That’s Not My Name
“What’s Caity short for?” he asked.
I had known him for only a couple of weeks. We were out on an early-phase date, trying to feel comfortable with one another.
“It’s short for Caitlin,” I answered. “My parents got really creative in the ‘90s, and I ended up with the same name as four other girls in my fifth-grade class.”
“Caitlin,” he repeated. “That’s pretty.” I braced myself for what I knew was coming next. “I’m going to call you Caitlin from now on,” he continued.
My eye roll must have been audible. “No,” I answered, visibly annoyed, my voice and posture stiffening. “You can call me Caity.”
“Oh come on,” he objected. “Caitlin is a prettier name. I like it better.”
I have relived this same, seemingly trivial situation with dozens of people who think they know me better than I know myself, and it has never ceased to bother me implicitly and completely.
My parents named me Caitlin, but they never called me that, and no one else did either. From the time I was old enough to eat semi-solid foods, I’ve been Caity.
In preschool, before I could read all my letters, I became adamantly Caity. “How do you spell your name?” my preschool teacher asked me on my first day.
“C-A-T,” I said confidently, definitively. “Caity. C-A-T.”
She smiled at me. “I don’t think that’s how you spell it,” she kindly tried to correct me.
I remember glaring at her, three years old, confused, and annoyed. “No, it’s C-A-T. C-A-T. That’s how I spell it.”
“Okay,” she answered, diligently writing C-A-T on my name tag and pinning it to my shirt. Pleased with myself, my name, my preschool spelling of it, and her acceptance of my asserted my toddler identity, I trotted away to play with the other kids.
Caity. Everyone knows you can’t spell Caitlin with “C-A-T.”
Caity ran around the playground with scraped knees and a mess of hair she refused to brush. Caity hated bologna sandwiches. Caity learned to do her makeup in just the way Caity liked in middle school. Caity got in fights with her parents. Caity went to college and got her degree. Caity fell in love. Caity got her heart broken. Caity likes her cat and her Jeep Wrangler and writing Medium articles and getting sunburns on the beach.
Caity liked being called Caity in preschool, and she still likes being called Caity today, because that’s who she is.
My parents might have named me Caitlin, but that name feels like a mask. Caitlin exists only on official forms and government documents. Caitlin only knows strangers who don’t know yet that she has actually worked very hard to be Caity instead, the person she chose to become.
“My name is Caity,” I responded. “That’s what you’ll call me.”
He furrowed his eyebrows over his coffee, perplexed at why I had suddenly become so annoyed with him.
“But I want to call you something no one else calls you,” he protested.
“You don’t get to decide that,” I said matter-of-factly. “I decide what my name is, not you.”
“It’s just a name,” he said.
“No, it’s not. It’s who I am.”
Our third date would be our last one.
I’ve never understood why it’s so hard for people to respect that my name is what I tell them it is.
Men make up nicknames for me and I hate it. Coworkers mistakenly call me “Cathy,” “Cindy,” “Kathleen,” and don’t understand why it upsets me.
Caity was not an accident. Caity is not something that other people get to manipulate or botch or forget. Caity was and is a decision, a reflection of who I am and how I want people to see me.
I decided to be Caity. Believe me, Caity is smarter, more interesting, and more dynamic than Caitlin ever was. Caitlin is a word on a birth certificate. Caitlin never really existed, but Caity is a choice I make every day. Caity is a person — and a pretty good one, if I do say so myself.
Other people decided they wanted me to be Caitlin. I decided for myself to be Caity and everything she is. Refusing to acknowledge Caity is refusing to respect the lifetime of effort, successes, failures, laughter, tears, experiences, and decisions that have made me who I am, the person I want to be.
My name is Caity. What’s yours?