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Propriety!

Every time I encounter a situation where people overstep a boundary, I hear Judy in this movie vanishing on the down escalator. I hear the Oxford dictionary definition of the word propriety and the indignant tone that people should know what propriety means. We live in an age when people capture our email addresses from the blast email Xmas letter Uncle George sends to everyone in his email address book. Then suddenly we are receiving updates on Kitten Hidden Camera from George’s next door neighbor Maxine. Then, because they have your email address and can bypass the spam filters, you start getting solicitations for the Vitamin Door-To-Door salesman who only knows you are on George’s Christmas card list. And this vitamin salesman, in all his salesman finery, thinks that by treating you as a familiar, he has a better chance of selling you the Deluxe Anti-Aging Mega pack. He calls you Liz or Betty. Now, when your Christian name is Elizabeth, people like to take license. They assume you couldn’t possibly “go by” your proper name all the time. They shorten it. Except, it is a sure fire way to declare you don’t know me at all and have never really met me.

No one calls me Elizabeth. Unless I am in trouble. It is a hollered name, shouted in rebuke or accusation: “E -li – Za -Beth!!!!!!” And I knew before the 4th syllable was enunciated that I was done for. Elizabeth is the name spoken in a microphone announcing my graduation. It is on my diplomas and my labcoats. I sign it on prescriptions and checks. It is the name on my birth certificate, my social security card, marriage license, my kids’ birth certificates and my divorce decree. It is not who I am. And when people pretend or feign knowing me, my name is their tell. They call and ask for Liz or Beth or Liza. My kids and my staff knows immediately the caller is a poseur. A phony.

People who know me call me Lisa. It’s a nickname. It’s not legal. It doesn’t appear on any documents. Even in my high school year book, my name appears as Elizabeth. These decades later, people look for “Lisa” having never known my real name was Elizabeth. But no one gets to Lisa unless they have met me. No one knows to jump from Elizabeth to Lisa unless I have said, “Call me Lisa, please.” And this hidden identity is a main reason I wanted names for my children that couldn’t be concealed or familiarized or abbreviated. No Timmy-Tommy-Billy-Bobby or Suzy-Tammy-Jenny-Kathy. And my sisters kids are the same way. We are Sarah, Matthew, Samuel, Thomas, Jessica, Michael, Cameron and Evan. Only one girl in the bunch got an in house nickname, Becky. And we called Cameron Cam-Cam and Evan gets the EvieBoy. My mom calls Matthew Bud and Michael Scooter. But as far as I know, their friends call them by their full names.

A name is a serious thing. A name is how you cloak yourself for the world. It is sometimes effective to have a public persona and a private name, like Mr. Roger’s sweater that you put on once you are home and out of the world. But, when someone in the World uses your private name without permission…I hear Judy Maxwell, “Propriety!…….Etiquette!”

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