There’s a name-related problem that’s plagued me for much of my adult life.
And aside from the fact that Australians love to nickname anything and everything when your name is four-syllables long? It’s well and truly unavoidable.
The problem is, I hate the most common nickname I’m given. My name (as the byline reads) is Valentina and the go-to nickname I’m given by most people is ‘Val’.
Let me get one thing straight that I hope lives on in Google search history forever. I hate being called Val. It gives me a shiver down my spine. I despise it. I always have and I always will.
And as it turns out, I’m not the only person with this problem. While appearing on Tuesday’s ‘Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon’ Anne Hathaway explained that she hates being called Anne, which sucks because that’s not even a nickname. It’s her entire name.
“The only person who ever calls me Anne is my mother, and she only does it when she’s really mad at me,” she said.
“So every time I step out in public and someone calls my name, I think they’re going to yell at me.
She told Fallon to call her anything but Anne and that she actually prefers to be called Annie, explaining that she only started going by Anne professionally when she got a gig in a commercial at 14, having no idea it would stick forever.
“People are so lovely they don’t want to be presumptuous, and so they come up with workarounds on set, because the truth is nobody’s comfortable calling me Anne ever. It doesn’t fit,” Hathaway added.
“I’m an Annie. And so people call me, like, Miss H; people call me Hath. So feel free to call me anything but Anne.”
Honestly, I’ve never felt something deeper in my soul because I feel the same way about being called Val. If you know a Val or happen to be one, I’m sorry. It’s nothing personal. I’ve had no bad experiences with people named Val. I don’t even know a Val personally, so that’s the honest truth. It just doesn’t resonate with me personally or feel like my name.
But as I’ve gotten older, the Val nickname has become more and more prevalent.
I noticed a distinct shift away from ‘cutesy’ nicknames that are more suitable for primary school-aged kids towards Val — a nickname you’d assume is more suitable for an adult — when I got one of my first jobs.
My manager, who I was terrified of initially started to call me Val and I was too scared to correct him. He proceeded to call me Val for the next eight years. By the end of my time there, he knew how much I hated it but he’d been calling me Val for so long, it just stuck and there was no going back.
Upon leaving this job after uni for my first real ‘adult’ job, ‘Val’ reared its ugly head again. As a media intern, it’s not really cool to come in with a bunch of rules about what you do and do not like to be called. You feel seen if anyone remembers your name at all. So the Val nickname cycled around again.
When I was hired full time, I knew I couldn’t go on living like this any longer. But instead of telling people directly, I started to seed the ‘I hate Val’ sentiment out into the office, hoping word of mouth would get my message across.
“I hate being called Val,” I would offer with an awkward laugh in the kitchen and hope that nobody would hate me for it. Eventually, people got the idea. So much so that a co-worker made a setting in our office communication that would correct someone when they typed the name ‘Val’.
“Psssst… It’s Tina,” the reminder would read and it was glorious.
Everyone got the memo except for the co-founder of said company who often called me Val. Again, too embarrassed to let her know, it continued for a while until another editor corrected her very vocally during a meeting.
“Don’t you know she HATES being called Val?” my co-worker asked loudly with an exasperated laugh. What ensued were hushed apologies and corrections for the next month. But after five years there, people knew the nickname was a no-go.
That was until I got a new job. For much of my first month, I wished I could’ve just printed off a sticker that read, “Don’t call me Val, I hate it” and attach it to my forehead.
In my last workplace, the in thing to do was call people by their initials, so I became ‘VT’ which I thankfully… didn’t hate. That was until a situation where speaking to a fellow editor, the name tables were turned.
Making the mistake of calling her ‘Steph’, I was swiftly corrected and told that her name was Stephanie, not Steph. I was mortified because BIRDS OF A FEATHER FLOCK TOGETHER and I really should have known better.
How could I nickname someone when I myself, have hated being nicknamed my entire life? I should have understood more than anyone. But I know nicknaming someone doesn’t come from a bad place.
In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s a subtle way of saying we’re friends. It’s supposed to be a way to make someone feel comfortable, settled in and like we get along and it often works.
So when I recently started a new job and the name dilemma came up again, only made worse by the fact that Val is in the company’s name. Yet many co-workers have kindly asked and have been calling me V or Tina.
But there are still unassuming people in my workplace who call me Val and being the people-pleaser that I am, I’ve been avoiding the awkwardness of telling them that I quietly hate it.
So please, can we make a promise going forward? If you want to give someone a nickname, ask them if it’s okay with them first. Start off by saying, ‘Val, is it okay if I call you Val?’ and see where the conversation takes you.
And let’s all spare a thought for Anne Hathaway, who wants to be called anything but Anne.