Tuesday, June 16, 2009


My name is NOT. CATHY.

My given name is Catherine, and my parents still call me that. Everyone else has called me Cath since I was 14. I don't dislike the name Cathy itself, I just really don't like it on me - I don't think it suits me at all. Plus I have two close friends and one sister-in-law called Cathy (or Kathy), and it's nice to be distinctive*.

This was never a problem in the UK, where Cath is a relatively common name. But here in Canada, people just can't seem to get their heads around it. If I introduce myself as Cath, the person invariably says "...Cathy?" in a confused voice. Cath just doesn't register as a name, even in writing; if I email a new contact and sign off with my preferred name, 9 times out of 10 the reply will read "Dear Cathy". Only one person has ever realised and apologised for this.

I don't know where these people are pulling the y from, but I know where they can stick it.

Now, I've always thought that (in person at least) I've corrected the Cathy people very politely, and with a smile, but the perception among one particular group of friends is that I aggressively jump down people's throats if they call me by the wrong name (Mr E Man assures me that I never actually have). So now, when a new acquaintance calls me Cathy, I can't even get one polite word in before at least two of my friends shout "OH NO! Don't call her that! She'll kill ya!"

These days I introduce myself as Catherine over the phone, and often in person too. Then I can just casually drop in a "most people call me Cath" at a convenient time if the relationship develops. But this tends to confuse the people who already know me, especially at work.

I'm sure this problem isn't unique to me - does anyone have any advice?!

*Undergrad roommates included Catherine, Cathy, and Kate. Then I lived with a Cathy in Glasgow, and (at different times) a Kat and a Katie in Vancouver. During undergrad, my parents would call and ask for Catherine, Catherine's parents called her Cathy, and Cathy's parents called her Cath. Our other four roomies dreaded having to answer the phone.


  1. Change your name to something simple. Like Bob.

  2. Will do, Rob

    Although you'd think 4 letters would be simple enough

  3. Well, I get all sorts of pronounciations of my name. It is so often misprounced I've given up, though I get a chorus of "its' keeeerrsten!" from my friends who decide they have to jump in and correct the persno for me. Meh. Doesn't matter to me.

    Really darn confusing though when I know a Kirsten who pronounces hers as Kyrsten, and we are both dating friends. Because our heads both swivel when someone says "keeerssten", we are known as KT and KJ. Kinda odd, really. It was the boys who came up with that as it was getting weird otherwise.

  4. Sorry to hear of your name troubles, Cath! In the States, "Cathy" is also far more common than "Cath." (Look, the spellcheck on my computer is flagging Cath but not Cathy!) I will admit that until you, I'd never met a Catharine who asked to be called Cath. So I understand why the Canadians are having trouble wrapping their heads around it...

  5. Yeah, Cath just isn't that common on this side of the pond. Though lots of people have uncommon names so that's really no excuse.

    In college my three roommates were Christin, Kristen, and Christy. Thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster that my real name does not even remotely resemble anything with a "Chris" sound in it.

  6. Kyrsten, you're the first person I've met with your spelling and pronunciation! I think I only got it wrong once or twice ;) And your friends correct other people for you too? Interesting...

    Bean-Mom, adding my name to the dictionary is the first thing I do on any new computer! It has a tendency to autocorrect to "chat" otherwise.

    "Cathy" is more common than "Cath" in the UK too, but "Cath" is more common there than it is here.

    AA, fun! Catherine is a very common name, but I often find clusters of less common names in a given workplace, e.g. Karina/Corinna in one place and 3 different Vals in another.

  7. I am constantly mispronouncing names, but I really do try to get it right. However, I only call you Cathy when I am teasing you (and I spell it in my mind as "Cath E" which makes it OK, right?).

    Of course, my name is always spelled incorrectly. Why do people spell it Dianne? I have never met anyone with that spelling!

  8. People constantly pronounce my name wrong, even though it's becoming quite popular these days. My favorite is when they put random letters into it that aren't there, creating a completely different name.

  9. Yeah ... maybe all those people are calling you Cath E. To differentiate from Cath B or Cath Z!!

    Seriously though, I don't really understand why this is so difficult for people. The most annoying is email. Like, when I sign an email Ruchi, I really hate it when I get an email response back that says, "Hi Ruchie."

    It's like ... my name is spelled RIGHT THERE in the BLOODY email you are responding to. How do you not SEE that?!

  10. Ah, so you're all the recipients of gratuitous extra letters too! WHY DO PEOPLE DO THAT??!! My name is RIGHT THERE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE MESSAGE!!!

    My extra letter adds a whole new syllable though, which perplexes me greatly - do people not hear the difference?!

    p.s. I suspect it's just Mermaid who is really saying Cath E!

  11. haha, I was the same. Now when I moved to this enlighs speaking country I have given up the pronounciation of my very strange and outlandish name... kinda.

