In first grade, I was given a nickname. It made me miserable.
The name on my birth certificate reads “Suzanne.” When I was a very young child, my parents called me Suzie. The first time they introduced me to one of their friends as Suzanne, I didn’t even know who they were talking about.
I made a big decision when I started first grade: I decided to enroll as Suzanne. I expected I’d be called by my given name, but teachers immediately asked if they could call me Susan or Sue. I kept on insisting on Suzanne. Why did they want to shorten my name when I liked it the way it was?
One of my classmates began calling me Susannah. “Old Susannah, don’t you cry,” they said. I’d liked the song “I came from Alabama with a banjo on my knee” when I’d sung it in nursery school, but now it sounded mean and ugly. My face turned pink. I was angry.
“Ole Susannah,” another bully started repeating, and laughter followed. My obvious discomfort delighted several of my classmates.
“Stop it,” I said. “That’s not my name. It’s Suzanne, not Susannah.” They laughed again. The nickname stuck.
The insistence by a number of teachers, all the way through high school, to try and shorten my name to something else—rather than accept what was written in front of them—was infuriating. The problem was only solved when I adopted my middle name—Nadja—and left “Suzanne” behind midway through my freshman year in college.
• • •
Names are personal. If you’ve ever worked in sales, you know how important it is to call someone by their correct name. You are demonstrating respect.
Joe Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris challenging Mr. Trump in the general election don’t have that luxury They’ve been labeled with names that include Sleepy Joe Biden, China Joe and Nasty Pamela Kamala and Phony Kamala. Other democratic challengers were given the nicknames: Pocahontas Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar Snowman (woman) and Crazy Bernie Sanders. In the 2016, Republican primary, candidates were subjected to names, too: Lyin’ Ted, Low Energy Jeb, and Little Marco. The Democratic nominee? Crooked Hillary.
This list gets me back to the memory of those classroom bullies. It’s easy to make fun of other people at their expense. We do it to children all the time: give them nicknames and think it’s cute. Children do it all the time: they get an immediate reaction. Maybe the person they target challenges their behavior. “What did you just call me?” they demand. Drama ensues; school just got a little more exciting; but does that behavior belong in politics?
In the classroom, I was stubborn. I didn’t answer to the name “Susannah,” “Susan,” “Sue,” or even “Suzie.” I learned not to react to the classmates that sang me their versions of Steven Foster’s “Ole Susannah.” Teachers eventually figured it out; the singing eventually stopped.
So far, I haven’t been plagued with another nickname. Politicians, however, don’t always have the luxury of ignoring their bullies.
This essay (a slightly different version) previously was published July 4, 2019 on the website www.Storynews.net.
Postscript: It is week # 26 since the onslaught of the Coronavirus Pandemic and I began the current thread of entries on March 18th lamenting the cancellation of my Daughter’s Wedding Celebration with family and friends at our house here in Annapolis, Maryland.
Yesterday, my husband and I posted the video of Alex’s elopement on Facebook. A gorgeous tribute to their love and resilience. They are living in the midst of burning fires in California. These are times that truly test the human spirit. Each day is a gift and I remind myself on those early morning walks observing the world around me, not to waste a moment. There’s still time to become a better version of ourselves.