My name, my full name, is Jessie Bishop Powell. But I get a lot of mail for the following people who don’t exist:
Mrs. Scott Merriman.
Mr. And Mrs. Scott Merriman
Dr. and Mrs. Scott Merriman
Well, Dr. Merriman exists. That’s Scott. But that other person is a figment. My first name is not Mrs. My last name is not Merriman. And no, it is not acceptable to hold onto a titular formula from an earlier era when women’s identities were subsumed beneath their husbands’.
I also get mail for the following people who, while they exist, piss me off:
Mrs. Jessie Powell
Again. My first name is not Mrs. And as a title? Scott didn’t have to change his title to get married. Why the fuck do I have to? If you must reduce me to a title, then make it Ms. But frankly, I’d be happier if you called me Jessie. This has been an issue since six minutes after we said our vows.
My students struggle with this. I’ve given up and let them call me Professor, though I emphasize my preference for my first name. I haven’t got a Ph.D. The title is only sort of accurate. But they otherwise heap millions of other titles on my head, and that’s worse.
Scott only faces a little bit of this problem. He does have a Ph.D. and prefers to be called Dr. Merriman, but every semester has a few students who can’t seem to do it. But he is surrounded by people who validate his identity as Dr. Merriman. People can’t seem to pronounce Merriman and turn it into the same thing as the dictionary. But if you correct them they fucking apologize and at least try to get it right. They don’t think it’s okay to keep screwing it up.
He always got it about my name. There was never a dumbass machismo moment when he decided it was something of a sacrifice for him to surrender me to my own name. And I never had a problem with using only his when we named the kids. For the record, if I could have chosen my name, Merriman would have been very fucking cool. But I have a tremendous amount emotionally invested in my identity. I’m Jessie Bishop Powell. Besides Merriman, the only name I would ever want is Bradshaw, my mother’s maiden name, because my grandfather meant a tremendous amount to me. And if I ever did change my name, it would be to tack Merriman on as a title. Not a hyphenation.
You want to give me a title I’ll answer to? Make me Jessie Bishop Powell, Merriman.
I don’t do it because it would immediately be hyphenated, few would get the point, some of those who did get it would trivialize it (just like they do my very real heartbreak at being reduced to Mrs. Anything), and fewer still would realize that it was me reminding the world that the court jester was not just funny. Typically, the court jester also was the only one who could speak the truth when nobody was listening.
I got yet another piece of mail today for Mrs. Scott Merriman. I attended yet another class for Mrs. Powell. And it’s midnight, and I’m crying, and I can’t sleep, because I feel so damned alone in this town.
The mail was from someone who interacted only with me. Never Scott. Who has e-mailed several times with me and seen my signature every one.
The class was at a place where my first name is completely rejected, where children’s names are learned carefully and with precision, but where I have been told I must use a title and my last name because I’m an adult, as if adults should have less not more invested in what they want to be called. They haven’t figured out that Scott is a Dr., or I’m sure they’d be all over tacking it right on there, because they equate titles with respect.
If you know me at all, you know that I hate formality, and I hate being reduced to a title. I find them dehumanizing. Why is it okay to want a title but not okay to not want one? Why do I have to explain my motives? My college didn’t have professors who stood on ceremony. They were on a first name basis with their students, and that fucking mattered. It increased my respect for them, not the other way around.
A lot of people think it’s a joke. They think I’m kidding. And when they figure out I’m deadly serious, they tell me to chill out. They think it doesn’t matter. They think that it’s a small thing, and they don’t understand why I get so upset.
People who ought to know better can’t see that I’m being dehumanized. They hear my hurt but focus on other things instead, completely invalidating my emotions. They hurt my feelings unintentionally and still don’t understand why I’m so upset. The only other people who understand this are other women in exactly the same position, but many of them like to use their correct last name with a title. I do not.
There are lots of Mrs. And Ms. Powells out there. There are fucktons of Mrs. Merrimans. There is only one Jessie Bishop Powell, and that’s the best thing about my name. The best thing in the world is that it’s completely unique. I’m like fucking Tigger over here, people. Google it in quotation marks and you’ll only get me. And that’s not conceit, it’s a claim to identity.
Do I want those around me to address me by my full name? Shit, no. Too formal.
But I like Jessie. There’s nothing wrong with calling me Jessie. And I wish people would start respecting it.