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Careful What You Call This Woman, Hon

<i> Jones is an assistant features editor for the Baltimore Sun. </i>

What’s in a name?

Your whole identity, probably. Even if your name is as common as Jim Smith, it is the single most important thing that you and everybody else uses to separate you from everybody else.

It is on your mail, your credit cards, your paycheck, your car registration. You hear it, perhaps too often, from your boss, your friends, your spouse, your mechanic and your banker. You say it whenever you call someone. (And anyone who doesn’t say “This is . . . " immediately after the person called says “hello” should have his or her phone disconnected.) If you’re like me, you answer your business phone by announcing your name. (This avoids the inevitable: “Hello?” “I’d like to speak to John.” “This is John.” What a time waster!)

Consequently, most of us prefer to be called by a certain name that we determine. People like the comedian who said, “You can call me Ray, or you can call me Jay, or you can call me Johnny . . . " are few and far between. For most of us, it’s Catherine, not Cathy. It’s Rob, not Bob. It’s Charlie, not Chuck. It’s Diana, Princess of Wales, not Princess Diana. (Trust me on that last one.)

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I am a fanatic about my name and how I am addressed. For example, because of my sexually ambiguous name, I get a lot of mail with the wrong gender courtesy title. If you don’t know what sex I am, you certainly have no business sending me mail.

Also, I hate it when people, apparently exhausted by the number of syllables in my first name, shorten it to “Kase.” Geez, Louise! Does it take that much more effort?

This is an especially touchy subject for me because the first name I have now is not the name my parents gave me at birth. Kasey Jones is my legal name, or my “real” name as some people so charmingly put it. I started asking to be called Kasey while I was still a child; most people complied, but there was always the awkwardness of having a not-logical nickname and having to give my “real” name to teachers, employers and creditors.

When I saw, on a legal document, my “real” name listed, and then my nickname listed under “aliases,” I knew I had to make a commitment to one name. So I changed my first name to Kasey by common law. (Don’t try this at home, kids!)

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You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t told you what my given name was. Hah! That (besides my weight) is my biggest secret. Why? Because if it became known, several people would start addressing me that way, under the guise of kidding me. Even my parents, who lovingly, if misguidedly picked the original name for me, have long since gotten used to my being Kasey, not (that name).

But my fanaticism mostly has to do with control. There are so few things we do have control over in modern life; one’s name and perhaps how one dresses are the only two things that immediately come to mind. I--and nobody else--decide what I am to be called.

Which brings me to my major complaint. It is the habit people, mostly men, have of addressing me, in a business situation, as “hon.” As in “I have a story idea for you, hon.” Or, “How can I get a copy of that photo, hon?” Or “Yeah, hon, I’ll fax that information right out to you.”

Call me old-fashioned; call me stuck-up; call me a (rhymes-with-witch). But I believe that in business situations some formality is required. (Especially if you want something from me.) I don’t understand how anyone who is talking to me for the first time feels that he has the right to address me as “hon.”

I can hear the howls now. No harm is meant, hon. I’m just being friendly, hon. That’s the way I was brought up, hon, and I’m too old to change. You’re too touchy, hon. The fact is that in business situations, I have heard men call women “hon,” women call women “hon” and women call men “hon,” but never have I heard one man call another man “hon.”

I feel that men who call me “hon” in business situations are of the isn’t-that-cute-a-girl-executive mind-set--simply because they would not call a man in the same position “hon.”

But I have gotten a lot of flak from my co-workers, male and female, because they have overheard me correct people when they call me hon. I usually say, “I’m not ‘hon.’ I’m Kasey Jones.” And in their defense, most people so corrected immediately apologize.

Perhaps my correction is too harsh. But when people call me Stacy or Tracy, I say virtually the same thing, “My name is Kasey,” and nobody accuses me of being rude or harsh or overly sensitive.

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Look, men, business is business. As hard as it may be for some of you to start thinking of businesswomen as equals, as much as it goes against your upbringing, knock it off.

And as for those who think that with all the problems in the world, being called “hon” is relatively minor, I agree, toots.


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