Out in the world are others who have experienced the same social annoyances I have, like being asked if I’m sure I don’t want any dessert or being told to smile. The great proliferation of internet blogs almost universally ensures that I can find those people, learn from them, and feel less alone. I can realize why something bothered me, see how someone else solved it, or see how they chose to accept it. But there’s one social problem I’ve never seen anyone else write about.
What do you do when you’re a Kristin who goes by Kris, and others revert your name to Kristin the instant you find yourself in a grouping with a Christopher who goes by the phonetically identical Chris, supposedly to avoid confusion? What do you do when others refuse to use your chosen name the instant someone who ranks higher in the patriarchy shows up?
As a child, I signed all my drawings KRIS, written in capital letters that took up the entire back of the paper. I knew Kris was my name before I knew Kristin was. One day, at either daycare or Sunday school, I drew my picture, flipped it over, and wrote KRIS in my enormous, wavering crayon lines. When I took it home at the end of the day, I noticed the teacher had written “Kristin” in the upper right corner, in tiny, ballpoint penmanship.
Kristin is my full name. Kris is my name. But after that, I knew to go by Kristin at school.
Fifth grade was a year that even now, I remember being one of the best in my life. I had lived an entire decade, made it to the top of the school, and collected enough Lisa Frank stickers to trade with my best friends, who were all in the same class as me that year. High on the power of a ten-year-old, I took a bold stand: I wrote “Kris” at the top of a worksheet. Then I did it again. I didn’t stop.
I asked the friends who didn’t already call me Kris if they could do so.
One of them told me, “I can’t call you Kris. It’s a boy’s name.”
This, of course, is not actually true. It’s not even uncommon for Christines, Christinas, and Kristins* to go by Chris/Kris, although I didn’t meet any others until I was an adult. My grandmother and my aunt, both named Crystal, went by Crys at times. Since I called them “Grandma” and “Aunt Crystal,” the fact that they had the same name as me didn’t sink in until later. So when my friend said Kris was a boy’s name, it felt true.
My name was short and boyish, and I wasn’t supposed to use it. I was like Nancy Drew’s friend George. And we all know that George is the awesome friend because no one remembers the other one.
I was Kris.
I’ve wondered how no one else on this internet has this problem, or at least how no one has written about it. Or if they have written about it, why it’s been so hard for me to find.
There are several conditions that must be in place for the Kris problem to occur. You need:
A female first name with
a gender-neutral nickname, which
is actually used by males as well, and
is common enough that males and females (and those of varying gender identities) will encounter each other.
Which is to say, I thought that loads of people must have experienced this, but it may not be a common problem at all. Most other Kristins I’ve met go by Kristin. Who else has this problem? Jessicas who go by Jess? Danielles who go by Dan? Samanthas who go by Sam? I’ve only known one female Dan and one male Sam. But I’ve known loads of Chrises.
Here’s a scenario I’ve experienced repeatedly in group settings: “I’m Josh.” “I’m Ashley.” “I’m Chris.” “I’m Kris too.” “Uh-oh, there’s another Kris.”
At this point, the meddling Josh or Ashley will propose a solution before a problem even comes up: “Well, you can just go by Kristin.” I don’t know why it falls to the Meddling Ashley to do this, but that’s the pattern. It’s never the other Chris.
This has happened at school, at more than one job, at family gatherings, and with friends. It’s happened even when my presence in a group predates the other Chris. Wherever there are Chrises, this has happened to me. The irony isn’t lost on me: I kept my name when I got married, but I’m constantly giving up my name.
Aside from my partner, no one is really aware that this happens. It’s a textbook example of a micro-aggression.
And aside from my boldness in fifth grade, it took me years to get to the point at which I decided to casually, if the moment was right, ask for people to call me Kris after they had already been calling me Kristin for quite some time.
I’m introverted and non-confrontational, so even something like “Hey, can you call me Kris? I’d really prefer it.” felt like a huge stand.
But my own personal, inner victory, the fact that I had asked at all, has most often been swept away by the responses I get. The typical response is for my request to be ignored.
Second place goes to: “Oh, but I’m so used to calling you Kristin.”
I don’t hate the name Kristin. Sometimes, in a particular mood, or when I’m at the DMV, it’s how I refer to myself. My parents call me by both names.
But the more I’m called Kristin after requesting Kris, the more the name irritates me. That’s because it’s not about the name itself; it’s about the blatant disregard, sometimes after repeated requests, that this is not what I want to be called. It’s someone talking to me while looking into another’s eyes. It’s being smeared like so much dry erase marker across a board.
That’s a Chris problem, Kris.
It’s much rarer for anyone to put in the effort to change what they had been calling me. But when someone does make the effort, even if I’m still Kristin about half the time, the feeling of being smeared disappears, replaced by the warmth and knowledge that I have been seen and heard.
When I worked occasional Thursday mornings at my old security job, I would come in as the sun rose. An hour later, a short, slim woman with sharp eyebrows would come in to help patients. A former librarian, she stored baggies of peanut butter sandwiches in her glove compartment the way others do granola bars.
Her name was Chris.
