The old saying that words can’t hurt is harmfully inaccurate.
Words have the power to heal or hinder, to build roads to the future or tear apart a nation.
Particularly in the naming of people, words are paramount.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that a name can tell you everything you need to know about a person – all wrapped up in a handful of syllables.
But the name identifies the person and to change it is a powerful, personal decision.
So what happens when people who barely know you make that decision for you?
That was the issue facing Redditor and Original Poster (OP) Ok-Kaleidoscope1849 when she came to the “Am I the A**hole” (AITA) subReddit for some outside opinions.
“AITA for refusing to let my coworkers call me by a different name after someone with the same name died?”
OP started with the setup.
“I have a fairly common gender-neutral name. For the sake of this post, let’s say my name is Avery.”
“I recently started a new job.”
“The details of this job aren’t important to understand the issue, I don’t think.”
She then got immediately to the problem at hand.
“Everyone was acting all weird about my name, and at first I wasn’t sure why, but then I found out that it was because someone else named Avery had recently died.”
“Avery was well liked among my coworkers. He was always really nice to everyone and made a huge positive impact in the company.”
“I don’t know the exact details of his death, but everyone’s still grieving for him. I obviously don’t blame them for grieving. He seemed like a great person and I wish I met him.”
“The issue started when a couple coworkers began to call me by a different name.”
“It was somewhat similar to my name. Let’s say they were calling me Ava.”
“I corrected them, telling them my name was Avery, and they got visibly upset.”
“They told me that since I had the same name as their late coworker, they would be calling me a different name.”
“But I don’t want to be called Ava, and I told them that. They began to suggest different names I could go by, but I told them no. I like my name, and I want to go by it.”
“They got mad at me, telling me that my name reminded them too much of their late coworker, but I’m nothing like him.”
“I act different, I look different, and I’m a different gender.”
“I’m not even in what used to be his position. All we have in common is our name.”
“They told me I was being selfish and insensitive.”
“They told me since everyone was already calling me Ava (this was news to me) I should just suck it up and go by that name. I said no.”
“They called me selfish and insensitive and told everyone about this conversation. Now everyone is cold to me, even those who didn’t know Avery.”
OP was left to wonder.
“So… am I the a**hole? Should I have just sucked it up and used a different name?”
Having explained the situation, OP turned to Reddit for a ruling.
Redditors weighed in by declaring:
- NTA – Not The A**hole
- YTA – You’re The A**hole
- NAH – No A**holes Here
- ESH – Everyone Sucks Here
Redditors decided: NTA
Some were very direct in their ruling.
“Your coworkers don’t have the right to rename you.”
“You’ve politely requested that they call you by your actual name…if they do not comply and continue to create a hostile work environment, you can report them to HR.”
“I get that they are grieving but are they planning on renaming every ‘Avery’ that they meet for the rest of their lives?” ~ Key-Bit1208
“What the fuck?”
“It’s your name.”
“You’re not responsible for their grief. I had a twin sister who died 11 years ago and she has a fairly common name.”
“I never asked other people with that name to go by a different name for the sake of my comfort.” ~Elegant-Musician9763
Others pointed out how ridiculous the situation was.
“Dr. Kelso: In order to save us all some time, I will call all the males ‘Daves’ and all the females ‘Debbies’.”
” ‘Debbie is actually my name!’ “
“Dr. Kelso: Then out of fairness to the others, you will be ‘Slagathor’. Daves, Debbies, Slagathor, I will be in my office.”
“From Scrubs” ~ NerfRepellingBoobs
“This is the petty sh*t I would do.”
” ‘Hey Ava, can you do something for me real quick?’ “
” ‘Sure thing Gregory Sue Ceasar IV.’ “
” ‘My name is Lisa…’ “
” ‘You’re Gregory now. Be happy I blessed you with such a great lineage’ ” ~ NikeOlympus
There were personal stories.
“One of the managers at my job randomly asked me what my middle name was one day.”
“I told her, and she said that wouldn’t work either, so was there another name I’d be willing to go by.”
“When I asked what she meant, she explained that I was getting mixed up with a shift lead with my same name over the radio (there’s another shift lead with my middle name as his first name).”
“My suggestion, since my name is something like Rob and the shift lead’s is something like Robert, they should either refer to him as Robert or Bert if they want to distinguish.”
“I got a concussion shortly after that and have been out since (thanks worker’s comp for ghosting), but I’ll be curious what has come of this if I ever get to return.” ~ Trans_Autistic_Guy
“My wife has a very common name, and when she started working at my family’s business there was another girl who had the same first name as her.”
“We simply referred to my wife by her first and middle name, and the other woman by her first and last name (not sure if she had a middle name, my wife was used to going by both first and middle which is why she chose that instead).”
“I don’t see why OP’s bosses can’t just refer to the people with the same name as [First Name] [Last Initial], or even if they have the same last initial just the full name.”
“But it’s incredibly disrespectful to say ‘hey, it’s inconvenient to have two people with the same name here so we’re just going to call you by something else since it would be such a bother to have to include a last initial or something else.’ “
” ‘It’s honestly easier to just call you #2! Let’s go with that.’ “ ~ LawBird33101
Commenters urged OP to take the issue seriously.
“Hostile work environment absolutely has a specific legal meaning and a fairly high bar to meet.”
“But most workplaces have something like a Respectful Workplace Policy, and this kind of behavior is likely to be a violation of a fairly standard version of one of these.”
“OP should check into policies in their workplace, or check with HR, to see if something like this would apply to their situation.” ~ beneaththeseracs
Some suspected ulterior motives.
“Got to say this is odd.”
“I’ve worked at medium to large workplaces all my life and never experienced this kind of thing; I had co-workers that died or retired or left for other jobs that were adored, and then someone with the same first name was hired and no one had a mental block about it.”
“Some people may assume someone goes by a nickname instead of the full name (eg Bob instead of Robert) and tries that but is told ‘it’s Robert’ and that’s that.”
“OP frames it as a matter of the name being gender-neutral and somewhat uncommon, and maybe that’s pertinent, but I can’t see how that applies other than OP really likes his name (which is good and fine).”
“These people sound like a clan or family and for whatever reason I think they won’t let OP in the clan/family (is OP not ‘clan material’ or maybe OP’s personality rubs them the wrong way and everyone is using the name thing to annoy him?).”
“Unless OP is hard up for this job, maybe just get another job if these people won’t ‘adopt’ you into their clan/family.”
“The co-workers are AHs; it’s infantile to refuse to call a person by his/her preferred name, whether it’s from misplaced grief or something else.” ~ farsical111
Words are powerful.
Whether they are building an identity or destroying a wall, words have far more power than we often acknowledge.
Remember that a name is more than just some letters on a page, it is part of someone’s identity.
We have no more right to change another person’s name than we do to change their clothes – no matter how they feel about their name, it belongs to them and only they have the right to alter it.
Never put up with someone who invalidates your choices in such a depersonalizing way, and always remember to respect the identity of anyone you meet.