First Cup of Coffee – August 29, 2022

I’m back from Bubonicon with tales about pronouncing names correctly, the importance of normalizing giving pronouns, and the pervasive tail-sniffing among authors and how that leads to sycophantic behavior.

Good morning, everyone! This is Jeffe Kennedy author of epic fantasy romance I’m here with my first cup of coffee just delicious. Ah today is monday. August um, Twenty Ninth August Twenty Ninth how that happened almost the end of August are you ready are you ready for it. I love that song of Taylor Swift’s I feel like I’m I feel like I should make a ah unpopular opinions about Taylor Swift videos Tiktok because I love are you ready for it actually it’s um, the title is …ready for it. I’m pitching fallen grapes from the chair. The table.

So um, how are all of you? I am um back from Bubonicon good weekend at Bubonicon not many people there but a lot of people that I hadn’t seen since pre pandemicdeic so it was good. But and I think it was a good warm up for world con I leave for that early Wednesday morning. So probably no podcasts Thursday and Friday this week unless I get a wild hair to do a guest I am hoping to write. And my hotel room in the mornings before the comfort starts. Um, because my first gigs on Thursday and Friday aren’t until like 1011 in the morning so hoping to get those words in wish me luck. Ah. I did write a little bit at Bubonicon had a lot of good conversations with people that it’s nice to have the in-person conversations and so I came back with my head full of many things which is great. Ah, that’s what we want from a conference and I have. Thoughts for all of you. Um I have a lot of thoughts more than I will get to today. We’ll see if I get to them through today and tomorrow so so several stories coming away from the conference one was and.

And this is admittedly a small local conference but they have um done in Albuquerque they have deaths of honor that they fly in and you know pay for them to be there that there are good. Um, honest con that way.

And they um you know so they had an artist guest of honor a writer a guest of honor they had a toast masterster so I don’t know exactly the um arrangements the toast master was from up in Denver which is a. A reasonable drive five six hour drive and and I was on a panel with um, both the artist. Well actually all of them. Um, Rae Carson was the writer guest of honor and she was delightful. Why a fantasy type stuff. Um. Really great to meet her. She was um, very personable, really wanting to chat and meet people. So so that was great I I loved that and the artist guest of honor was Chaz trying to think of chaz’s last name. Ah. Great guy from Denver also ah does a lot of book covers and he moderated a panel that I was on and so he did a great job also on that panel was um Lee Martinez who is ah was the toast master. And so at the opening ceremonies. The toast masterster reads all of the attending guests of honor and so this is ah this is my thing and this is nothing against well I guess it’s going to be against Lee personally a little bit ah in that if you are toastmaster.

For a conference. You basically have 1 job 1 job which is to lead the ceremonies leave things. It means that you need to practice the names ahead of time you know if they don’t give them to you ahead of time. You need to make sure that they give them to you ahead of time. Ah so Lee was holding the list of attending authors ah and looking at it clearly for the first time in his life. Ah, the way he was you know, unfolded it and squinted at it. Looking even momentarily intimidated by it which if you’re looking at something for the first time. Yeah, it’s it’s no fun to do it that way. Please practice ahead of time. Ah so he fumbled a few names. It’s alphabetical. So it’s coming down. I know that you know they he’s said um Darynda jones what’s he which he got slightly wrong. Ah which I was like how did they get Darynda wrong? and she said well they they get to the Y and they go Dary and then they don’t know what to do with the Nda and which is kind of funny. Nobody knows what to do with an NDA so I knew that I was going to be shortly after Darynda and so he squints at the sheet and he goes oh he says I’ve got a fifty fifty chance with this one and I know I’m gonna get it wrong. So of course it’s me right? and.

And he got it wrong. He says Jeff and so you know and I stand up and and because we were in the front row and I said yes you got it wrong because you know and he looked a little taken aback right? oh. And it’s like yes you got it wrong you you you have 1 job and you you screwed up, you know so I waved in everything and ah Craig Kissinger who’s one of the conference organizers said you know oh she’s the president of siffa you’re and that’s madam president to you and everything but I also you know. Craig should make sure that the toast master has the list in the pronunciations I don’t care how small the con is and it’s an interesting thing because I’ve obviously been dealing with this my entire life. Ah, how to pronounce my name. Ah what my pronouns are because. People who’ve never met me ah assume I’m a man they look at Jeff and and think I’m a man so for a very long time I would meet people and they would say oh I thought you were a man and I would be like no, not a man. So for a long time. My profile on like um, social media I had on there I am a woman a westerner and so I was actually pretty happy when I could just knix that and put she her on my pronouns and.

