It’s Not Billie Jo or Peggy Sue

Once when I was the managing paralegal at a law office, one of the other paralegals that I liked was dismissed, and the firm hired a new girl.  Our boss called us in and told us that Mary Dell would be starting the following Monday and that he wanted us to make her feel at home.

At the time, we had phones that when we picked them up, the screen said “Good Morning, Rachel” and other similar messages, and when we’d call someone else within the office, our name would show up on their phone.  We also had magnetic cards to use the elevator and other such personalized items, and it was my job to program everything with the person’s name.  I begrudgingly set to the task.

The entire week, I scowled because I was unhappy that my friend was fired.  My boss pulled me aside more than once and told me that I wasn’t being fair to Mary Dell and that I needed to at least meet her and give her a chance.  “How can I like her?” I asked.  “Even her name is stupid.  Mary Dell.  What was her mother thinking?  That’s worse than Ellie Mae or Rose Mary.”  He cautioned me to drop my attitude and give her a chance.  I reluctantly agreed.

When Mary Dell started the following week, she was pleasant enough.  I walked her around the office and introduced her to everyone and showed her the layout of the office.  Then I took her to a couple of other offices within the building where other law firms that we occasionally associated with were, and I introduced her to all those employees and attorneys as well.

I trained her and mentored her for nearly a month before she was ready to work independently.  As I cut her free, I started assigning more and more cases to Mary Dell and recommending her to clients.

A year later, we had an office party during lunch to celebrate Mary Dell’s first anniversary with the firm.  I made a banner that said “Happy Anniversary, Mary Dell,” and we even bought her a cake that said “Congratulations, Mary Dell.”  As the party got underway, everyone congratulated Mary Dell and told her how glad they were that things worked out and that she’d stuck it out with us for so long.  Then I made a little speech about how wrong I was when Mary Dell was first hired, and how I didn’t look forward to her coming to work there because I missed the former employee, but then I liked Mary Dell after all.

But that’s when Mary Dell stood up and said, “I want to thank you all for this great party.  But I just have to ask…  How come everyone here always calls me by my first and last name?”

Bwwaaaahhaaaahaaaa!!  YES, REALLY! 

I totally thought her name was a double first name like Barbara Ann… You know, Mary Dell Smith or whatever.  I had no idea it was just Mary!  Of course, we all burst out laughing, and since I was who introduced her and programmed in her name, I got blamed.  (But honestly, I felt that obviously the attorney as well as the payroll lady must have known her name, and they never corrected me, plus since she didn’t correct me herself for an entire year, then why should I have felt bad?)

Since then, I actually started using the tactic of purposefully misspeaking someone’s name when I interviewed them to see if they had the guts to correct me or not.  (It’s actually a good little tactic to use if you’re in the position to interview or hire people.)

So tell me, what do you do when someone calls you by something other than your name?  Do you ever answer to other people’s names?  Do you ever call your children by each other’s names?


56 thoughts on “It’s Not Billie Jo or Peggy Sue

  1. Nice one young Rachel. When Shirley – before we were together as such – was working in my office years back there was a client who phoned regularly called ‘Nora’ – I told Shirl her real name was Nora Bone and for the next three years Shirl would address correspondence to Nora Bone who was in on the game and never let on.

      • We still await the people we are buying from finding a house they like – they have a very old mum moving with them so they have to make sure they get the right place – it is a bit frustrating when things move this slow. Still never mind.

      • Problem is the old lady has no mobility so she needs a bungalow really and given that the two daughters are both artists they need a very big bungalow – hard to find in the UK!

      • Oh, that stinks! Point them toward the ferry and let them make their way over to France. I would think they would have had plenty of room for their art in that great back yard. That’s nice that they’re caring for the mum though and don’t have to put her in a home. But that does stink for you. I just know Shirley’s itching to get into that new garden!

      • You’re right – our only concern is that our buyers might get fed up and look elsewhere! Still Shirley is off to see her friend in Wiltshire – near Stonehenge! – for the weekend so George and I have invited Svetlana and chum over. Can’t think why yet Shirley hit me when I mentioned that! Where’s the fairness in that?

  2. Priceless – as you say you’d think that someone would have mentioned it in a year.

    I once coached a young lady in track & field. Her name was Eleanor and, from an early stage I addressed her as Ellie. One day, about six months later, she blew up in a rage insisting I called her by her proper name 🙂

  3. That’s funny. I lucked out in my family being the only girl. My brothers weren’t so lucky. I don’t know how many times my mom calls them the others name or just combines them Jadanny (Joey and Danny). We also used to have a dog named Sammy and eveytime we wld call him Danny wld come running.
    It is so easy to confuse names which I why I am so paranoid about making sure I know people’s names down flat 🙂

  4. LOL…. i have that litttle problem right now.this lady keeps screaming out a name she nicknamed shortened every time she drives by on a golf cart with 10 people & i want to say no one calls me that & lives or something to make her stop

  5. Great narrative! We had that trouble at university when we called the Chinese students by their family name because they put it first!

  6. Certain people at work call me by my legal name although I prefer my common name. I let her get away with it because she calls my boss and others by their formal names too.

  7. Oh, Mary. I agree, it’s her own fault!

    Everyone gets my last name wrong – those silly Germans. I’ve stopped correcting people because I’d be correcting everyone in the world, and it just gets tiring.

  8. I do call my children by the wrong names. But I came by that honestly. I grew up with the name Tr-erri, which is a combo of mine and my sister’s names.

    People often think I say that my name is Kerri on the phone. I always correct them and say, “With a T like a tiger.” Why I say tiger instead of another T word is beyond me.

    I agree that you shouldn’t feel bad about that. Either Mary Dell, the payroll employee or the lawyer that hired her should have let you know. How are you supposed to know?

  9. I usually let it slide if someone gets my name slightly wrong, unless I believe they actually think that’s what I’m called. I feel awfully guilty when I get someone else’s name wrong though, which is why I rarely use people’s names.

    Reminds me of that scene in “Scrubs” where Chris Turk discovers that for the last several years the director of surgery thought his full name was “Turk Turkleton” 🙂

  10. You would think that she may have asked, say, one month in, ‘How come I’m the only one in the office you call by first-and-last name?’ Yeesh. Great story, Rachel. I thought maybe her dad’s other names were Farmer In The.

    In my journalist days, I was always trained to ask people to spell their names. Always. You can’t forget sometimes it’s spelled Smythe. Or Joans.

    Don’t get me going about my name and misses.

  11. That’s hilarious! I’m the youngest of six kids in my family, so I would respond to pretty much whatever name was directed at me. I even had a teacher once who regularly called me by my older sister’s name for the entire year.

  12. Wow! That is crazy!
    I have a longish, eight-letter name (my real name is not Erin, and, sadly, it’s definitely not Kenobi either! 😛 ) so everyone calls me by its five-letter shorter version or even the four-letter abbreviation or the three-letter shortest version of all… everyone except for my teachers at college. I’ve always been too shy to tell them that I prefer my nickname, so I always end up being called by my full first name because that’s what’s on the paperwork. Ah well. The longer version sounds more grown-up, anyway. 😛

  13. I taught my last 6 years at North Miami Senior High my alma mater ’67. Now it is 90% Haitian and record keeping was a nightmare as many had first and last name that seemed like 2 first names and things always got mixed up. Pierre Lewis or Lewis Pierre ? Was it Jean Thomas or Thomas Jean?

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