Blast from the Past – #5 of 2011: “A name by any other name”


Beginning our “Best of 2011” series of most popular blogs with #5:

Funny how even simple things become convoluted sometimes.

For most of my life, I have been called Jeff.  Only my moms (mom and step-mom) have always called me Jeffrey.  It’s not something that bothers me, since it’s a common practice with all names.  But my given name is Jeffrey (on the same page as my small feet and hand prints).

A few years ago, after a shift to a new position at my old company, I decided to start using Jeffrey, mostly as a lark, just to see what would happen after a dozen years in the company as Jeff.  It was an interesting experiment.  As you might expect, most people just kept on calling me Jeff.  Some people switched to Jeffrey, possibly mumbling under their breath at my “affectation”.  The most intriguing response was from new people that I met.

Almost without fail, I would say above 99%, the first question I would get is:  “Do you like Jeffrey or Jeff?”.  I was always puzzled by this question.  Why would I introduce myself as Jeffrey if I wanted to be called Jeff?  Of course, I’m not daft.  A common belief is that the full name is “formal” and the short version is friendly.  And for some reason, people who insist on being called by their full name are considered “snobbish”.  I find that incredibly ironic.  This has led to some odd results in our society.

It seems that every name gets shortened now, regardless of whether it makes sense.  Samuel becomes Sam, Alexander becomes Alex, Deborah becomes Debbie.  But, like all things, it starts getting carried away.  Debbie becomes Deb, Alex becomes Al and so on.  And then it really gets goofy.

Try shortening Harry.  That would be Har.  Now, looking at it, you would assume it’s pronounced like “car”.  Unfortunately, not only does that not sound like the “Har” in Harry, but it actually sounds like the noise a pirate would make.  Imagine if there actually was a pirate named Harry.  How confused would he be on deck all the time, thinking people were calling his name?  I guess that’s why there aren’t many pirates named Harry.

Let’s take this ridiculous example one step further (bear with me only a little longer).  Suppose you actually pronounce the “Har” like in Harry.  That comes out sounding like a small dog barking or growling.  What?  You don’t believe me?  Okay, I want you to try something for me.  First, look around and make sure no one is nearby — you don’t want to have to explain this.  Now say “har” as in “Harry” three times out loud, quickly.  I’m right, aren’t I?

So, you can either make pirate sounds or dog growls.  Either way, do you think your friend Harry is going to look at you kindly?  I realize the example was stretched thin, but take a day sometime and listen to the way people shorten names.  See if a few of those don’t sound goofy to you, too.

Alright already, you say, we bow to your ineluctable logic.  Do you have a point to make in this blog?  Glad you asked!  And even if you didn’t, I can pretend you did to segue to the main thrust of the line at the top of the post.

When I was getting closer to publishing my book, I recognized I was going to need a website, like most everyone does now.  However, someone got to my “common” name first (some actor dude some of you may have heard of).  No problem.  I can just use my full name.  Ehhhh, no so fast wabbit.

Out there in domain land are companies that just scarf up names and stockpiles them like plastic bags from the supermarket.  When someone comes by looking to register their domain name, up pops the company offering to sell the name, often at a very steep cost.  In this case, my name would have cost me many hundreds of dollars.  It was not even reasonable enough where I could consider buying it.

But wait!  What if I added my middle initial?  That was available for less than the cost of a lunch for two at a fast food chain.  I was a little uneasy adding a middle initial on the cover of the book, but other authors have “gotten away” with it, so, what the hey.  As I made the purchase, I had to shake my head at the unnamed company’s decision to charge so much for their “prize”.  If it had been even half what they wanted, I probably would have paid it, simply due to my comfort with that name.  A good lesson in free market economics.

So you can call me Jeffrey or Jeff or JMD, if you wish.  And if you have a friend named Harry, tell him “Har” for me!

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