Monday, July 25, 2016

What's in a name?

With all the awful name-calling during this political season, it got me thinking about the importance of name.

T.S. Eliot’s beautiful poem “The Naming of Cats” is one of my favorite songs in the play “Cats.” It contemplates the importance of a name.

The great self-improvement guru Dale Carnegie once said, “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language”

I couldn’t agree more. One little thing that matters to me greatly is for people to remember my name. Maybe it’s important because I’m just so bad at remembering people’s names. I try those tricks you learn in leadership development classes – find a feature of that person to remind you of his name. But if I look at someone named Ernest and try and remember his name by the fact his hair looks like a bird’s nest, I probably end up calling him something like Jay or Robin next time I see him.

A name is everyone’s most personal possession. It’s your label, your identity, your brand. In today’s world, it can also apparently be your URL. I recently heard someone say her favorite baby gift is to buy the URL of the baby’s name when he’s born to ensure it can never be used by anyone else. Who knew?

Growing up, I didn’t particularly love my name. It was unusual which meant I was frequently noticed in ways I didn’t want to be noticed. In first grade, my teacher insisted no one use nicknames. So Chip became Charles and Libby became Elizabeth. It didn’t matter that’s not what their parents intended; that’s the way she wanted things done.

So when the teacher kept trying to call me Rebecca, I had to keep saying “It’s just Reba.” For a very shy first grader, that was an awful way to have attention trained on you. All I wanted was to have a name like Ann or Mary that wouldn’t be questioned.

When I went with friends to the Gay Dolphin at Myrtle Beach to buy keychains inscribed with every name you could imagine…mine was never there nestled between Reagan and Rebecca.

Then there’s the Reba who everyone has heard of … the tall, red-haired country singer. Back in the days of collect calls, I placed a collect call “from Reba.” I heard a small gasp from the operator. “So are you the real Reba?” she asked softly. “Would you sing something for me?”

While I didn’t want to disappoint her, the minute I opened my mouth to sing the voice would have been a dead giveaway I wasn’t “the real Reba.” So I just laughed and told her no, but I’d love to have her voice or her height (although I do have a cool Reba McEntire concert poster framed in my office).

But as I grew older, I no longer minded my unique name. I was named for my mother and her mother, which I think is pretty cool. I’m proud when people said, “You must be Reba’s daughter.”

So with this unusual name, it lands deep when someone remembers it. Recently I arrived at a yoga class I’ve attended three, maybe four times. The instructor who was checking people in called me by name and welcomed me to the class. Small gesture. Whether she saw my name on the list or remembered it from a previous class really didn’t matter. She used my name.

It was a hands-on class with the instructor working with us individually. She called each of the nine of us by our names whenever she approached us. This told me she was paying attention not only to our poses and alignment, but also to us individuals. She didn’t know anything more about most of us than our names, but that mattered.

I find myself judging places I visit often by their “Cheers Factor” as the theme song used to say … “where everybody knows your name.”

There are a number of people I randomly see over the course of a week or two who always call me by name. Caroline at Public House she asks if I want my usual order. Sally greets me at her Nana bag booth at the Soda City Market . Laura at Yoga Masala welcomes me to the studio. Jamie at Jamie Scott Fitness asks about my bum elbow. Stephanie at Eggs Up brings me my half and half tea. Sean at Drip asks what’s new. Anne at Yoga Flow says she’s noticed I’ve not been there for a week or so.

Sure it’s good business to call someone by his name. But it’s also personal. It’s face-to-face. It’s a connection that can’t be replaced by a Twitter handle or an Instagram user name. Whether by intention or just plain good memory, these folks pay me a kindness every time they call me by name.