DEAR READERS: I've stepped away from the Ask Amy column for two weeks to work on a new writing project. I hope you enjoy these edited "best of" columns in my absence. All of these questions and answers were first published 10 years ago. Today's column asks: What's in a name?
DEAR AMY: My brother and his wife divorced last year, but our family is still friendly with her. We believe the marriage didn't work solely because of my brother's actions. My issue is that she has decided to keep her married name. Because she is no longer officially part of our family, she should go back to her maiden name. My family takes enormous pride in our name, and I don't feel she has the right to it any longer. How can I approach her about this subject without being rude?
DEAR PROUDLY: Here's a script: You: "Charlotte, I'm so sorry my brother wrecked your marriage. It was really swell having you in the family, but hey, we're done with you now, and so we'd really like our name back." She: "Well, you're all so classy I'm reluctant to give your wonderful name back to you, but I'll consider it."
In other words: Your former sister-in-law's surname is hers to keep for as long as she cares to possess it. Think of it as a bounty for the privilege of being married to your brother, who, according to you, is a louse. The only way I can see this being resolved in your favor would be if your former sister-in-law were so "over" it that she — of her own volition — sheds your proud surname on the courthouse steps. (April 2009)
DEAR AMY: I am part of a blended family. I have "bonus" family members whom I love. I am pregnant with my first child and have a name selected that I've always wanted for a child. I have been asked to choose another name because my unborn child's nickname, which I intend to use, is the same nickname that my 4-year-old half-sister uses on a daily basis. I have been told that there is unwritten "baby name etiquette" and that I shouldn't use the same name if there are objections to it. Am I wrong if I go ahead with my plans?
DEAR CONFUSED: Someone should write a book of "unwritten" rules of etiquette so that we all might see them. These unwritten rules generally encompass anything that inconveniences the person citing the alleged rule.
If one person could prevent another from assigning a name to a child merely by objecting to it, there would be no one named Merle. I don't want to live in a world with no Merles.
You are the baby's mother. You will be addressing the child dozens of times a day. If you have thought this through and don't mind that your child will be sharing a name, leading people to assume that she's named after her young aunt, then go for it. (May 2009)
DEAR AMY: My parents named me after my grandmother's nickname. It's unusual, and I have been ridiculed my whole life. I legally changed it and took my middle name as my first name a year and a half ago, when I was 25. I feel good about the change, but my parents and sister refuse to call me anything other than my original name. They introduce me to friends by this name, and continue to call me it in front of family and friends, who then call me by that name, too. I have told them I don't like this, but they say I need to grow a thicker skin and they will never call me anything different. Is it wrong of me to want them to call me by my legal first name?
DEAR NICKNAMED: Unfortunately, your family members have basically declared that they don't respect your wishes, preferences or needs. A person's name is the first window into his or her personal identity. Your name has caused you a lifetime of problems, and your family members are either dismissing your concerns because they don't understand how important this is — or they are bullies whose message to you is that they — not you — get to decide who you are. You should continue to correct them very matter-of-factly when they introduce you incorrectly. Over time, your legal name should prove "stickier" than this nickname. (September 2009)
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