Thursday, April 11, 2013

Can I call you Katie? More tales from the conference

I was struck at a workshop for science students when one of the presenters asked for a volunteer from the audience. He asked her name, and when she replied, "Katherine," he asked if he could call her Katie.  I wondered if a male student had said, "James," he would have asked if he could call him Jimmy.  Given that two slides later he had a photograph of a student titled "James," perhaps not.


  1. Hmm... I've seen it happen to males too. I've also had it happen to me. I'm not very consistent in how I give my name, but I have had people ask if they can call me 'Joe' after I've identified myself as 'Joseph' - and some have simply presumed it was okay to call me 'Joe,' without even asking.

    However, one could argue that there is a subtle but important semantic distinction between 'Joe' and 'Joey,' or between 'Kate' and 'Katie,' and that opting for the more dimunitive form without proper leave to do so raises problems. I have some sympathy for that view, though I think the presenter should have simply stuck with 'Katherine' if that is how the person introduced herself. (I had a friend in law school who usually went by Katie but then decided in her third year that she wanted to be called 'Kate' instead, because she thought it sounded more professional than Katie, but she did not want to be 'Katherine' either, though that was her name.)

    I tried to avoid these issues altogether by addressing students in the classroom and in correspondence by their surnames, always preceded by 'Mr' or 'Ms.' Perhaps some would find that too formal, but I never received any complaints.

  2. how appalling.

    more formal is more friendly, since there's more respect to that than wanting to demote everyone falsely to buddy-level.

  3. If she'd wanted to be called Katie, she'd have told him her name was Katie. Sheesh.

  4. Agreed, MB.

    Some weeks ago, I introduced myself to a priest by shaking hands and saying, "Hello, I'm Robin Craig." "Hello, Robin; I'm Father B," he responded.

    I would have been fine with either, "Hello, Robin; I'm John Brown" or "Hello Ms. Craig, I'm Father B." (He would have had no reason to know that I'm a pastor.)

    But as it turned out, it was all I could do not to say, "In that case, I'm Rev. Craig."

    I read the combination of "May I call you . . " + diminutive as "I am so subconsciously troubled by a professional woman scientist that I need to treat her as a daughter rather than as a colleague." Sigh.

    1. So sad that it hasn't changed in the years I've been out of academic science. Have we really made no progress.

      As a Kathryn, this happens to me all the time. People want to call me Kathy or Katie. Mary Beth captured it above.

  5. Since I have spent most of my life explaining how Peggy is a nickname for Margaret, this is simple for me - call me anything, just don't call me late for dinner.

    How easily we can put someone in their place (or the place where we want them) with just a word, a turn of phrase. Somethings never change. I truly try to ignore some of this and cut to the chase. Some people never learn.


  6. Very nice of him to ask. People do it to Margaret all the time. Wayne is Wayne is Wayne