And I’m happy that there has been such a push for getting names right? and I don’t have a difficult to pronounce for westerners’ multicultural name you know I really feel for people of african origin and a api. Ah, who have names that westerners ah many of them won’t even try to pronounce. Ah, you know, mine’s just a quirky name but I’ve been grateful to be able to ride on those coattails to. Insist on getting my name and pronouns correct ah because it is important you know and the people who say it’s not important. Ah I don’t even know what to say about them. Ah, there are people who have never had that. Had people get it wrong and then act like it didn’t matter. Ah I responded to ah an email from a reader when I’ve not heard from in a long time and I why did she contact me I don’t remember. Ah, yeah, and we’d stopped following each other on social media because I had when Biden was declared president that he had won the election I had tweeted about it celebrating being very happy and she replied to me and said.

Sent me this screed on how the associated press doesn’t get to decide elections and you know and starting feeding me this. You know the claptrap about the election being stolen. So I I blocked her because don’t. Don’t cite misinformation and I will say that I had a very interesting conversation with another author this weekend who was someone who had voted for Trump because he thought that Trump was going to change a lot of the financial stuff of the government and he called himself. Ah a Trump Regrettor and I’d asked him what the watershed moment was for him. Ah when he decided that Trump was not going to do what he’s supposed to do and and interestingly he said well at first he was disappointed that Trump didn’t fulfill any of his promises of what he said he was going to do during the campaign which. Find kind of funny because it’s like I’m amazed that anybody thought that he would but when I asked. Well what was your watershed. He said it wasn’t a single moment he said but he said during the first impeachment when he used the executive power of his office to. Evade the law and encouraged people to refuse to respond to subpoenas. He said that’s that’s what we’re supposed to be here is for the rule of law and that that was the deferred.

You know it’s sort of that he said it was an accumulation and he said by the second impeachment he he was fully done. Um and and it was interesting because someone else who sat down mid-conversation. Ah really went off on him and ah you know about.

All the terrible things Trump had done to their marginalized family and everything and you know it’s like I don’t understand how that’s doing anything now to to scream at at people. It’s like you know and and people like he and he said he got conned and it’s like well. You know there are a lot of people who will argue with that and say you should have gotten conned but at this point I don’t care. Yeah, it’s like I just want to be able to have reasonable conversations about what happened and why it happened so anyway, this is all by way of saying that. Um. If. Someone’s going to feed me misinformation. Um I don’t want to hear it and I will block you. But if you want to have a conversation I’ll have a reasonable conversation. Ah so anyway, she also said in this email because I have my pronouns in my signature line which I think is great to do. Also. She said um, it always amuses me to see somebody include pronouns on their so signature line. Um, who’s one of the few people where you actually need to show you need to say she said because I know people mistake your name and.

And I thought well you know she’s trying to be nice and yet there’s that attitude again and so and she also asked me another question about another author which okay, fine 1 of my author friends I answered it but I wrote her back. Answering that question and then I said um I said yeah ah it is really great to be able to include my pronouns and have that be a normal etiquette thing now. Ah because yes people did mistake. my my chosen you know my preferred pronouns and gender and I said and that’s why we need to normalize this as part of polite behavior where we specify that regardless so it’s not only the people where there’s a question who have to do it listener. Did she reply to me. Oh she did not whatever so that’s see and I only got through one topic so far. Um, but yes so name pronunciations. Um.

Okay, I’m not going to talk about that one yet all right I mean I told this other story. So another thing that happened was there was an author that I saw actually a fairly newbie author too. Um.

