The name my parents gave me is Joseph Aaron Scrimshaw. When I got married, I took my wife’s maiden name as a second middle name. My current legal name is Joseph Aaron Stevenson Scrimshaw.
While I was growing up, I pretty much let people call me whatever they wanted: Joe, Joseph, Joey, Scrawny Little Asshole, etc. I never corrected anyone. It felt rude. I figured, “These people are seeing me from the outside. Maybe they’re just picking the name that matches what they see.”
As I got older, my name basically settled into being Joe with the occasional Scrawny Little Asshole.
Once I started a career performing and writing, I consistently used Joseph. After a few years, it started bugging me that despite listing my name as Joseph in every bio, program, press release, interview, etc. people in my professional life would still call me Joe.
I decided, over a decade ago, that if I wanted people to use Joseph, I needed to be consistent. I made a point of telling people that for anything professional, it was Joseph. People and publications still called me Joe.
I decided to start introducing myself to any new people I met as Joseph. I began trying, ever so gently, to correct people if they called me Joe.
At this point in my life, I have a handful of very old friends who know me as Joe. Besides that, my name is Joseph.
Joseph feels right. To me, there is a world of difference between Joe and Joseph.
Joe is a big strong guy who lifts weights and watches football. Joseph collects action figures and is pretty sure he’s a Hufflepuff.
Joe likes America and eating raw steaks cooked on the hood of a big old muscle car. Joseph drives a Toyota Yaris and likes to write comedy essays about Aquaman’s feelings.
I am a motherfucking Joseph.
Still, people call me Joe. These days, the Joe-calling mostly happens on social media. So people are literally calling me Joe while responding to my twitter handle @JOSEPHScrimshaw. I think some people feel shortening names is a way to suggest friendship or intimacy. For other people, maybe two syllables just feels like too much work.
Did you know the beloved actor known as Ben Cum originally went by the ridiculously long name, Benedict Cumberbatch? Think about all the mouth time we would have wasted if he’d insisted BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH was his actual, preferred name? Do you know how many syllables that is? Who has time to even count! Thank God for Ben Cum!
I know people aren’t calling me Joe with malice, but it continues to bother me. And I continue to feel rude correcting people. I feel fussy and uptight saying, “No, no, no, you HAVE to use this version of my name. The longer one. The one that sounds like a guy who has a degree in Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature. Yes, the one who has an Excel Spreadsheet to keep track of which Doctor Who DVDs he doesn’t yet own.”
But why do I feel rude asking people to call me by my preferred name?
I think there is a subtle, yet pervasive idea that we should let our identities be dictated from the outside. That we, as individuals or groups, don’t have the right to determine our identities.
Because that’s what a name is. It’s your identity. It’s one of the ways you tell the world who you are. Why would anyone want that taken away from them?
It’s like if your name was Steve and you started working at a new job, said your name was Steve, and then everyone in the office just decided to call you Shithead.
“But my name is Steve,” Steve might say.
“Yeah,” the boss would respond, “But we prefer Shithead.”
“I actually find Shithead kind of offensive,” Steve would say.
“Come on, loosen up, Shithead,” the boss would cajole. “We actually mean Shithead as a term of RESPECT. In our office, we have a long history of calling the best employee Shithead.”
“Yeah, I don’t really care. It’s my name. Please call me Steve.”
“WHOA! WHOA! Way to overreact and take away my freedom of speech, Shithead!” The boss would yell while stomping around and blowing the office air horn designed to shut down further discussion.
Then, ideally, Steve would flip everyone off and use his jet pack to just blast off and fly away. Sadly, we don’t have jet packs yet so this resolution is just a fantasy.
The point is please call me Joseph. It’s my name. It’s my choice.
I know there will always be people who call me Joe out of habit or laziness or even attempts to be friendly and informal. To those people: I know you mean no disrespect so I will attempt to begrudgingly understand.
And if you hear my preference, understand it, and still, without my permission, choose to call me Joe–that is your right.
Just like it’s my right to start calling you “Shithead” in retaliation.
Anyway, thanks for reading this long, sensitive, wordy essay about how our names are signifiers of our identities.
It’s a real “Joseph” thing to write.
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7 Responses to My Name is Joseph
My name is Robert. People call me every combination of that name EXCEPT Robert. It’s very annoying.
I detest being called Pat. I don’t respond the people when they do it. If they are trying to get my attention with it, I tell them my name is Patrick. Once I realize they have been trying to say something to me for the last minute, I usually say something like “Please don’t call me Pat. I fucking hate that name and I won’t respond it.” Shitheads.
I don’t see why some people don’t get that you call someone by whatever name they wish to be called. Period. I have a friend named Elizabeth who goes by her full first name, not Liz or Beth or any of the other common nicknames. And I’ve always called her…Elizabeth. Because that’s what she wants to be called. It’s not that difficult.
Joseph, if I were you, I’d just politely correct people when they call you Joe, or else pretend you don’t hear them. If they don’t get the message, they’re not worth associating with. (Of course, I’m aware that in professional circles, this can be more difficult, as sometimes the need to eat overrides the need to let people know when they’re being idiots. In that case, you may just have to suck it up.)
” Yes, the one who has an Excel Spreadsheet to keep track of which Doctor Who DVDs he doesn’t yet own.”
This doesn’t sound right. No true Joseph would bother keeping an empty spreadsheet.
When I was five I simply quit writing or responding to my first name. The other five year olds had no problem with it. The teacher and other adults in my life had concerns. Today I don’t mean to not respond when someone uses my first name or shortens Ashley to Ash, I simply don’t recognize that they are speaking to me.
Joseph, I support you and salute you.
Your name is your name. Why don’t people get that?
It’s like James Bond — try calling him Jim. Doesn’t have the same effect, does it?
Names have power. Don’t let them take your power. Keep it for yourself.
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