NAME GAME

07.20.13

Stop Calling Me “Mr.”

The awkward and confusing pratfalls of having an androgynous name.

I always thought my last name would be the issue. I take the “Are you really a ‘Meany?’” jokes whenever I get carded at a bar or make a dinner reservation with a smile on my face for the oh-so-clever bartender or hostess. The whole Meany clan does it while wincing in disdain.

As it turns out, my first name actually elicits a reaction as well. I always thought it was obvious I was a woman (I think these things called boobs might give it away), but I was dumbfounded to receive an email the other day directed at “Mr. Meany.” This is far from the first time this has happened, but on this particular occasion, I had emailed a government entity—a military one, might I add—about a rather complex story. I was irked that the reason for the snafu may have been because no woman in her right mind could ever do serious work; therefore, I must be a man.

Now that our primary forms of communication involve e-mails, texts, and Gchat, I guess distinguishing between the sexes is more of a toss-up. According to ABC News, people are judged solely based on their what their names are on paper. After four months of sending out resumes without hearing a peep, a man named Kim added the preface of “Mr.” before his name on his resume and—presto!—he was hired quickly afterward. “Mr.” in front of my name wouldn’t hold much weight when I show up to the interview in my pencil skirt.

My name isn’t Edward, James, or Michael. It starts with a “K,” arguably the girliest, most princessy letter of all time—it's what we text someone when we're angry and have nothing else to say. “Mr. Meany” makes me feel like my 6-foot-3-inch father. And how hard is it to write back something generic like “hi there” if you can’t figure out the proper title?

How hard is it to write back something generic like “hi there” if you can’t figure out the proper title?

The deeper issue here—despite cursing my mother for this name she gaveth me—is that I was assumed to be a man. A journalist writing about sustainability within the military must be a man, right?

Granted, it was over email, and I was being the official, strictly business version of myself. But why should I even have to worry about this? Do I have to start being very obvious about my gender in emails to people I’ve never met? “Hello, I am a journalist and I have a vagina.” I hope not. And I’m not changing how I write to make it more feminine—until Sheryl Sandberg or Hillary Clinton sends me an email with an emoticon, I’ll stick to my periods and semi-colons.

The most prominent member of the male Kelsey club is undoubtedly Kelsey Grammer. Even though he’s nearly triple my age, I peg him as the reason my name can play for both teams.

But the name Kelsey for girls is just so millennial: When my parents looked at my birth announcement, there were five other baby girls named Kelsey born the same day. At one point in my college sorority, six Kelseys out of our roughly 200 members smiled from our composite photo. We even started numbering ourselves out of convenience—I was Kelsey number 3. I guarantee that in five to 10 years, every woman celebrity will be named Kelsey—you heard it here first. Supporting my argument, Kelsey, for a boy, came in at the 806th most popular name in 1992, my birth year. Kelsey, for a girl, was 23rd for the U.S. population.

The American Journal of Sociology reported androgynous names are slightly on the rise for women. According to the report, “The rise of the feminist movement, which militates against gender distinctions, would suggest androgynous names increasing in recent decades.” But the report also says that gender doesn’t necessarily affect a name's future use. Even though parents are more inclined to give their daughters androgynous names, it may not remain that way. “A name that is initially androgynous will not remain androgynous indefinitely if it is given to daughters in expanding (or even stable) numbers at the same time that parents begin to avoid the name for their sons,” according to the report.

Even though we spend years thinking of what to christen our first baby or throw cash around for guessing the Royal Baby name, some do say names are stereotypical: Jesse is always a bad boy and Lola is always a sex goddess (and a showgirl, I guess).

“There are stereotypes but at the same time I’ve worked with a lot of kids and it’s crazy how many with the same name will have the same type of behavior or personality. For example, Connors are always tough and naughty even if they’re nice kids and Beths and Lucys always seem to be quiet, gentle and studious,” one reader comments.

Both of the Connors I know—who are actually pretty tough and naughty—and I have a theory that all Brads are attractive (seriously, send me a photo of an ugly guy named Brad and you’ll get a prize). But how is it OK for us to make these sweeping generalizations when it’s so not OK to say “all Jews are cheap” or, my personal favorite, “all blondes are dumb?” People could be suffering from name discrimination just as much as gender, race or religious discrimination. Should we have a new affirmative action clause: no name discrimination?

Now, I’m not in a downward spiral of emotion and confusion about what my gender is or that I’m a victim of some form of name discrimination—but it still angers me that people don’t take the time to get it right, especially in the Google Age. I can’t imagine what it’s like for people who have culturally gendered names that do not match their own sex. A man named Kristen (actually a traditional boy’s name in Scandinavia) has probably had some mountains to climb in the U.S.

As names continue to evolve—and devolve—we’re even naming children after fruits and cardinal directions (I'm looking at you, Kim and Kanye.) And Holly Madison named her kid Rainbow Aurora, for Chrissakes.

So what’s in a name? Well, we really don’t actually know. It could sign your daughter up for a life of being stereotyped or a life of being called “Mr.” But the changing environment of names—and breaking of all norms when it comes to “gendered names” —signals a step toward a different future.

Let’s just hope, come year 2050, conversations won’t begin with, “Hello, this is my daughter Meercat and my son Cronut.”