A few hours after that, another woman would come in. She was also small, with glasses and bobbed hair, and a sort of jovial matter-of-factness about her.
Her name? Also Chris. Now there were three of us.
We compared root names: two Christines and a Kristin. No one said, “Maybe you should go by Kristin,” or “You should go by Christine.” We made cheesy jokes about being a club, and laughed when someone said “Chris,” and three people turned around.
Never, in any situation with multiple female Krises and Chrises, has a Meddling Josh proposed that someone stop going by Kris.
We simply deal with any small confusions that arise because they aren’t actually a big deal.
I’ve observed in groups with two males of the same name that it isn’t an issue there either. Everyone gets used to Mike and Mike, or adds extra information to the contentious name. Then you have John One and John Two, Big Steve and Little Steve, Alex K. And Alex F., or Proper Dave and Medium Dave in Terry Pratchett’s The Hogfather. It’s possible that John Two, Little Steve, and Alex F. have some simmering resentment over their names. But I’d rather be Kris Two, Little Kris, or Kris F. because that would mean someone listened to me. Even though my last initial isn’t F.
Here are some measures I’ve learned to take:
Introduce myself as Kris. Not even, “Hi, I’m Kristin. I go by Kris.” People who don’t know the name Kristin don’t call me by it.
Have my partner be a spotter, pointedly refer to me as Kris, and correct people.
Don’t assume that anything is a big enough hint. Don’t assume that using my preferred name online is a big enough hint. When I finally joined Facebook, I thought that using the handle “Kris Bowser” would be a hint. I thought that owning krisbowser.com would be a hint. But I’m sensitive to this, and apparently, it’s not a big enough hint.
Don’t even assume that setting your chosen name in 64-point Garamond on your wedding invitations–normally a full name kind of space–will be a big enough hint.
But I’ve learned to turn those outwards too:
Pay attention. Call people by the name they introduce themselves as.
Take a hint. Don’t assume that someone is typing their name a certain way for no real reason–assume it was a choice.
If someone asks to be called another name, give it a shot. Try. Don’t say I’m too used to the first name, as if I’ve never had to adapt to something in your life before.
Don’t assume a name is someone’s preference just because I hear others using it. Ask.
And don’t assume it’s not a big deal. You don’t know how strongly someone else holds their name preference, what it signifies, or how it empowers them.
I will never, never understand cake mix. Since cake has no nutritional value, its only function is to taste good. But if you make it from a mix, you end up with something more akin to aerated ceiling plaster with a hint of propylene glycol. Since it doesn’t taste good, it has no purpose.
It is a white-frosted cake edged with ripples and poofs of day-glo aqua created from an unfathomable amount of food dye. “Happy Birthday” is written in perfect school teacher penmanship, in some sort of color-coordinated bright shade that would make the 80s proud. And of course, there are handfuls of thick, round sprinkles, in case you needed to be bludgeoned over the head with the overall message: this is a festive fucking occasion.
I don’t want any cake.
Yes, I am sure, thank you. I don’t need to reexamine this decision.
It’s not about the cake. It’s not about the calories or sugar, or even the wheat, which I don’t digest well. It’s about you questioning my decision, which is among the most inconsequential decisions I will make in my life. Maybe I’m not actually sure? Maybe I haven’t thought it through enough? Maybe I should text a friend and see what they think.
Although it’s not limited to women, a lot of women are socialized to ask this, and in name of being a good host, to push food in general. I wasn’t socialized this way, and it’s not my personality either. I’m way on the other end of the spectrum: I forget to introduce people properly, and to offer them water or stale gluten-free granola bars until they’ve been over for hours.
But asking “are you sure you don’t want any?” isn’t hospitality; the dish has clearly already been offered at least once. That was hospitality. “Are you sure?” is pushiness disguised in a hideous leisure suit of unwanted fruit salad.
And yes, I see that you are putting the pile-of-pudding-and-Cool-Whip-thing in the fridge where it will be inaccessible for all time. Since I didn’t want any before, its sudden inavailability is a moot point.
On a similar note: yes, I’m sure I don’t want a seat. I drove to get here; I’ve already been sitting. “Are you sure?” is definitely not limited to one thing, which is why I didn’t add cake, alcohol, or children to the post title.
Don’t even try to turn something down if your weight is anywhere in the same solar system as skinny. At the lower end of my general weight range, it’s not enough for cake-pushers to ask, “Are you sure you don’t want any?” at minute-and-a-half intervals. At the lower end, they also add, “But you’re so skinny.”
The wise ass part of my brain would always think, “Yeah, I’m skinny because I’m not eating the cake.”
“Skinny” is an adjective that gets thrown at women below a certain weight, whether or not it’s an accurate term. You should eat the cake because you’re skinny. I’m not skinny, and in fact, have a fair amount of muscle. But that doesn’t matter either. Skinny people can turn down cake too.
And I still don’t want the cake.
If I say, “Next week I’m going to hop a train with nothing but a backpack, a notebook, and a toothbrush,” you should probably ask if I’m sure. You could say that it sounds like quite an adventure, but am I sure? Have I considered that the day-to-day of this might not be as romantic as it sounds, and that water is heavy but also necessary, and oh hey, that I have a kid?
