What’s in a name? More than I figured, it seems.
In my role as a retail clerk I have my name prominently displayed on my vest, on the left side just above that of the store label. My name, therefore, is out there like a commodity on the shelf—the brand is the store’s name and I am the individual product. As such, I have become quite protective of it. I am taken aback, for example, when a customer uses it—seems rude, somehow, inappropriate. Almost akin to reading over someone’s shoulder or stepping inside one’s personal space: a boundary violation however subtle.
I’ve handled the unexpected use of my name in several ways. For most I ignore the vulnerable creep up my spine and carry on. To some I have replied: It seems I am at a disadvantage here, and what’s your name? And to a couple of others, I am slightly ashamed to admit, I let the offenders know of their travesty with a momentary glare before moving on with professional politeness. Regardless, each time it happens I feel I have just been robbed or pinched on the bottom.
Perhaps it is because using someone’s name while protecting, however innocently, your own is a form of power over—knowledge is power. It would be different if they said: Hi, my name is John, may I call you Jo-Ann? But this has never happened. And there is a world of difference between calling someone ma’am, miss or even lady (“girl” will never do) than hearing your name spoken aloud by a stranger. Sir and ma’am imply respect while unilaterally using someone’s name suggests a hierarchical order where the person who is named is definitely below those who are not.
Ironically, before I started this job, I have been known to use a clerk’s name. I have done so with good intentions. In stating the other’s name I have had hopes of establishing a connection; a temporary bond that showed care and, funny enough, respect. Equally ironic I have been bemused by the unappreciative look that has often appeared on the faces of those I have named. I finally understand.
Makes me think of other times I have hurt or offended another all in the desire for connection. What it also tells me, though, is that our interconnectedness cannot be realized through artificial means. The intricate web that weaves between and around us does not originate or even strengthen through the naming of another; the wearing of a ring or the signing of a piece of paper.
Interconnection is a truth. It is not something we can establish by force or try to make real. It doesn’t need naming or signing; it is there regardless of whether we acknowledge it or not. What it does need, however, is respect. Respect is what strengthens our bonds, helps us believe in beauty, celebrates our uniqueness, delivers us from the desire to do harm, and gives us the trust to carry on.