Sometime Editor A Gal I’d met because she came to Santa Fe earlier this year so hadn’t seen her for good six months but ah and I’m trying not to give too many details here but we spent with. Dinner together a couple of times and I had counted us as if not friends at least friendly so I’d been sitting on the bar as I do and I had been drinking wine as I do and I saw her walk through the bar and she does not live anywhere near here. And I thought oh well she didn’t see me and I had no idea she was going to to be there. She wasn’t on the program. Nothing like that and and I couldn’t think of her name miaulpa you know here I am going on about name pronunciations pronouns and so forth I am. Bad at remembering names and especially like at the end of a conference day having had wine and I’m racking my brain and I asked the people to table with me I’m like do do you know her name. Do you remember her name and nobody else knew her but me and I thought well I I she didn’t see me so I definitely want to go. Up and say hello to her so she’s starting to come back through and so I go up and I say hello and I said hi it’s it’s Jeffie and she says I know she said I saw you over there and or know she she just said I know she said I know and I said and I’m sorry I can’t remember your name.

And I looked at her name tag because it was like kind of in a fold of her cloak and I was like oh you know and she said at the same time and I said yeah I’m so sorry I just couldn’t think of what it was um I had no idea you were going to be here and she said yeah yeah I decided to come through and um. She said I was actually in Santa Fe last month too and I said oh well, you know I I had no idea and she says um, she said? Yeah well I was sick and I oh I’m so sorry and all of this and um and I said well you know it’s so great that you’re here now and and she says um. Yeah, ah I’m trying to remember brigs. Oh my my video is freezing I wonder if that’s like doing it a lot catch catch catch. Hopefully that’s not annoying. Ah I’d say she said um.

I said well are you going to be. You know? Ah, she says I’m just here tonight and I said oh well are you’re going to be in Santa Fe for very long and she said well maybe um, she said I’m just there till like Wednesday and I said well you know if you want to get together and she’s like oh yeah, I have your number I’ll text you and she said but we have to go to dinner now. And ah and she’s with someone else I know um a fairly sort of 1 the old guard authors and I had already said hello to him and ah, you know we’d exchange greetings and for the first time at that conference and she says well we have to go to dinner now and I realize. That um, she’s going to dinner with another very famous author and it was um, you know it felt like a real brush off and and I didn’t think about it too much until later I told actually I was back in my room that room and I was thinking well was that kind of like the. Cut direct was it like I think that I’m not famous enough for her. Ah I it was kind of like oh I think um, it was there was a definite feel of I have better people to hang out with. And maybe that was just my perception but you know these conferences and writers’ events There is so much jockeying you know and and you all know I call it tail sniffing trying to figure out who the alphas are and.

There are some people who really seek out the highest profile most alpha people and and go with them. Um, you know, write their coattails and and it’s not a behavior I recognize. Because I think I’m very much on the side of that people are people that were all human beings and you know the success you have today is amazing and it may make you famous and wonderful today and you know and and those things go up and down success comes and goes. Ah. I have friends who are far more famous than I am um and and I’m friends with them because I enjoy their company and I went and I looked at her website just to like see what she was doing in everything and I saw that she had a ah photo real on our website. Of her post with various famous authors and like the famous author she was going to go have dinner with that night was prominently featured on her website in several photos with her and separately and and she had. I mean like this photo reel of her posed with different famous authors with their names on there and you know maybe that’s great marketing. Um, and I was just looking at this thinking that I’ve met.

Ah, probably every single one of those authors that she was posed with and I’ve never taken a selfie with any of them and to my knowledge I mean I’ve had pictures with some people I remember when I met um Gena Showwalter I got a picture with her because 1 of my sorority sisters asked me to. Ah, because well she wanted me to tell Gena how much she loved her books so I got a picture with Gena so I could send it to my friend. Um I I have pictures with other famous authors and I’ve never put them up on my website unless. Are people who are my friends and it’s like who are these are my friends that I was hanging out with and we were having fun. Um, so I’m not sure what to say about that. Um I was disappointed in this behavior and and I thought wow you know I kind of thought we were friends. But I guess not and no I didn’t remember her name. So maybe that’s telling. Um, yeah, it’s just um, it’s a funny thing. You know that these.

Professional relationships may be that you think that somebody is more of a friend than they are so so anyway those were a couple of thoughts from the conference this weekend I will share more later tomorrow and otherwise I’m going to go get to work. Hope you all have a wonderful Monday hope it kicks off a productive week. Um, that delivers what you need it to and I will talkck to you all tomorrow you allll take care bye bye.