    I mean, I understand why people would try and pronounce it the way it is spelled but this is a man's name here in the US/Canada/India. And. I. Am. Not. A. Man. Ah well, i can at least blame it on language barriers....

    I am sorry though. Growing up we were three girls called chall in the same class, and three johannas. All ended up with abbravations of our last names, i.e. paulie (last name Paul), Churchie (Churchman) etc... [obviously not these names since they are English].

    I'd buy better temper/more patience - when you find some, let me know since I am in high demand to increase my patience and decrease my temper ;)

  12. At least you have never been told "What ? Mah-see-moh ? Oh, no, that's too difficult for me, I'll call you Moose, how's that..."... "Yes, and I'll call you Dick, how's that ?" (Savannah, GA, circa 1988).

  13. Massimo! "I'll just call you Dick, how's that?" I love it! Mind if I borrow it?

    A certain administrator around this neck of the woods is a self-obsessed bigot (SOB, yeah, I went there). The SOB is personally responsible for recruiting people to our institution from all over the world...many of them with non-easy-to-pronounce-for-Westerners sounding names. So he just renames them. No asking permission, no "could you spell that for me?"...just, "I'm not going to bother trying; I'll call you Bob instead."

    I have the good fortune of having a very easy to pronounce, not too common, not too many spelling variations and impossible to shorten first name, so I have not been subject to the SOB's whimsy. But it just RANKLES me every time he does it to someone else. No respect. I might start calling him Dick.

  14. Chall, that's a whole new level of confusion - especially over the phone, I'd imagine!

    I have a couple of other friends with the same first name as Mr E Man. One of them was my former student, a wee chap who had no problem being called "Little [name]". So Mr E Man got to be "Big [name]". Then when another guy with the same name showed up and met Little, he assumed he could be Big, but was told "no, we've already got one of those". And "Tall [name]" would be too confusing... so he had to be "English [name]" instead.

    Massimo, now I know what to call you to wind you up! Moose!!!! That's too funny!

    But... where is the emphasis? Is it MAH-see-moh or mah-SEE-moh?

    (as we once said to a French Canadian postdoc in the next lab: "we can't understand you when you put the em-PHA-sis on the wrong sy-LLA-ble")

    AA, that would drive me crazy. My best friend since I was 5 is called Rasmeet, and people would often call her Jasmine "because it's easier to remember". She would say "OK" and then call Richard "Jichard" or whatever until they stopped.

    Mind you I usually call her Ras, but she doesn't mind that so much.

  15. I can't figure out the whole extra syllable thing not being obvious either. Just call me Diana and see the response you get. It is a whole different name! My best response from one man who insisted that the name was the same was for me to call Robert "Roberta". See, it IS different!

    My husband has the same name as my brother. We call my brother "[name] Classic" and my husband "New [name]" on the few occasions we are all together.

    In general I try to pronounce names correctly. Fortunately, most people that have tricky pronunciations that my very canadian tongue has trouble with have been kind enough to provide their own nickname. Bless you all :).

  16. Well, you've seen my real name written and I doubt you would pronounce it correctly based on the spelling (no one does). People don't really do much better after hearing it either. What I have found most helpful after a lifetime of research is to say, my name is A it rhymes with B, where B is typically another very, very common name or word.

  17. Oh and chall, too funny. My name is not a man or woman's name, so I get mail addressed to Mr., Ms., Mrs. and Miss.

  18. LOL @ Roberta

    There are several names between mine and Mr E Man's family too, it can get quite confusing. I like Classic and New!

    MXX, I'm intrigued now because I can only imagine 2 different pronunciations! And the whole Mr/Ms etc palaver is yet another bonus of having a PhD.

  19. I have a name like AA's and I'm grateful for it. I have, however, experienced the email misspelling thing that Ruchi described and I find it puzzling. Is it that hard???

    I don't blame you for getting annoyed with the Cathy people. I'd hate that too.

  20. I often get e-mail and regular mail addressed to "Eve". I don't know who that is, but the bank even let me cash her cheque once so it's fine by me.

    People also always pronounce my name wrong. You probably do, too. It's okay - there are 3 ways to pronounce it and mine is the least common in English. It sounds like the English name Ava, or, as someone once pointed out "Oh, like 'Eva Braun'!" Lovely. But I've heard Eva Longoria's name pronounced various different ways as well, so at least the problem with my name is more common/famous.

  21. I get the same thing as I use the shortened version of my name in every aspect of my life except for publications and on official documents but there are some individuals, usually university admin people, who insist on using my full name or a different shortened version which I absolutely detest (it just isn't me). Grrrr. Makes me want to hurt them every single time.

  22. It's MAH-see-moh (in most Italia words and names the emphasis is on the first syllable, which is what makes it sound the way it does). Many American friends of mine call me "Mahs", and honestly at this point I don't mind that anymore... I think in the American culture it is regarded as acceptable, it is not done with foreign names only, and no disrespect is meant ever... but, 'Moose' ? No way, Jose.

