I originally posted my thoughts on my name and identity theft, almost 2 years ago, but the subject came up again today, so I thought I’d repost it.
I realize that this may seem trivial to some people, but to me it’s like getting a little arrow stuck into me every time someone does this. Especially those times when people have gotten into the habit of calling me Donald and then revert to Don. Okay, an arrow might be strong. It’s more like a pin, but when over the course of the day that pin gets stuck in dozens of times, then the pain begins to add up.
I also find it interesting that this happens so often in church. I’ve found it in all the denominations I’ve been part, but it was partiulalry bad among the Mennonites, although I’m not sure why that is. Biblical names always have meaning. Jesus’s changing the name of Simon to Peter is just one example:
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah,[a] the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter,[b] and on this rock[c] I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was[d] the Messiah.[e]
Matthew 16:13-20 (NRSV)
This coming Easter (2019) we are baptising three members of the Congolese family that joined St Philip’s after living for 13 years in a refugee camp in Mozambique. In addition to family, each of the three has chosen for themselves a sponsor from the St Philip’s parish. In each case, the first name of the sponsor will be come part of the legal name of the person being baptized. These names will be sent back to the Congo where they will be entered into the official government records.
Here we have a new identity being established. This one will connect people living in Winnipeg back to family that still remain in the Congo, and will connect suceeding generations in both countries with each other. As the same time, the Furaha family is publicly declaring their connection with their spiritual family at St. Philip’s.
Now I realize that insisting on being called Donald, rather than Don may seem trivial by comparison. However, when my name is given in diminutive form, I am diminished at the same time
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. Well, perhaps you should. If you can be bothered to learn how I like my name said, how can I know that you bother to take my opinions or ideas into consideration. If you can write of my name that easily, you can write off anything else about just as easily.
Another thing I come across is the line, 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.
As I said above, but I think it’s worth stating again, 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.