What's in a Name?

00:00 December 21, 2013
By: Debbie Lindsey

 For over twenty years I have answered to the name Diane.  
My greeter is a dear man who works in the Quarter and he has always had this personalized howdy for me.  So what if the name is wrong – he has remembered me as Diane and has never forgotten me.  And I never had the heart to correct him. So whenever I hear “Good Morning Diane” trailing after me down the sidewalk I know it’s him and I turn and smile.  There’s another fellow I’ve known for some years; he works at my health club, and calls me Susan.  Actually “Miss Susan.”  We are the same age and he could leave off the “Miss” part but I’ll gladly accept “Susan.”  I would hate to embarrass him.  And just the other day a bartender greeted me warmly with “Hey Cathy.”  I never missed a beat and returned his howdy with his name (thank god he was sporting a name tag).  
So…I have three aliases.  I feel kinda like a woman of mystery and intrigue. My friend Fred told me the story of when he fell in love with the woman he’d later marry.  He taught an adult art class at a community college and she was his student.  She was timid as a mouse and just coming off a dreadful marriage.  He fell in love at first sight.  For some reason she thought his name was Frank and called him by that for the entire term.  Fred never told her different – he didn’t want to spook her in any way, said he didn’t care what she called him as long as she kept calling. There have always been nicknames, surnames, cognomens, pet names, handles, noms de plume, alias, and stage names.  
Here in New Orleans, and all parts near, we have so many terms of endearment and of address.  Baby, My Baaaaby, Darlin’, My Darlin’, Sweetheart, Sweetie, L’il Momma, Brother, Sister Girl, Honey, Girlfriend, Boo, and Chére (only in bad movies, think: “The Big Easy”). And what about Who Dat – is that a name?  Well, next time you hear it, note that you turn and answer to it.  Of course “Hey Darlin” and all such greetings come in handy when you know someone but cannot remember their name.  I’m not sure why grown and decidedly straight men call each other “Baby” but I find it so lovely and refreshing, and it just cracks me up.  There are so many different inflections and tones for “Baby” depending on whether you hail from the Lower Nine or the Acadiana regions. And such words and names add warmth to our conversations.  In other parts of this country addressing someone with “Sweetheart” or “Honey” might seem inappropriate, but not here in the South, and certainly not in Louisiana.  
When I first moved here, I needed some shipping information and was on the phone with an U.S. Postal Service Supervisor.  After he assisted me, I thanked him and he replied with “My pleasure sweetheart.”  Here was a man working in a professional capacity for a government-type agency and he said “sweetheart” to a woman he did not even know. Was this unprofessional? Hell no, this was New Orleans and that’s just the way folks speak.  And I loved it.  When the cashier at Winn Dixie says “Thank you Baby” I feel like I just got a nice big hug.  Down here we embrace each other with words. Sometimes we reference folks by their job or place of employment.  Hey... “Doc,” “Banana Man,” “Mr. Okra,” “Bread Man,” “My Bartender.”  
Some years back I was walking with some friends when a car drove by and a familiar face hollered warmly to me: “Old Dog.” Well my companions were mortified for me – It reminded them that I waitressed at Old Dog, New Trick Café.  Nowadays I often answer to “Witch” – I co-own Kitchen Witch Cook Books Shop and as long as they don’t say it with a “B” I am happy. Sometimes you have to set boundaries when it comes to nicknames.  
Ever since my Mobile days, my nickname was Crazy Debbie (I proudly earned this title).  It didn’t take much in Mobile to be regarded as eccentric or outspoken.  Friends who thought my sense of humor and unconventional ways were endearing or at least amusing gave this name to me.  But god forbid anyone calls me Daffy Debbie or DingBat.  I would, and my friends would, be quick to explain that crazy ain’t stupid.  If you don’t get or understand someone’s nickname then it is best to back off trying to expound upon it. What’s in a name?  Someone can call you by your given name and with his or her tone make you feel small or bullied.  It is all a matter of respect and affection.  
My dear friend Kevin calls me “Goon” and for some reason it is spoken with humor and love.  It’s just his word.  Use of a title or a word can also assist with credibility. Sometimes I would call Boyfriend “husband” in professional situations such as house hunting because our relationship would then be taken more seriously.  Now I call him “Roommate.”  Names carry a lot of weight and meaning. I had a cat whose name was Spook because she was timid and easily spooked.  Her name was changed to Pepper and from that day on she came into her own – independent and tough as nails.  What’s in a name?  A lot.  Sometimes we aspire to a name, live up to it.  Label someone, pigeon hole them with something less than noble or positive and you will see them as less of a person.  My friend Bob is routinely called Wheelchair Bob.  His name is Robert Duprey and nowhere on his birth certificate will you see the word wheelchair.  
Words have meaning and names have power – Author Unknown.

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