A Gem By Any Other Name
(Yet another writing assignment)
I didn’t know his name. But he knew mine. It was written in clear, bold letters on the hard, plastic nametag that adorned my green apron.
He knew my name, but he wanted to change it.
“Isn’t Emerald a boy’s name?” he asked.
I was used to strange reactions to my rare and somewhat unusual name, so I laughed. I didn’t choose my name, but I’ve learned to love it.
“No,” I replied, with a puzzled grin, only a little uncomfortably. Did he think I was a boy? My uniform was standardized regardless of gender, and my visor concealed most of my long hair, but I didn’t think I looked like a boy. Did I? My confusion bubbled up exponentially. Why would he ask that? What an odd thing to ask. I’m a girl. My name is Emerald. Emerald is a girl’s name.
I pushed aside my uneasiness and continued to assist him with a friendly smile.
I thought that was the end of it, but then he came to his unpleasant conclusion.
He told me he would call me “Emmy” instead. He didn’t ask. He told.
“No,” I replied, still polite, but somewhat taken aback. Only those select few people very close to me called me by a nickname. To hear those private syllables directed to me by a complete stranger was strange and jarring. It felt wrong. I was confused. I felt that my personal rights had been infringed upon. Surely he understood that a nickname is a sign of familiarity, of intimacy. I had never even seen this man before and he expected to be allowed to bastardize my name? To reduce and minimize it, and therefore me, to fit his own personal inclination. He didn’t have that right, did he?
Brashly, he nodded. “I’m going to call you Emmy,” he reiterated, regardless of my gentle protestation.
Had he not heard me? I had said no. I didn’t want him to call me Emmy. He was old, maybe he had bad hearing? I stayed firm.
“I would really prefer you didn’t. My name is Emerald.” I was still smiling, albeit more hesitantly, but inside I felt violated. Customer service policy as well as common courtesy required that I treat this man with respect and kindness, so I did. He followed no rules, written or socially implied. No one required that he treat me with the same respect and kindness.
The truth was that it should have been my decision. It is my decision. He was rude and he was wrong to insist on calling me a name that I didn’t feel comfortable with. I could have insisted on calling him a name he wasn’t comfortable with. Inconsiderate jerk, maybe? Or stupidhead mcfartface? How would he have felt then? Instead, I told him, I didn’t ask him, again not to call me Emmy, finished helping him, and he complained about me to my manager. He complained because I wasn’t okay with him disregarding my feelings and making me uncomfortable.
I didn’t know his name. But I knew him. And I know I will meet him again in some other incarnation. But I also know that I was right. I am right. It isn’t okay for anyone to call you a name you are not comfortable with. And some things are more important than following a grocery store code of conduct.