What’s in a name? A whole lot actually.

I shared this story with a patient the other day as a jokey anecdote initally, a story about something that happened when I was back in my early teens. It was ten minutes of my life, ten minutes that fully affected my early/mid teen years, and truthfully given how much I remember of what happened it dawned on me that this affected me far more than I ever really acknowledged. The deeper I got into this story the more I realised that its not something I can laugh off, even now. I know, I have bigged this up to a dramatic event. Was it really? No. Did it shape me? Yes.

I was a probably fourteen. It was the end of third period art, and I had to stay back to talk to my teacher about upcoming exams. I knew I would be late to my next class, Modern Studies, so I caught one of the girls, let’s call her “Jolene”, who I knew was headed to the same lesson too and asked her to tell the teacher that I would be late. She looked at me, nodded and said “ok”. As I headed to my next class knowing that although I was ten minutes late, at least “Jolene” had passed on the message so I wouldn’t get in trouble (I was not the girl who got in trouble). I get to the class, open the door and casually make my way to my seat. All eyes on me. Including the teacher. I looked up at her and she stared back, I realised from the look on her face that she had no idea why I was late, or why I was seemingly sauntering in without apology. I felt myself blush and I stammered an apology explaining why I was late and that I had asked “Jolene” to pass the message on. I went redder and redder; I was not the girl that got in trouble and felt like everyone knew this. I looked up at “Jolene” at the other end of the U-shaped tables around the room hoping she would help me out. She looked back at me, “Sorry, I forgot your name, so I didn’t say anything”.

I’d known her for three and a half years and she “forgot my name”. Twenty years on, I haven’t forgotten her name, or how I felt as someone who was seemingly of such little importance. Looking back now I see things differently, but I will never forget that feeling of humiliation as in front of a room of thirty people I was “forgotten”. Cheers, Jolene. The day continued, and I moved on. Clearly.

Ever since then, I have always sworn to remember people’s names. Names are important, they give us a sense of belonging, they identify us and those things that affect us. We can deal with people and things better when we know what they are called.

When we are grieving, using the names of our loved one helps.

When we are ill, naming the cause of symptoms helps.

When we feel excluded, having a name helps.

When we feel emotions that we cannot understand, talking about them and finding a name for them helps.

Use names.

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