From Tony Cox

What's My Name?!

We had one of those conversations on News & Notes today that I think hits home for everybody.

What should you be called if you're an adult and a child addresses you? What about strangers? Or, what if you've achieved a status that has earned a title of one sort or another?

This all started with Barack Obama, of course, whose I'm-just-one-of-the-guys demeanor belies his elected status as the leader of the free world. What further complicates it, is the nasty history of racial subjugation that is so stingingly present when people of color, any color actually, are reduced by the insult of being called "out of their name." The "N" word comes to mind here.

My NPR colleague Karen Grigsby Bates literally wrote the book on the subject of name-calling etiquette, and, coming from a black perspective, she knows full well the reasons why we sometimes call people what we call them.

Having Kevin Ross, a former Los Angeles Superior Court judge, join the conversation made it even more compelling, since his original on-air reference to the president as "Barack" got a lot of listeners upset last week. He didn't back down, but he explained himself.

We all have stories of people mispronouncing our names, not using our titles (if we have one), or being too familiar with us before they know us. Throw in the racial dynamic, and there is the potential for all sorts of unpleasant encounters. Check out the conversation we had, and give us your feedback.

What's in a name depends on who's talking and who they're talking to. I'm reminded of what my dad used to say, tongue partly in cheek. He said, "Call me what you want, just don't call me late for dinner."

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