Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

24 Dec 2009, 7:43 a.m.

Balk-eye Bartockomouse Here?

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2009 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

Vacation! I'm off work today till Monday 4 January. Leonard and I are staying in NYC and hella available to hang out, including perhaps a quiet New Year's Eve at our place with games.

Recently our friend Beth heard me order a pizza and give my fake name. It always causes amusement when people first hear me do it; I try rather hard not to lie, and I wonder whether that causes some of the incongruity. I explained that it's less trouble for everyone if random taxi dispatchers and restaurant hosts don't have to try to write down and repeat "Sumana." (Incidentally, this is one nice thing about call centers; they usually get my name right.)

[Vaguely relatedly, many acquaintances think my name is Sumanah, because my email address starts with sumanah@ and my chat nickname is sumanah. (The "more suitable anecdote" here explains why.) So I get email starting with "Hi Sumanah!" but don't usually bother to explicitly correct them, since they'll figure it out eventually when they see my signature.]

We told Beth that Leonard's fake name for these purposes is "Jake," although we haven't yet told her that some people therefore think Leonard's friend Jake Berendes is a hoax. Evidently, if Leonard gives the name "Leonard," the name he gets back is at best "Benard," "Winter," "Maynard," or "Ayers." At worst, he muses,

"Your name is LeRGHGHGAGH?" It's like they think I couldn't have that name. It's like I don't have a name. It's like I've cast a glamour over them to make them forget my name -- it's like the opposite of fame.

And I told her the eerie tale of the time we hung out with Ben and his gal-pal-at-the-time Irina, and discovered that they'd also decided on the fake names "Jake" and "Vicky," separately, before they had met us or each other.

Beth then surprised me by telling me that random phone people get her name wrong! They call her "Bev." Bev! So even fairly common US names get messed up by substitute teachers, telemarketers, taxi dispatchers, supermarket clerks ("Thanks for shopping with us, _____!"), maitres'd, and all the other strangers who have to grab hold of your name. What names are the most and least awkward handles to grab? And when such folks get your name wrong, what do they usually call you?

(Title from Perfect Strangers, in which the delivery guy always mispronounced Balki Bartokomous's name. If it's true that saying someone's true name gives you power over them, Balki and I are pretty lucky!)


24 Dec 2009, 10:56 a.m.

Because of my accent (I think) I often get people asking me to spell my last name as in they haven't heard it right.

Kat (or Kate, or...)
24 Dec 2009, 13:09 p.m.

You'd think that since everyone in America is at least 1/8 Irish (True Fact), that people could get "Kathleen" right, but they can't. (They misspell it, or they pronounce it "Kathuhleen", or it turns into "Katherine" or "Kathy".) I got sick of it in elementary school and started going by nicknames, and settled on "Kat" (I hate -ie and -y diminutives, and there were too many Kates).

But when I use "Kat" to order pizza, people always want to expand it to "Kathy", so I use "Kate" instead, which is apparently more successful standing on its own...

24 Dec 2009, 13:13 p.m.

Once a guy called me up trying to sell me a credit card, and when he learned that my name was Mirabai, asked me if I meditated on a regular basis. I told him my parents did but that I'd never gotten the knack of it, and he gave me a 20-minute lecture on why it's the most important thing I could do in my life and why it's vital that I start meditating immediately. It was very sweet, but I still haven't gotten around to it. Oh, well.

The fake name I've been giving lately is "Mir. Like the space station", but I always keep my ears open for "Mary", "Moira", "Mara", "Amy", and the like.

Kirrily Robert
24 Dec 2009, 13:37 p.m.

Mine causes endless trouble for me in the US. There are two sandwich shops on the way to work, one of which once spelled it "Quarly", and the other of which has an Australian working there that got it right first time. Guess which sandwich shop I go back to? (It also has better sandwiches.)

(Kirrily is not a hugely popular Australian name, but it follows a naming pattern which doesn't tend to surprise most Australians, and the worst I usually get from them is an extra L or something not-too-bad like that. Though sometimes they mis-hear it over the phone as "Julie".)

My fake name for taxis/pizza/etc used to be "Amy" til I started dating an Amy, which made it a bit weird. Also, it was embarrassing one time when I ordered lunch at a counter type place, said "Amy", then went to pay with card that said "Kirrily" and they asked me for ID. These days I mostly use Kate or Sue, or order online.

24 Dec 2009, 14:58 p.m.

People in the US don't tend to get my name wrong; at worst they spell it Zach, with an H. This used to irritate me because there was another kid in my high school graduating class who spelled his name Zach, and he was an asshole. But that was nearly fifteen years ago now (!) so I no longer care.

However, I'm almost always mistaken for a woman on the phone by people I don't know in person, ever if I've just spelled out my full name for them (I always spell my name for call center staff; I think I picked that up from my dad). I don't know why, and I don't bother correcting them anymore. Sometimes this leads to hilarious misunderstandings, as for example the other day two different Sprint call center people thought they were talking to Pam because we have a joint phone contract, the female name on that is Pam, and I was clearly female. Despite, again, me having spelt out my name.

24 Dec 2009, 15:00 p.m.

When I said "it's like the opposite of fame" I meant the song "Fame".

24 Dec 2009, 16:10 p.m.

I went with "Mel" because I got tired of hearing grown-ups hear "Mallory" as Melody, Melanie, Meredith, and so on. Also because I thought my name was too long, didn't like it, and couldn't pronounce the letter 'r'.

This was when I was 7. Now I sometimes say "Mel, like Gibson, without the blue face paint," or some other "yes, that's spelled M-E-L" aid depending on the audience.

26 Dec 2009, 15:11 p.m.

My name is very common but people often mistake it for "Sharon." Must be my California accent.

Seth Schoen
27 Dec 2009, 7:31 a.m.

People seem to hear my name as "Jeff". A lot of people remember my name as "Shawn", probably under the influence of my surname.

Israelis and Italians thought I might be named incongruously after the ancient Egyptian god rather than the fifth human being in Genesis.

29 Dec 2009, 0:59 a.m.

Honestly, I rarely have trouble placing food orders, even with Americans who aren't used to Martins, particularly Martins-not-of-color. I've occasionally considered starting to use the middle name ("Patrick", pretty straightforward) or make up a good one (names starting with "J" seem to be the gold standard for some reason; I'd probably do "Jerry"), but it's never been a frequent enough problem to be worth the bother.

Introducing myself at parties, on the other hand, I always assume I'll have to repeat my name at least once, and I often turn into a "Mark" or a "Michael" anyway. But as tempting as it is to put together an elaborate false identity just for parties, it does seem somewhat problematic, not least because I'd probably forget to respond to the name "Jacque Themistocles MacGuffin" after a few drinks. And in any case, if I used up all the good false identities at parties, what would I do on airplanes? ("Well, as I'm sure you're aware, the international diamond-trading business has been slow lately, so I'm thinking of going back to the underground amateur lion-taming circuit...")