Sunday 22 November 2009

There’s more to a name than signing a book

The publication of my first book, Bathtime Rap, in 2008 presented me with a dilemma. People kept asking me to sign their copies, but what to put? How to sign? Should I end with a flourish of wavy lines, like Queen Elizabeth? Should I sign my first name only, like Madonna? I thought of all the times I had asked authors to sign books for me. They had calmly written a well-rehearsed message followed by a well-rehearsed signature. How difficult can it be?

I find anything to do with names difficult. I’m hopeless when it come to remembering other people’s names. I know the theory. You’re supposed to see their name written on their forehead and you must use it at least three times as soon as you’ve been introduced. Impossible. Even when I think I’ve got someone’s name right I’ll do anything to avoid using it in case I make a mistake, not good practice for a teacher, and it might even have contributed to the high levels of stress that finally convinced me to leave the profession.

Names are a constant source of confusion and concern for me, even my own name. My mother has always called me Rosalind but my friends call me Ros. I try to be Rosalind at work and Ros at home but that causes confusion. As a teacher I was often called Miss which I hated and sometimes even Sir which was worse. I once worked at a school where the students called the teachers by their first names. For me it didn’t work. It changed the dynamics. The teachers were no longer held in such high esteem. Names are more than just titles. They give us our social identity, but they also give us something more. I can never hear the name Luke without remembering the ‘very naughty boy’ I taught in a Year 6 class. Sorry to all the really nice Lukes out there. I guess I’m the one with the problem.

It’s one thing having name problems at work but it’s far more embarrassing when it happens at home. About ten years ago my sister moved to another part of the country. At the same time she started to use her middle name, Rifka. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t refer to my sister as Rifka. When I visit her, all her friends, who have only ever known her as Rifka, must think I’m crazy. As a loving sister it’s the least I can do to avoid confusion but the word won’t come out of my mouth. The closest I’ve got is to say to Josh, the dog, ‘Take your ball to Auntie Rifka,’ (yes, of course he knows what that means!) We’ve now reached a compromise. I call her big sis and she calls me little sis. Problem solved.

But now I have a bigger name problem, my husband’s. I call him Rod. Everyone calls him Rod, except his doctor. On his birth certificate Rod is his middle name and it’s the same on his medical records. Because of his ongoing illness Rod has to make regular hospital visits but I don’t know the man who is being called out in the clinic and the consultants are talking about a stranger. Again I have reached a compromise. I have become regal. I refer to ‘my husband and I’. It would be so much easier if he could just tell them that he’s called Rod but he says it doesn’t bother him. If only I could be that easy going.

So what would you like to call me, Rosalind, Ros, Mrs Adam, and why does it matter anyway?