If I say, “Tomorrow I’m going to go get a face tattoo so I can emulate my favorite Star Trek character, Chakotay,” you should question this too. Feel free to ask if Chakotay really is my favorite character, really, and if a face tattoo is the best way to pay him homage, and even if it is, is there the tiniest chance that a face tattoo will negatively impact a lot of the rest of my life?
If I say, “I am going to get a mountain lion as a pet,” you should absolutely feel free to ask if I’m sure, and to point out that I’m not big on cats, and that some aspects of this plan might need a little work, even if, technically, the lease allows us to have a cat.
But it’s not a major life decision or a ridiculous plan. It’s a pan of brownies. The top is shiny and crackly in the way that brownies from a mix usually are. Some of them have been mounded up on a paper plate in a heap that is several steps shy of decorative. Which doesn’t make them bad, but I don’t want any. Even if you don’t want to bring home most of a pan of brownies because you will be tempted to eat them all, and you didn’t substitute the applesauce for canola oil like Weight Watchers said, dammit, I don’t want them.
I am sure.
I am still sure, even though you asked again. The brownies are not my problem.
There is a certain view that if we just sit back and stop worrying, the universe will take care of it. But there’s more than one meaning of “take care of it.” Sometimes, “take care of it” is what the villain says upon learning that the hero, or one of the hero’s plucky associates, is alive and well and making trouble. Turning to Henchman Number One, the villain says, “Take care of it.” And you know that the Henchman off to murder/ ambush/ kidnap/ maim someone.
Let it not be said that the universe doesn’t look out for us, for surely it does. Sometimes like a benevolent guide, sometimes like a sadistic yet curious mad scientist.
Sometimes, that’s how the universe is too. Here’s a real life example:
Me: So I was thinking that I’d leave for work early and stop to get that computer mouse.
Universe: That’s one idea. But, ooh, how about instead the heat and hot water at your apartment stop working? And you can make a phone call about that.
Me: I hate phone calls.
Universe: Would it be better if a glass shattered on the floor right before you have to make the phone call?
Me: No, not really.
Universe: Ah, well, too late. No big deal, right?
Me: No, I suppose not. The glass broke in large pieces.
Universe: Right! Look at you, taking care of stuff like a champ.
Me: Yeah! I even still have time for lunch.
Universe: You know you have to clear off your car, right?
Me: Fine, no time for lunch. At least I have time to eat in the car.
Universe: No, now there’s blood. You have to take care of this.
Me: Blood? Where the hell is it coming from?
Universe: Your finger.
Me: Fine, I’ll put on a band-aid.
Universe: No, you can’t reach those.
Me: Well, then I’ll awkwardly wrap my finger in a napkin that I can kind of reach.
Universe: There you go. Now you can have lunch.
Me: No, I can’t. My finger is awkwardly wrapped in a napkin.
Universe: If you drive fast, you’ll have time to eat a few bites of sandwich before you walk into the building.
Me: That actually worked. You know, I’m not even in a bad mood. Despite all this.
Universe: Ok, that’s great! Now, how about you meet the person who was hired for that job you asked about all those months ago, but you didn’t follow up on it because you’re a big wimp and now you’re stuck making $10 an hour with the least flexible job in the world?
Universe: Good job. Now, how about that bad mood you mentioned earlier?
What if you’re writing a book for children, but you want a character to swear profusely?
In my upcoming middle grade chapter book, Pumpkin Goblins, I have a goblin character fond of “swearing.” Like so:
“Right, right.” Hobkit clapped him on the shoulder. “I’ll join you. Could use a break from all this chaos and malarkey, batdarnit.”
Hobkit has a bigger role in the revision than he did in the rough draft, and the more he speaks, the more time I spend trying to think up creative new phrases…
“Dagnabbit. Of all the bat-plagued, magic-cursed rotten timing!”
Pumpkin, pumpkin, pumpkin.
…because using “bat” and “pumpkin” repeatedly was getting tiring. I wanted to come up with a bunch of options at once. So, inspired by The Terribleminds Profanity Generator, I made my own word lists to generate Halloweeny, child-safe invectives. Actually, I drew a lot of my own words from his lists, but I needed a certain number of Halloween words thrown in there also.
So get out your d20 (or your Online Dice Roller, for those that don’t have twenty-sided dice on them at the moment) and join me in some long-form, clean profanity. Which can be easily dirtied!
Noun list one:
Noun list two:
Using the formula (Noun list 1) + (Verb, -ing), (Noun list 2) + (Verb, -ed) I got:
Elf plaguing, twig-smacked
Turnip gumming, jelly-haunted
My goblin character tends to curse in adjective form, already having specific things in mind to rant about. Things like other goblins, wizards, elves, and pumpkin cars.
“You turnip gumming, jelly-haunted wizard! Are you trying to destroy Halloween?”
I could also do something like:
(Noun from either list) + (Verb, -ed) – ed
To create the compound expletive wizardspackle.
“Wizardspackle! Are you trying to kill us all?”
On the one hand, I’ve now saved time on curse creation.
On the other hand, I’m now likely to waste revision time by doing this. Gourdrustle!