Jeffe’s Top Three Resources for Names

ROGUE’S POSSESSION, Book #2 in my Covenant of Thorns Dark Fantasy Romance trilogy, is out in a week! It’s been so fun to see readers rediscover this first series of mine.
This week at the SFF Seven, we’re talking Naming Resources: Your top 3 sources for choosing names of characters, places, etc. Here are mine:
1. Jeffe’s Big List of Names
I keep a list. A spreadsheet (of course! for those who know me) that I add to any time I encounter a name I really like. I save them for important characters. One #protip: there are few disappointments greater than discovering you squandered a really good name on a throwaway secondary character. Save those names for someday!
2. Behind the Name is a great resource that lets you search for names in all sorts of ways. There’s also a surname version, for those tricksy family names.
3. Relevant Dictionaries
I also use archaic language dictionaries for whatever language family I’m using for a given world or realm within a world. These are easy to search for online, then look up word meanings and cobble together names from there.
Names are always important in my books – it’s one of my themes – so I’m almost always choosing them for their underlying meaning. Something to look for!

First Cup of Coffee – May 19, 2022

Good morning, everyone! This is Jeffe Kennedy author of epic fantasy romance I’m here with my first cup of coffee.


Lovely morning here in Santa Fe today on Thursday May nineteenth yes I was just wondering if I titled the podcast correctly because I always titled with the date and um. Fortunately I did ah so um, lots going on here tonight. We kick off the events for nebula conference mentoring happens this evening. Everything is in place. Everything’s come together I believe um, yeah, events tomorrow. How’s the book coming along. They say who they ask? Jeffe it’s coming. It’s coming. Um I have got of 83600 words and um, so I’ve got like None to go. Um, doable. See how much time I have for that out loud proof. Fortunately I do write pretty clean. So if I have to upload a penultimate version I could do that and fix the commas after.

Knowing that I’m not going to have it proofed I have been paying more attention to like instead of punting on Lay Lilade I’ve been actually checking. Although I think I have it right now the one that I don’t. Get is each other and one another and I’m not sure anybody actually cares.

Other than the grammarians. So theoretically I can finish it right now. Things are an other disaster and I don’t know how they’re going to get themselves out of it. Ah, but there’s a possibility that the book will just end with them all dying and then they all died I mean I can understand why Shakespeare did that sometimes it’s like yeah and then they all died. So what she’s here. In fact, I well I’ve said this before but I think that the people who go for the tragic ending instead of trying to figure out how to make a romance end happily when they think that they’re being so terribly clever and like oh I’m going to write a romance except it ends tragically. Like actually the tragic ending is the easy ending. It’s um, super easy to have everybody die or everything not work out. It’s much more difficult to figure out how the fuck are they going to get themselves out of this situation. So I guess we’ll find out won’t we um, there’s a panel I want to see tomorrow at None my time. The none sequence of panels for the conference. But then I will um, actually there’s 2 at None but they’ll all be recorded so I can watch them later as well. It’s fun to watch stuff in person because of the chat role and everything you could talk to people and I see my peony is about to bloom. Oh. It’s so pretty glowing pink. So so yeah, quite a lot going on the next couple of days. Did you guys see I might link to it the trailer for the nebula award ceremony. Amazing, amazing people worked on that and it just gives me a shiver of delight because I can’t take any credit for the actual work. But you guys you have no idea what I went through to get that to happen the way that it happened. And I don’t feel like I can talk about it necessarily but Neil Gayman me I got him there other people helped me many thanks to the people that helped me and connected me. Um.

But for for reasons that are too arcane and absurd to explain and besides which it would be impolilitic I had to fight to have Neil Gaiman be our toast master in the way that he is. And it’s gonna be awesome and I’m just so happy. So happy without it turned out so that’s often I find the role of people in leadership. Um, which sounds kind of funny for me to say in leadership. But you know is that if you’re doing it right? You step back and and you don’t trumpet your credit like I’m doing right now but you know it’s it’s the other people who do the actual work but sometimes that work of being the one. Determined to have a thing happen and fighting for it and fighting people who don’t want it to happen that just takes a lot sometimes and it’s work. That’s not always noticed by people which is fine. Um, but it is an interesting thing to me. To show. You guys have my nebula nails. Oh here’s a little Ray of sunshine if you’re on video I am got. There’s sort of a deep blue purple with gold sparkleys nebula nails um, anyone else was I going to say on that. Oh on the the leadership thing. Ah so I had 1 funny. You guys know that if you’ve been listening to me for a very very long time because I don’t think I’ve brought it up recently that I think that as human beings. 1 of the things we have to combat is ego is the overweening ego the dominating ego. Um, and that’s partly my taoist perspective ah taoists are very much. Um. Anti-ego. You can’t be None with the dow if you are filled with ego and I think ego drives a whole lot of negative behavior. So I work very hard not to be egotistical. Not to let my ego take over and it’s funny in some ways because it’s this balance between not letting the ego run everything but also taking credit for stuff so quite a long time ago.

