What's in a Name?


I usually don’t have problems with words.  That’s not to say that I never “forget the word I’m looking for.”  I do, more often than I prefer.  But regardless, I usually have no problem with the diction to convey my meaning, if it I don’t use, um, what was the word I was looking for? 

Names, though, are something else.  They are words by which people are known and are addressed.  Growing up with a name like Reese makes one consider very carefully what names are passed on to the next generation.  Say, “Hi, my name is Reese” to a bunch of elementary school kids, and instantly the heckling begins.  It’s not a far leap when connecting dots from A to B, and even those with only a few Halloweens under Reese's Peanut Butter Cupstheir belts can word associate to the name of everyone’s favorite mixture of chocolate and peanut butter.  This is conveyed as such: “Haha!  Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.”  This is usually accompanied by animated finger pointing to score a kid version of a Daily Double.  There are other variations which I’m not obligated to disclose here. 

To give a family name to a child, in this case my mother’s maiden name, is one thing, but parents should carefully consider names and their possible influence on and appropriateness for a child through all the stages of their life.  For revisionist sake, why not Rhys?  It sounds the same, but in written form it has an element of nobility or, at least, a stylistic attraction that ups its cool factor.  I would be enthusiastic given that name, which, as it happens, is exactly the meaning of "Rhys" from its Welsh origins.

But it’s not all bad.  In college, I had the satisfaction of staying current with Hershey’s product offerings by way   Reese's Piecesof the name of my coed volleyball team, “Reese’s Pieces.”  And, not surprisingly, even the venerable “Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups” has eventually come to better utility than that derived by the mob mentality of 6-8 year olds. 

People can’t necessarily hear well on phones.  There have been ample occasions when I arrive at an appointment and am addressed as “Reefe.”  Perhaps those same kids have grown up and now connect the dots to something more recent in their experience, like reefers.  But, to this day, I have not met a person named Reefe, so I'm not sure why someone would think that must be what I'm saying. 

There are also those times when people ask or verify the spelling of my name.  As when my name is said in full, spelling R-e-e-s-e apparently comes across as R-e-e-f-e.  Same result.  There are, admittedly, a number of people who opt for Reece, and that’s okay.  But, in any of these cases, when they get it wrong, I can now say “R-e-e-S-e, like in Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.”  The lights go on.  All is well.  If I said “as in Reese reese_witherspoonWitherspoon” I don’t know if it would be as helpful in  spelling, but I’m appreciative of the assist.

Backtracking to all those years ago, one of the basics was to address adults as Mr. or Mrs. (Last Name).  Similarly, when replying to an adult, I was taught to address him or her with “Sir” or “Ma’am.”  In some parts of the country, saying this to an adult apparently makes the adult think that the child is mocking them.  But, in the South, it meant “I recognize you as an elder possessing the authority to tell me what to do and the ability to tell my mom if I misbehave.”  As importantly, to fail to say “Sir” (or Ma’am) reflected directly on the parent and the quality of upbringing they provided.  It was important by societal standards. 

Today, I still say “Sir” (or Ma’am), but usually not intentionally.  It slips out when talking with elders that I don’t know or, occasionally, with those that are in positions of authority over me at work, even if on a first name basis.  I seemed to have missed the chapter on how to apply this lesson as an adult… Given the shifting sands of society’s pleasantries, I doubt my kids will be burdened with this as they grow older.

This brings me to a point that my mother-in-law brought to my attention years ago.  What do I call them?  For those more attuned to in-law jokes, that’s not where I was leading.  I happen to like my in-laws.  But “Mr.” or “Mrs.” seems too formal for what is a more friendly and casual relationship, while John or Alice remains too familiar when addressing a different generation.  Interestingly, I’m okay with asking Alice, “Where is John?”  Or vice versa.  It remains an awkward dilemma that remains unresolved after 22 years in the family, where I have ducked the issue altogether by basically not calling them by any name at all.  That's just not proper, is it?


  1. thanks for the post. I just had a son and loved the name Reece/Reese but decided Rhys was just a bit cooler and so eye catching. Of course, no one knows how to say this and I feel like it may be a bit of a burden, so reading this was cool.

  2. This made me think of Uni... I can't help but call my lectureres Sir and Miss, like I did throughout secondary school and college.. But now they are like its ok call me "..." (their name ain't ..., they say their first names) But its just too weird and I still call them sir and miss haha x