Name Confusion

I believe it takes a special talent to complicate one’s life enough to make “What is your name?” a non-trivial question. Aided by my parents’ choices forty years ago, I have risen successfully to meet this challenge. 

A quick summary of this article: My legal first name is Mitchell, but my “given nickname”, the name my parents called me from birth, is Mickey. Several years ago I picked the name Ethan to serve strictly as a nom de public, a pseudonym. However, when I began using that pseudonym last fall, I found I liked Ethan better than I liked the Mickey. Now I am using the name Ethan in all my new ventures. I intend to legally add Ethan as a second middle name at some point. What should you call me? If I met you this year through my new ventures, call me Ethan. If you were a friend or acquaintance prior to this year, call me either for now. (Family will probably always use Mickey.) 

The full story is quite a big longer:

A “Given Nickname”

My full legal name is Mitchell George Moore. My first and middle name were taken from my grandfathers, Tilman Mitchell Moore and George Ford Pledger. But, even before I was born, my parents intended to nickname me Mickey.

My parents worried that Mickey wasn’t a common nickname for Mitchell, but they wanted to use my grandfather Moore’s middle name. Also I already had a cousin named Michael, which is the usual real name for people nicknamed Mickey. They were relieved to discover that a well known Detroit Tigers baseball player at the time, Mickey Stanley, was actually Mitchell Jack Stanley. (I was born in the Detroit area the year after the Tigers won the World Series.) That gave them the precedent they felt they needed to justify my nickname.

I thus have a “given nickname” that differs non-conventionally from my true given name. I doubt my parents realized the recurring annoyances this would cause. At the beginning of every school year in elementary school, we did the little dance where they called out “Mitchell Moore” on the class roster, and I had to explain that I went by Mickey and spell it. This was repeated every time we had a substitute teacher, and almost every time I started a new class from junior high all the way through graduate school. (I even had substitute teachers in elementary school who refused to believe me for some reason!)

Perhaps needless to say, the Mickey Mouse song was the bane of my childhood, especially since my last name fits the song too. In retrospect, I could perhaps have helped my cause if I hadn’t always said “M-i-c [pause] k-e-y” when asked to spell the name at the beginning of the year. But that is the natural cadence to use in spelling it. (By the time the “Hey Mickey!” song came out, I was in sixth grade and completely numb to all the name teasing. I don’t even recall many attempts to tease me with it then, strangely. Most of my memories of that song involve, as an adult, being surrounded by women singing the song at me. In these cases, the teasing tone was backed by solid affection, so I didn’t mind at all.)

Adult Name Issues

The annoyances of “Mickey” continued as a non-student adult. Friends and acquaintances often write checks to “Mickey Moore”, and on a few occasions I have had trouble cashing or depositing them (though that is rare). Mickey gets misspelled all the time (despite the start of the Mickey Mouse song!), usually by dropping the E. By the time I was twenty-five I had just given in and started telling people it was spelled “like the mouse”.

The name “Mickey” has always had a large obvious flaw. Nearly all American names ending in -y or -ey (with a long E sound) are either feminine (Chrissy, Jenny, Stacey) or diminutive (Johnny, Bobby, Tommy). The exceptions (e.g., Toby) only prove the rule. (I’m sure you could expound at dissertation length about the sexist implications of English using the same construction for both feminine and diminutive names.) “Mickey” was OK as a child but has never felt like an appropriate name for an adult man.

I’ve had a few friends instinctively veer away from using “Mickey”. One college roommate reverted to “Mitchell”; I just let it slide, though I’m not fond of it. Others resort to “Mick”, dropping the diminutive ending. That’s fine with me.

However, “Mickey” has always been my name, the label I used for myself internally. I never think of myself as “Mitchell”, and I absolutely despise “Mitch” — I don’t let anyone call me that, ever. “Mitch” is used only by over-friendly telemarketers, salespeople, and such; anyone using it immediately identifies himself as not knowing me at all while being presumptuously familiar. Back in the days before caller ID led me to screen most of my calls, if I answered the phone and someone said “May I speak to Mitch?”, I said no and immediately hung up. I also don’t care for, or identify with, “George”, my middle name.