My very favorite professor from college professor David Hadas who was the one who is the non-practicing orthodox jew if you get that joke my religious studies professor amazing man. Huge influence on me and. He was he was dying. He got colon cancer and he decided and this was very true to who he was that he would not get radiation or chemotherapy. He had the surgery but he didn’t want. To have any of the other treatment because he wanted to spend his last days in the classroom um to doing what he loved best what he was so good at and so oh I’m gonna get over for clem talking to about him. So. I organized a thing where we had a kind of a memorial service for him while he was still alive and I worked with my University Washington University in St Louis and a bunch of my old friends. And we worked with the alumni office and contacted as many people as possible who had been as students. You know they gave us the records and I emailed everybody. It was early days of email you know and invited people to come and say nice things about him and. It was a really cool thing to do and the university dedicated this um one of the salons. One of the I don’t know teaching halls to him they put that put his name on it and it was just we all went back to St Louis it was really lovely weekend. It was funny because like some people that I emailed. Got so mad about me emailing them almost. Everyone was nice but a few people were like take me off of this mailing list. It’s like did you even read the email dip shit anyway, early days of email it would probably be harder to do now only illegitimate spammers or. Don’t to email people anymore. So ah, this one gal did um I don’t even remember she was a reporter and she was doing an article I don’t think it was for the student newspaper. It might have been for the St Louis Post dispatch I don’t remember what paper. But anyway she called me up ah to interview me about the event and so we talked about what was going on and everything and she was asking me about me and she said um, she said well I understand that you organized this event and I said well um.

A great many people worked on this event and she said oh okay and then there was like no mention of me in the article at all. It was like I very effectively erased myself which was actually fine. Because I wanted it to be about him and I’d said that to her several times you know that this is to celebrate professor Hadas. Um, but at the same time I was like oh note to self about giving away all credit. Um, you know it’s ah. Because people people will let you do it? So I don’t really remember how I got off on that whole thing. Oh just like leadership credit stuff and that sort of thing. Um, yeah, a lot of things with nebula conference and ceremony were things that I that I masterminded. Or such intermotion. But everybody else did all the work and they were fabulous and everybody will be very glad to have the work done with because it’s been a lot and then next year we will be doing the hybrid conference. Ah, that’ll be exciting moment. Back in person. So ah, the other thing I wanted to talk about is this funny thing about people not being aware of of the order of things of the precedence of naming and the reason this came up was um. My friend posted a picture of purple Columbine blooming in her garden and None of her family members who lives across the country said oh I love those purple and white flowers and I messaged my friend and. Because it made me laugh and I I said it made me laugh that she called the columbine purple and white flowers. So and I totally get this as a regional thing you know like that people on the East Coast may have never seen Columbine but I’m a Colorado girl by births or not by birth exactly but certainly by a nativity. Ah, my mother was born there stepfather was born there I grew up there hometown of Denver Columbine is the State Flower Purple Columbine ah and so it was funny to me that somebody would not. Recognize the flower and big I mean maybe just it’s so pervasive here. But also you know it’s like people who know nothing about the your american west right? and it is a pretty flower.

