she laughs. Not a nervous kind of laugh. A flippant, isn't it quaint how I'll never get your name right? kind of laugh. 

I have interpreted this as a kind of disrespect--a flagrant unwillingness to show the goodwill that would be demonstrated if she made the effort to do this thing that (it's probably clear by now) matters to me. To my mind, it translates as "I don't really care who you are" or maybe "I don't really care who you are." Either way...not nice.

But my reacting this way has got me thinking: Who am I that the correct pronunciation of my name should be so important? How much ego do I have tied up in this thing? How much power is at stake in this battle of KEES vs. KEESH?

Buddhism teaches that attachment to the "self" is an illusion that leads to suffering (at least that's the impression I was left with after reading a single book on the subject). I am not a Buddhist and don't claim to know much about the tenet, but I do think there is something to that idea.

If I weren't so heavily invested in there being a something known as me--a thing I identify with and attempt to define and mold and figure out how to present to the world--this slight (and so many dozens of other things I could take personally) couldn't possibly unnerve me. Who would care that anyone said my name wrong? What is the nature of the thing that is being named, anyway? Who or what am I, whether I am called KEES-uh or KEESH-uh?

Perhaps that's all more than I can realistically hope to understand or weigh in on at the moment.

Anyway...why do I want this person's respect? This woman's lack of attention to a basic fact about her new coworker is not so much a reflection on me as it is on her. But that aside: what, truly, do I stand to lose here?

In my mind, the best version of myself would like to go about my business undeterred, unruffled--even if this coworker never learns to call me by my real name. I would strive for humility. I would strive to be so grounded and so focused on my job (not my JOB job, though I mean that, too...I mean the job of being a good person and, when possible, adding joy to the world around me), I wouldn't even register a show of "disrespect."

I would always know exactly who I am and what I am worth, regardless of whether or not anyone else cared to know. 

I hope to be there one day. And believe me, I wouldn't in a million years trade my name for the less-likely-to-get-screwed-up "Lisa" in order to avoid these conundrums. In fact, I hope what I have to offer in this lifetime can live up to my name's originality, if not its strangeness anyway. I feel like when my parents gave me my name, they issued me a challenge to bring something different, a variation on the theme, something unexpected. I'll keep working at that...

P.S. and in the meantime: If I meet you and I ever, ever mispronounce your name, please correct me. If I do it twice, please give me a proper noogie. ;-)

Kevin's Sketch

In his words...

Interstellar Dzotzi78. This drawing was created using two of the six senses of my beloved Manzanita project co-conspirator and inspirator, her hands (touch) and eyes (vision), perhaps the vital essence of her craft.

Scene from Manzanita Project Work Time, Week 10

I love this, this shared creation space. My honey has much more patience for desks than I do.

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