I originally posted this almost 2 years ago, but the subject came up again today, so I thought I’d repost it.
When I think of life as a priest and all of the things that go along with it, perhaps the idea of what my pastoral identity is has been the hardest. Identity has always been an important aspect in my life. One of the things that has always frustrated me is the number of people who call me Don rather than Donald. This is particularly frustrating when I introduce my self as Donald and my name is immediately shortened to Don, even when I repeat the fact that my name is Donald. This may seem to some to be a small thing, yet, I have been Donald since my youngest days. Sure I had my family nickname, as did my five other brothers, but as we have grown older we have more or less reverted to speaking to each other by our given names, and mine has always been Donald.
Sure, there is an aspect to this that relates to the fact that I’m a highly private and reserved individual and even a bit prickly. However, to seek to moderate that in me by calling me Don is counter-productive. For immediately, I feel I haven’t been heard, or that you haven’t been listening. To leave someone feeling ignored is usually not the best way to bring them out of themselves. There’s more though, because as I said, this relates to pastoral identity as well.
A few months ago I was talking with a friend about my ordination and she asked me what she should call me once I was ordained. So, I gave her the options and then told her that I would much rather that she just kept calling me Donald. Now, again, part of this is the fact that I’m not much one for titles, etc. However, at another level, my personal identity informs my pastoral identity rather than the other way around.
Donald serves as a reminder of my humanity, that which I share in common with all people. While I grew up in the Salvation Army, where child baptism wasn’t practiced, my parents did dedicate me to God as a baby and I was dedicated as Donald. So, almost from the very first, my name formed the background to my introduction to the community of believers. Later, in my adult life when I was baptized, I was baptized as Donald. It is my self-recognition, it is my self-identifying name.
It bothers me very much when people say, I just don’t think about it. Or, I have an uncle named Don. Well guess what? I’m not your uncle, I’m the Donald you work with, that you attend church with, that you eat with and watch football with. I know it’s easy enough to do, I even do it myself from time to time, but I do try my best to find out what name people like to be called by.
In many ways, one of the reasons that being called Don bothers me so much is that it is the diminutive form of my name, and I feel diminished when someone uses it to address me. I realize that in many ways I am fighting a losing battle, but its one I will continue to keep fighting.