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What’s in a name? – our name(s) and our identity

One of the things I am most interested in – especially as an existentialist – is how we make sense of our identity and how we construct ‘meaning’ regarding various experiences in our life.

When I moved to the UK from Athens in 2001, I came as ‘Fevronia’…a rather unusual and ‘complex-to pronounce’ name, even in my own country; other than my grandmother who had this name, I have perhaps met only another handful of women sharing my name in my lifetime. Add the fact that my surname has 14 letters (Christodoulidi), you can imagine how much time it still takes me when I am asked to spell my name on the phone when I want to pay a bill or book a service or else. I love my full name (Fevronia Christodoulidi), but as soon as I found myself living abroad, I discovered that a. people cannot easily pronounce it, let alone spell it b. people cannot easily remember it and often called me something ‘else’ c. for those who do pay attention to names, it meant that I somehow ‘stood out’.

Over the years of my life in the UK, I became a ‘Fenia’ which is shorter and easier, and I gradually started adopting this ‘identity’. It was my brother who first came up with it and it has a nice ring to it so it was easier to introduce myself. However, I have often felt the ‘oppression’ of the English-speaking world when I have encountered an unspoken preference for short and easy-to-pronounce names, without an acknowledgement of the inherent ‘microaggression’ that comes with the fact that someone who does not feel confident to call me by my name, may refuse to address me all together. I am not sure why in the UK there is such emphasis on this, for example an Elizabeth becoming Liz, a Thomas becoming Tom, a Benjamin becoming Ben, a William becoming Billy and so on…a shorter name is perhaps easier to pronounce and remember but do we ever ask how someone actually wants to be called?

In my professional career as therapist and academic I have kept my big fat Greek name and surname in its fullness when it came to written text, for example when I created email signatures or when I published academic papers or went to present at conferences and was asked how I shall appear in the programme. But, it has been sadly several occasions when I was to be announced to offer a lecture or a keynote address and the person with the mike would stumble or ask me to introduce myself. There is no need to feel embarrassed when you struggle with how to pronounce somebody’s name! You can simply ask: “I would love to pronounce your name but feel unsure how, can you help me by telling me how it would sound if I said it correctly?”

When the time came to build this website, I faced yet another conundrum with regards to my domain name and logo. A long and complicated name is not considered ‘suitable’ or ‘marketable’ for a domain name. I did not want to call my website something more abstract either, such as ‘fenugreek- counselling’ (‘fenugreek = Fenia-the-Greek) as a dear colleague humorously suggested. I am my brand and I wanted to use my name…what version though, in order to meet the unspoken internet preferences? Another dimension is my PhD qualification and my Dr. initial that comes before my name since I completed my doctoral studies in 2010. I am a very down to earth person and often felt uncomfortable or sad when I noticed someone expressing some hint of perhaps being intimidated by my doctoral title. For me, I am just me, and any titles just evidence my educations and professional achievements, but they are not to get ‘in the way’ of relational dynamics, I would hope. When I spoke to colleagues or supervisors about it, the answer was along the lines of “Well, you have tried so hard for this PhD, you may as well use the title!”.

Coming to a decision about how to name this website involved accepting all aspects of my identity. So, I came up with Dr Fenia to honour all parts and facilitate the fact that in the virtual world, something shorter and memorable fits better. But you are welcome to call me Fenia or Fevronia, it all lands as ‘me’.

What is/are your name(s) and how do you prefer to be called? What is the story around your name and how this was chosen? I would love to hear about it and explore its meaning together. And, I will always ask you how you prefer to be called 😊

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