Monday, September 27, 2010

"Have a Great Day, Brittany!" - Or, What to do when the doorman doesn't know your name.

Well, it's official - when I walk into my fancy office building on L St., NW and clip clop my way to the shiny elevators, my name is Brittany. "Have a great day, Brittany!" the doorman Thomas says as I pass him every morning. At first I thought maybe it was just his baritone voice that made "Hilary" sound like "Brittany." Then I thought maybe he was saying, "Sweetie" or some other awkward term of endearment that wasn't a name at all. Then I thought desperately that he wasn't calling my name out, he was just mumbling a little at the end, "Have a great day now today!" (which, incidentally, wouldn't be a logical sentence but I was trying). Then after two weeks I finally realized - he genuinely thinks that I am Brittany.

In these social situations, my first thought is to run to the nearest Border's and buy Emily Post's Etiquette, look up the section on, "How to graciously correct the doorman of your building when he thinks your name is Brittany" and then march on over and just do as I'm told. Or I'm tempted to smile and say, "Thanks Thomas!" and become Brittany for approximately 25 seconds while I walk to the elevator.

What IS the polite thing to do? I don't know if any of my readers have had someone genuinely think that someone's name is something else... but it's definitely, definitely awkward. However, I once thought one of my best friend's middle name was Jean when it was absolutely not. And she finally had to tell me that whoever had the middle name Jean in my life, it wasn't her.

It's weird because I start to wonder, "Who the heck is Brittany? What is she like? Does she shop at JCrew as often as I do? Does she like to make non-alcoholic mojitos and eat chips and salsa with her roommate while watching Mean Girls? Does Brittany love good books or does she just read magazines? Does Brittany have a boyfriend or is she single? Is Brittany a fan of country music???" And in realizing that I am not Brittany, I have to wonder what makes "Hilary" distinct from this non-existent alter-ego. Hilary gets up in the morning and puts on the dress clothes and rides the bus while trying not to laugh too loudly at Bill Bryson's Notes on a Small Island. Hilary sits at her computer and tries to discover the truth about air pollution control and energy policy. Hilary has awkward run-ins with water fountains, squirrels in Farragut Park, cute ushers in church. Hilary spills coffee and trips over the raised brick on 8th St and A St, NE every single time she walks towards Eastern Market.

So today at 12:30 when I walked by Thomas' desk and he said again, "Have a great day, Brittany!" with a triumphant smile, I smiled back and said, "Actually, it's Hilary." He looked crestfallen. Great. I just made the poor building receptionist feel terrible because my name is not Brittany. Why did I say anything? Being Brittany was kind of fun! I was carefree and elegant and definitely didn't trip or turn red or freak out about homework! I should just stay Brittany. "Hilary, Hilary..." Thomas rolled it around his tongue for a few seconds. "Thank you for telling me. Hilary... remind me if I ever get it wrong again! Hilary..." And he smiled at me, and wished me a great afternoon, and I left the building.

I am not Brittany, and I don't know if my abrupt correction was Emily Post etiquette worthy, but even in this minuscule moment, I have learned that I want to be Hilary. I want my name to have those three syllables and mean "cheerful" - and I want to be the girl who trips and laughs and has showdowns with squirrels and second graders, who spills coffee and gets lost in bookstores for hours, who loves to ride the bus in DC and people watch.

If you've ever been called a name that isn't your own, or if right now there is some well-meaning person who thinks your name is Henry when it's actually Mike, or Heidi when it's Katie, or Martha when it's Michelle... remember to enjoy being Mike, Katie and Michelle. And if you get the chance, correct the person - as mortifying as those few seconds when they realize they've been calling you Brittany and you're Hilary are, the smile that spreads when your face is connected with your name, is worth it.

Early to bed, readers (I've heard it makes you healthy, wealthy and wise).


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