That's not my name

Last updated 10:15 31/05/2012

Much of my childhood is a blur of bike-riding, Nancy Drew novels and plaiting someone's hair, but still a few memories stand out vividly in amongst the murk of legwarmers and backpacks. One such is the day in primary school when my best friend, let's call her "Blondie", came up to me in the playground and excitedly told me the latest piece of celebrity news she'd acquired from unknown sources.

"Oh my gosh, Madonna's got married! To someone called Seen Peen."

Sean PennBlondie was quite a big Madonna fan. But then so were most 10-year-old girls in 1985. Still, Blondie went further than most. She sometimes wore lacy side bows in her hair and fingerless gloves. This was a step beyond my own fandom, which pretty much just involved dancing around when her videos came on.

"What? That can't be what his name is."

"No, it is. It's Seen Peen."

She was convinced that Sean Penn's name was actually pronounced this way. Like something you'd say in response to a streaker at a football game, or that Kevin Smith (may he rest in hotness) full frontal in Desperate Remedies.

"Whoop! Seen peen, ladies! High five!"

As if the idea of Madonna getting married weren't disturbing enough (to a 10-year-old) this nutty name was the yucky almond icing on the wedding cake.

I'd like to say that this was one of my first experiences of another person getting someone's name utterly wrong but actually people had been getting mine confused for years at this point.

Which is why I try so hard to get people's names right myself. Because I hate it when people get mine wrong. 

I'm not infallibe, of course (though I certainly hope there aren't any "Seen Peen" howlers in my past). I do sometimes get it wrong and I always feel absolutely terrible when I do. Because it does seem like a bit of an insult to that person to make a mistake like that.

For myself, I've been referred to as all of the following:


Banana (okay, the first two were both by small children but still, who wants to be called Banana?)




Monica (apparently "Moata" sounds a bit like "Monica" if you say it over the phone)

and of course, my old standby...


And then there are the people who respond to emails thinking my surname is my first name and call me "Tamaira" or even more incorrectly, "Tamara". Even though I've signed the email off with "Moata".

In instances like this I generally reply back using their surname in a similar way. "Kia ora Postelthwaite, thank you for your speedy response..." I like it. It makes it sound like we're both at a posh boarding school.

I guess the upside of this name confusion is that if I ever need an alias to operate under I have plenty to choose from - "This fugitive from justice may be travelling under the name Tamara Motata. Approach with caution." Handy, no?

And you. Yes you. That time you called me "Moana" in a blog comment? Yes, I did notice and yes, I will be holding it against you.

I guess, for me, going to the effort of getting someone's name right is the same as saying "I care who you are" and so not making the effort sort of gives the impression that the opposite might be true.

Anyway, I thought perhaps the best way of getting across what my name is while also subtly suggesting that it might be a good idea to get it right was by way of a mnemonic. Those are helpful, right? So below, is a rage-filled, violent number that just sort of popped unbidden and slavering into my head.

M is for the Magistrate who'll sentence me

O is for the Open wounds I'll leave

A is for my Angry face (trust me, you won't like me that way)

T is for the Time I'll do, just for beating and maiming you

A is for the Ambulance that someone better call if you'll have any chance

MOATA, MOATA, MOATA - You'lll be screaming it in agony as you die a painful death!

Catchy, isn't it? I'll admit that the last line needs a bit of work but you get the grisly picture.

So how are you with names (be honest)? Can you come up with a mnemonic for your own that approaches the poetic heights of mine? Do people often get yours wrong and does it bother you or not? Has anyone ever heard a more hilarious example than "Seen Peen"?

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Nancy   #1   10:25 am May 31 2012

You made me laugh with your demonic mnemonic! As well, you've thrown down the gauntlet for one of my own. N = no one will recognise you A = after I am done with you N = no where will you be safe if I C = catch you, cos you are on my list. Y = you can run, but you can't hide.

Not nearly as good as yours though. (thanx for the laugh)

JCC   #2   10:29 am May 31 2012

I am honestly terrible at remembering the names of people i've just met, but i just get around this by not calling them anything! And then waiting for them to introduce themself to someone else. But in the written form, how difficult is it to scroll back up and double check? The problem i have sometimes is that i know in some cultures, you put your surname first, and i'm never quite sure whether the sender has done this, or 'westernised' themselves. In which case, they get addressed as either all names, or just a simple Hello,.

ps i feel your pain about being mis-named. I am frequently Janet, Ginnette, Julia, Julie, Juliette, Judy or Judith!

a   #3   10:31 am May 31 2012

I have got over the fact that no one gets my name right, but I don't like getting other peoples incorrect, I usually copy and paste names in emails and also make a point of asking the correct pronunciation if I can't get it from the first introduction.

SM   #4   10:33 am May 31 2012

There is also, of course Seen Been (Sean Bean). Now I also like to get peoples names correct, or spend a lot of time not using them and trying to come up with polite alternatives (dear or love not being an option either), so how exactly is it pronounced (just in case we should ever meet)?

Moa ta Mo at a

I have always wondered this, and dont want to appear rude asking.

Davo   #5   10:34 am May 31 2012

My surname is always getting pronounced wrong, and even when I correct someone, they still say it wrong, as though they didn't believe me. And in the few instances where someone famous has the same last name as me, they also pronounce it the way I do! And it is actually pronounced exactly the way you would expect when you see it written down, but people try to make it sound fancier somehow. It bugs me a little...

Maurz   #6   10:38 am May 31 2012

X's get me - I had an embarrassing incident with INXS first time I casually mentioned them. Does not rhyme with jinxes...

Not Olivia!   #7   10:40 am May 31 2012

I have a fairly easy name to say. Libbee. However, it actually gets misheard fairly often as Livvy or Liddy. And there was a time when a stranger started calling me Olivia as they assumed that's what Libbee was short for. It's a nickname for Elizabeth but it's what I introduce myself as so why would someone look to use my full name? That has always astounded me.

Ana   #8   10:40 am May 31 2012

Being a foreigner in NZ, I have a foreign Eastern European name and get this all the time. With my first name, Ana, I expect that people will attempt to spell it with two N's. However, I expect that when I have addressed them in writing (eg. email) and sign my name, that they will not insist on replying with "Dear Anna". My last name isn't pronounceable by 99% of kiwis, so I don't even bother.

Lizzie   #9   10:43 am May 31 2012

I feel your Pain, I have a fairly common name and yet people still get it wrong.

I work in a call centre and you would be amazed at how often after introducing myself as Lizzie I get oh hello Felicity. I don’t see how the two are alike. Lucy sometimes too, i can handle Lucy it is a bit similar.

but what irks me more than anything is when people spell my name wrong especially when its replying to an email and it is correct in the email. Its Lizzie with an "ie" not a "y"!

Mike L   #10   10:45 am May 31 2012

To avoid all future confusion, please advise how to pronounce your name: Is it "Mow ah tah" or perhaps the more maori sounding pronounciation of "More ah tah". Your last name looks like "Tah ma eee ra" but could be "Tah my rah". Please clarify I am lucky enough to have a fairly common and easily recognisable/pronouncible name, although a lot of people spell it incorrectly. Mixing the 'a' and 'e' up. I have never met a Micheal and doubt very much if this spelling is used at all. Unlike you however I dont get too worried about it if someone gets it wrong, but I do try to make sure I pronouce names correctly, and if unsure I ask for guidance to make sure I get it right - its just polite...

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