When I was born my parents, who were by now naming their fifth kid and may have been out of ideas, opted to name me after my grandmother. My grandma, bless her oatmeal-raisin-cookie-baking heart, was awesome, but her given legal name was Bessie.
In that age, no priest was going to baptize anyone Bessie and so my given, legal name was logically determined to be Elizabeth, and I was promptly tagged with the nickname Bess.
I really hated that nickname growing up. When you’re a chunky red-haired girl it’s excruciating when you realize that every cow in every book you read in class is named Bess. No one ever hears it right, it’s old-fashioned, and it wasn’t cool. I spent more time than was healthy really wishing grandma’s name had been Jenny. Or even Debbie.
Coolness factor aside, it’s a logistics problem: no one ever hears Bess correctly and so everyone starts calling me Beth, which is a lovely name but it describes someone who is not me. (After the 23rd reading of “Little Women” I had decided that someone named Beth is someone who is calm and quiet and kind; put another way, the antithesis of me).
So now I introduce myself as Elizabeth, which has worked like a charm: no one ever misunderstands Elizabeth. However, a disturbing number of people hear it and spontaneously decide they can now call me Liz. And while Liz is a lovely name and I have known many wonderful Lizzes it is most emphatically not my name.
While I’m not crazy about being called Liz, I don’t go nuts when it slips in. For a real can of cashews, you’ll need to check out one Elizabeth Becton, former congressional office manager and the patron saint of “Don’t Call Me Liz.” We say “former” because Elizabeth used a series of 19 escalatingly-insane and excruciatingly public emails to tee off on a hapless colleague who accidentally nicknamed her the offending “Liz” one evening.
Becton countered no fewer than six flustered apologies with innumerable threats about how all heck was going to rain down on anyone who used the “L” word around her. The emails endure five years later as a testimony to the dangers of Random Unapproved Nicknaming. Don’t let RUN happen to you.
When RUN does happen ya gotta stamp this stuff out like the nascent forest fire it is, especially at work or you’ll wind up being called something that makes you cringe for the rest of your career. Instead of pulling a Becton, my approach is get to the Lizzer (he who calls me “Liz;” I am the Lizzee) and inform them that my closest friends and family call me Bess, and to please consider themselves a member of that select group.
This usually works. The Lizzer either goes back to using Elizabeth or becomes a Besser, which is perfectly acceptable; while I persist in being a relatively chunky redhead, all the cows in Big Dairy have serial numbers for names now.
So, to sum up: you can call me Elizabeth, or you can call me Bess, or you can, if you have consumed three too many tequilas and I owe you money you can call me Bessie, but please don’t ever, ever, EVER call me Liz.
• Ahwatukee Foothills resident Elizabeth Evans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.