It just happened one day.
It was last year, in the backroom of the English lab. Hero was leaning against the counter. I was probably sitting on the linoleum. And she said it, “What’s up, Kat?” like someone fired Adam and made her name-r of all creatures (or at least me).
I was a little surprised. I certainly couldn’t remember her doing it before. But the sound and the act of Hero saying it had a strangely familiar quality, as if some invisible, parallel world where she’d always said it had been looming around the mid-section of the room for the whole semester, leaving its mark only in the slow, silent normalization of this sound to my ears. So that by the time it came out of her mouth, my brain had acclimated to its cadence, one-syllable count, and, most uniquely, its association to me.
Maybe that’s why I let her do it.
If anyone else called me Kat, it wouldn’t feel right. If the Anarchist did it, it would sound odd, partially because he has a close friend by the same name. If my parents started calling me Kat, I’d ask them why, and to please stop.
Maybe a clergy-person could get away with it, although I can think of a few who definitely couldn’t.
I tried calling my brother “Enrique” a few times back in high school, and it made him furious – not because there’s anything wrong with the name, but because it’s simply not his name. For whatever reason, where I failed, Hero succeeded – and succeeds – brilliantly.
To be able to give someone or something a name can imply that the name-r has a sort of intimate authority in the life of the object. Pet-owners name their pets. Parents name their children. Friends give nicknames to their friends. Car-owners assign names to their automobiles. Bullies abuse the privilege and give people names for the wrong reasons.
Hero was not – and is not – a bully, nor is she a significant other, close friend, or parent. At the time, she sat two seats down from me in tutor-training class, and had done nothing to earn such a place of authority in my life.
She just took it.
And for whatever reason, that was okay.
What would truly be disconcerting is if one day, she walked into the backroom of the English lab and called me Kathryn.
What’s your experience with nicknames? Giving? Getting?