I can’t say I’ve ever particularly liked the name Mickey, and I think I’ve unconsciously liked it less and less as I grew older. This aversion came to the surface late last year. Why then? That’s when I started using a pen name.

Choosing a Pen Name

When I started to consider doing some serious writing about five years ago, I decided to create a pen name. I don’t remember exactly why. I went to a few baby name meaning websites and selected almost two dozen names that had some appeal to me, from the simple to the exotic. Over a period of years, I sporadically considered them, occasionally using them in online forums where I wanted to preserve my privacy.

Ethan eventually floated to the top of the list. It means “Firm, Strong” and is apparently of Hebrew origin (from Eitan), though to my ear it sounds British, which is part of its appeal. What cinched it as my final choice was remembering the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” minor character Ethan Rayne, one of the show’s fun bad guys. Ethan Rayne was cool.

So Ethan Moore became my chosen nom de public almost two years ago. (Oddly, I never thought of changing “Moore”, though using such a common last name has many downsides too.) I was not thinking about using it in my personal life then. The name was essentially unused until I started this blog and the accompanying Facebook Page last August. I chose the name well: it felt like a good fit, and several of my friends really liked it as well.

Starting Anew, in Place

This brought my unconscious issues with the name Mickey to the surface. I began thinking maybe I’d start going by Ethan if I ever moved somewhere else, if I was starting anew. (I have a friend who did that, changing her name upon moving to Austin.)

Then I went on stage to try stand-up comedy in late January, and used the name Ethan Moore. Now I wasn’t just typing the name occasionally, I was introducing myself as Ethan and hearing other people call me Ethan. That’s an odd experience; I think more of our self identity is attached to our names than we realize. But it still felt like a good fit and quickly became more natural.

In many ways, I was starting anew in January. I re-launched this blog, started seriously assembling the pieces to launch a freelance writing career, and started trying stand-up comedy. I used my a new name in all of these endeavors. I just started anew without actually moving elsewhere.

Someone did once ask about the legality of calling myself Ethan Moore. In the US, you may use any pseudonym you choose provided you are not doing so in order to commit fraud. (In fact, common law tradition in most states allows legal name changes by usage alone, though in modern practice a court order would be needed to get most institutions to officially accept the change.) This person was overlooking a fundamental fact: “Mickey”, which I’ve used my entire life, is no more my legal name than “Ethan”.

I admit that when I hear “Ethan” I don’t think “me” automatically yet. But I’m not sure I think “Mickey” any more either, or at least not as strongly.

If you ever want someone you’re just meeting to give you a strange look, hesitate when they ask “What’s your name?”

Going Forward

I intend, when both time and money permit, to petition for a legal name change to “Mitchell George Ethan Moore”, adding Ethan as a second middle name. While, as I noted, doing that isn’t legally necessary to call myself Ethan Moore, I would still like the formal approval that would provide. By keeping “Mitchell George”, I honor my parent’s choice of names and my grandfathers from whom those names came. It also simplifies the process, as I probably won’t need to do anything for those institutions which don’t use my middle name or initial or which only record a single initial. That means my name change follow-up could probably be limited to the Social Security Administration, the IRS, my driver’s license, and my passport.

Finally, the big question: what should you call me?

  • If you’ve met me this year, call me Ethan. (I am going to ask anyone returning to my life after more than a decade to call me Ethan also.)
  • Family, I am sure, will continue calling me Mickey, and that’s fine, though they are also welcome to use Ethan.
  • The tricky group, my prior friends and acquaintances, in Austin or elsewhere: for now, call me whichever you want, “Ethan” or “Mickey” (or “Mick”). Just keep this dichotomy in mind, and know that the day could come when I will ask you to switch to Ethan.

In the end, I may have complicated the question “What is your name?”, but I think in the process I have learned and revealed a lot that helps answer the much harder related question, “Who are you?”