What’s in a name?

Someone recently apologized to me for calling me “Deb”.  I, for one have never been overly attached to my name, simply because I’ve always disliked it.  “Deb” is what my mother calls me, “Debbie” is my professional name, “Deborah” is on my birth certificate, “Debsa” is what one of my dancers used to call me, “Debbeleeinskichuck” is what one colleague calls me, “Deebee” is how one director pronounced my name and for several months I answered to the name of “Susan”.  One dance teacher just couldn’t remember my name and somehow settled on “Susan”.  He was mortified when he found out he had been using the wrong name but as I told him, I knew who he was talking to…so all was good.

So much emphasis is paid to using people’s names.  When you use someone’s name, it tells that person that they are important enough to remember.  Plus, using a person’s name in a positive environment imprints on their brain, thereby associating you and the activity involved with contentment.  Although that also applies to negative environments.  My mother using my birth name plus my middle name meant I was in BIG trouble.  Even now, hearing those two names together makes me wary. 

All of us have been conditioned since childhood, upon hearing our names, to stop and listen to what is being said.  In a classroom setting, that’s powerful thing.  I once worked in a yoga studio where the director wanted all of his teachers to use the students’ names during the class.  While I understood his logic for the reasons I just stated, I didn’t comply with his rule for several reasons.

I personally do not like it when teachers use my name in a class.  I am known in some professional circles of the city, and while it’s nice to be recognized for the value that you bring to a group, I also value my privacy.  I practice yoga for my physical and mental health.  For me, it is a private time within a community setting where my place in the world is simply one small cog among many.  A reflection of the big picture.  I have also had a few stalkers in my life, one of which is still active.  Hearing my name called out in a public setting always makes my breath catch and who wants a panic attack in a yoga class, even if it only lasts a few seconds?  

Using people’s names in a classroom setting shifts the dynamics of a room.  When you call out a person’s name in a class, other students notice.  They notice who gets attention, and who is not getting attention which leads to self-doubt and dissatisfaction.  So, unless you prepared to say the name of every single student in the room, don’t use any of them.  That’s what creates a truly equitable environment.

At that particular studio, I watched how the use of names in the practice room had led to a sense of privilege among some of the students, and while I was glad that the queen bees created a close sense of community and belonging with the studio and with the studio director, I also became very aware of the state of exclusion that was created for others.  They were the students who left the practice room feeling isolated and ignored.  They were the students who changed their clothes silently in the corner of the dressing room.  They were the students who silently took their coats and slid out the door without looking back.  They were the students who never returned to the studio.  I do recognize that using people’s names is an incredible asset and I do recognize that it leads to easier communication, but it still does not change my positions on inclusion or respect for privacy.  To make sure that everyone feels welcomed into the studio means you have to create a level playing field.  I use no one’s name in the room (unless I am right next to them, and only they can hear me).

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2 Responses to What’s in a name?

  1. Catherine says:

    You’ve said what I’ve been feeling but couldn’t put into words. In a place where we’re not supposed to be striving, hearing « Beautiful, Soandso, » just makes every other body in the room wonder how they’re doing.
    Thanks for the confirmation ??

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