I am utterly, utterly crushed by this story. What a way to destroy the inventive spirit not just in this kid, but in so many surrounding him. But some folks are seeking ways to respond:



This is another in a periodic series of updates in which I announce that I’m trying to work my way back into running a bit more regularly once again, and invite you to find me on Runkeeper if you’re doing the same.


When I was in sixth grade, I decided that I hated the way that folks where I grew up pronounced my first name (think three syllables), so I convinced everyone to call me by a shortened nickname version (think first initial). This was a fine solution, until I discovered at some point in college that I really liked my actual first name and wanted to use it, but could not convince anyone to drop the nickname.

It took moving across the country, to a place where no one knew me, to make the switch. My first name and I got a fresh start — for the most part. Most of my family still uses the nickname, as do some old friends. They’re mostly forgiven, as people who knew me before 1991 were grandfathered in, so to speak.

Every so often, though, I’ll run across someone who didn’t know me then, but who now knows someone who did. And every so often, one of these people will decide to pick up the nickname, whether innocently or not, whether out of a genuine attempt to be friendly or a condescending familiarity.

Honestly, I do not care why they do it. What I’m mostly interested in here is my own reaction, which is frequently anxious, and often furious.

Part of the deal is that it triggers the same response as when someone gets my name wrong, usually mistaking either my first or last name for the slightly more common variants thereof. It happens to everyone sometimes. It’s an honest mistake. But I’m left weirdly saddened by the sense that I am not vivid enough to be remembered properly, or important enough to warrant correctness, and I never know how to issue a correction that isn’t either overly defensive or fruitlessly unheard. And when it happens more than once, or far enough into knowing someone that they ought to know better, all of that is intensified.

It’s got me wondering a bit about names and attachments, about the relationship between what someone calls you and what you feel yourself to be. Being called by that old nickname today inevitably puts me back in that desk where, on the first day of sixth grade, I made the spur of the moment decision to ask to be called something else, something that might be gotten a little less wrong. The difficulty I had shaking that casual decision to use a diminutive — and the visceral response I have when the wrong person tries to adopt it now — suggest the deep consequences of names, the degree to which they embed themselves wherever it is that identity lies.

Birthday Skype?

I logged in to Skype for a conference call yesterday afternoon and immediately received a message letting me know that it was the birthday of someone with whom I’ve collaborated on a few projects.

Don’t get me wrong — I have actually come to like Birthday Facebook, both the notifications and the resulting pile-on of greetings, which seem to me the best purpose that the network has come to serve. But Birthday Skype feels a bit more intrusive somehow, something like your kitchen telephone reminding you that it might be nice if you called your Great Aunt Helen every once in a while.

I did send a quick message of the “wow, weird, but HBD!” variety. I did not, however, send the Skype-minutes-gift-card that was on offer. (Sorry, collaborator.)


One of the added responsibilities that has come to me with my new position is serving as managing editor of PMLA. In that capacity, I work with our staff on facilitating the review process, and I work with the journal’s editor and editorial board as they make their selections and discuss other matters.

So far, one of the best aspects of this work is that I’m getting a chance to read the essays that will be going before the board at its next meeting, and it’s just lovely to be in close contact with the exciting work that’s going on across our fields. I’m delighted to have this opportunity, and I’m looking forward to everything I’m bound to learn in the process.