  23. EGF, the occasional Cathy is OK, but when it's at least one a week, it does get a bit much!

    Eva, I've been saying your name in my head as Ava, but I was thinking Eva Peron, not Braun!

    PiT, I don't mind the full version so much, but when it's clear you've chosen your own shortened version of your own name, why would someone else choose a different one for you?!

    Moose, thanks!

    (I'll stop now. No, really, I will)

  24. I've actually had this problem with both my first AND my last name. My first name is very common but people automatically assume I WANT a shortened version. This is completely incorrect. Every person I've met who goes by the shortened version of my super common name has been a ditz.

    My last name has a silent letter, and it never fails that people attempt to pronounce it (though it doesn't make sense to do so). I'll even spell my name when it is necessary and people will STILL get it wrong (it's less than 6 letters long).

  25. (I'll stop now. No, really, I will)

    Yes, please Caty, stop this...

  26. I can't believe how many comments this post is getting!

    Bear, that's even more annoying - I have a lot of positive experiences with Cathys, so at least I don't have that level of "THAT'S NOT MY NAME!" frustration.

    And people can't spell a 6 letter surname? LOL!

    Massimo - Caty, that's a new one! Actually if I had known when I was 12 that Catherines CAN shorten to Kate/Cate, I would quite possibly have done that instead, but it's too late now. (Several people, including my Mum, told me that you had to spell your full name with a K to use Kate. But I do know Catherines who abbreviate to Kate with a K, as well as people like Cate Blanchet).

  27. My last name, which is simple to pronounce but looks intimidating on paper, has been butchered too many ways to count. I especially like it when they switch up the vowel forms on the repeated vowels even though they're all pronounced exactly the same way. I am glad my parents saw fit to give me an uncommon and very polysyllabic American first name* that can be diced up several ways as needed.

    *Poindexter? Archibald? Bartholemew? Any way you cut it, polysyllabic American male first names are invariably nerdy.

  28. Cath,

    Have you seen this story yet on Politico? It seems to be getting huge press here in the U.S.


  29. Massimo - Caty, that's a new one!

    Well, the correct Italian spelling would have been Cati, but among younger generations the use of 'y' has become fashionable (an exotic letter that is not even part of the alphabet).

  30. you are all wonderful! I'm laughing as am reading :)

    Animal nick names (Moose), someone who's gotten a "neither female nor male name", polysyllables, "K or C or Y", "shortened, not stirred" names, "I'm calling you Bob" etc. Absolutely fantastic!

    I guess if nothing else, all of us know how important somethings are with the name calling. I have an "lenghtening" of my name back home that my family use. My reaction when someone else tries it is apparently priceless. the confusion on my face... :)

    Happy midsummer's everyone!

  31. Toaster, I dunno, Jonathan and, um, others, are OK! And Bart Simpson has probably done a lot for all the geeky Bartholomews out there.

    Bean-Mom, that is bloody hilarious! I love it! That's the way some of my friends probably imagine I respond to being called Cathy, but it's not, because I'm actually not psychotic.

    Massimo, when I was about 13 there was a trend towards shortened names ending in z - Karen had to be Kaz, Joanne was Joaz, etc. The y thing sounds similar!

    Chall, happy midsummers to you too! Although... isn't the solstice on Sunday (21st)?

  32. Lots of TH's become T in the nickname, since the TH is a spelling pronunciation of a Frenchified spelling (the TH is T in French) meant to "upgrade" the orignal... I digress.

    People can pronounce my name, no problem, but for some reason everyone asks me if it's spelled with a C (instead of a K) and I've never actually met anyone who spells it that way! (Karen, by the way)

  33. Cath: Midsummers is always the third Friday in June in Sweden :) How would you be able to have some days off otherwise?!?! But you are absolutely right, the summer solstice is the 21st.

  34. Ridger, I know a Caryn, but Karen is definitely more common. The funny thing is that, if left unprompted, most people will spell Catherine with a C, but Kath with a K!

    Chall, oh, so it's all about the holidays! Happy solstice!

  35. I'm called by my middle name, Mum did this to the three of us at birth, it must have been hormones or something.
    It gets thing's in a right tiz, especially at hospital appointments, when they call my name I don't compute, I'm still sat in the waiting room! My brother got no calls he was in Hospital, because his friends were ringing up asking for him by known name not his first name. Response
    'We have no patient by that name.'

  36. Hee hee! That's funny. I have a friend who's always been called by her middle name, and I had no idea until her wedding, when at least half the audience seemed unsure whether the groom was marrying the right woman...

  37. I just sent an email to someone, signed it as Cath, and got a reply to Cathleen! ROFL! He just doubled the length of my name using imaginary letters!

  38. At any rate, I liked some of the vadlo scientist cartoons!


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