A few months ago, I made a list of 36 excellent and useful fake names. I wrote them while doing laundry at my parents’ house, on the type of notepads that charities send out to guilt people into donating money, and found them again today, crumpled in the bottom of my backpack.
Given the rise of silly internet games with the pandemic going on, I thought this would be a good time to post them. Possibly because my brain is broken, I laugh uncontrollably every time I read the full list. My partner, on the other hand, hates them with surprising vehemence, even though they’re totally normal and definitely don’t sound like fake American baseball player names from a 1980s Japanese video game.
Anyway, get out a d12 or a random number generator, pick a list, and find yourself a very respectable alter ego.
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.