So and she replied back and said yes that um, when she and her son were skiing that there was a trail called Columbine and her son who’s a teenager said. It’s really sad that they named a trail after that town where all of those kids died. So this is the perspective partly of youth and partly of people who’ve grown up in a digital world that they’re not aware of the order of history. So in case, you don’t. Follow that whole thing probably most of you do, but he was referring to the massacre at Columbine high school which took place in Denver it was not a town but Columbine high school Columbine high school of course named for the state flower of Colorado and. Lots of mountains around here have Columbine this are that because it’s a flower that grows everywhere here right? I have none of yellow columbine in my garden blooming right now I should take a picture and of None of them put it on the show notes. Because the peony is not ready for full viewing anyway. So it’s just it’s it’s just a really funny thing and I’ve noticed it happen a lot and I can’t think of the books but like when people pick an older property. And say oh and ah I don’t think this was the exact one but um, like the one that I pulled out in the example for her was wizard of oz like when people complained that the wizard of oz rips off Harry Potter or some of these older fantasy works Rip off Harry Potter and it’s funny because when I none read Harry Potter I thought it was incredibly derivative of previous fantasy works. But once something becomes very large. It supersedes everything else and and there’s also the wherever someone none encounters. Ah, piece of information a story a name then that becomes none in their mind regardless of precedent. It’s a funny thing. And this was making me think too which is just sort of a sideline but I was ah thinking about how someone had asked me a long time ago. Um, and it was someone who was young and they were asking me about your song.

By Elton John and Bernie Toppin and they said why do you think he says um, but then again, no in the song. Why why would he do that and I said well it’s it’s meant to Reflect you know they’re like why why wouldn’t he just change that the song if he if he changed his mind and I said well it’s meant to be like this conversational tone and it’s meant to transmit his sense of of uncertainty and insecurity by having that in the lyrics and they said no I don’t think that’s it I think he just. Made the mistake and didn’t change it. It was like no I don’t think that’s what happened, but for some reason that song’s already that conversation’s always stuck with me and I was thinking about Jim Croce’s song. Where he says I’ll have to say I love you and a song and it starts out with I know it’s kind of late I hope I didn’t wake you? Um, there’s I didn’t look up the date on this one I well let me go back. I was wondering which of those came none and the answer is is Elton John and Bernie Taupin that song was 1970 Jim Crowie’s was 1973 um, lot of names I’m gonna have to fix in the transcript. Sorry if I don’t get them all and then there’s. Ah, what can I think of the band. Um I’m leaving on a jet plane has a similar thing. We’re addressing the person and the song where they say um, don’t now have to look.

It’s not letting me pause funny that song was written by John Denver I didn’t realize that I was thinking of someone else singing it. Maybe you guys will remember because I’m not gonna keep researching it. But anyway, ah. He says the same sort of thing in there as in um I hate to wake you up to say goodbye and what year was that oh Peter Paul and Mary that’s who I was thinking of um, singing it. Okay, hold on.

Okay, so that was 1966 which I should remember because that’s the year I was born. So anyway, this person who I can’t even remember who they are I want to go back and expand on the explanation and say that this was part of a songwriting trend. In the apparently late sixty s through the early 70 s of having kind of having lyrics that were more conversational and directed to a particular person we could probably do a whole essay on this and if you want to take that up. For your ah thesis. You’re welcome to do so so I’m going to go on my way and get some stuff done. Wish me luck. Um, if I kill off all the characters will you forgive me? Ah, ah. All right? Um I hope you all have a fabulous Thursday and I will talk to you tomorrow I’ll do my podcast tomorrow. What the hell it’s only it’s only time you all take care bye bye.

The Best Title That Never Was

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week concerns the reality of having to change names. We’re asking the crew if they’ve ever had to change the name(s) of a character or place in a book after we’d drafted it? Who is the character who will forever go by their “unpublished” name in our minds?

For me, it wasn’t a character. But I will tell you about the title I wish I hadn’t changed. 

Naming Fantasy Characters, Places, and Things

The upside of me not being in San Diego on June 1 is that my event at Mysterious Galaxy will be available to all of you via Zoom! Would love if you all joined in!

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is Names: What’s your favorite source/method for naming your characters, places, etc? Come on over to learn my secrets.

The Importance of Claiming our Names

Yesterday evening I did a podcast interview over the phone, as part of the promotions St. Martins Press has set up for me for THE ORCHID THRONE. This was a gal I hadn’t interacted with before. In fact, a LOT of early readers and reviewers picking up this book – or winning it from a Goodreads giveaway – are totally new to my books, which is super cool. This gal hadn’t read fantasy romance before and she was all excited by the combination, which was really wonderful to hear. Amazing to me that so many people are discovering this sweet spot between epic fantasy and female-driven, swoon-worthy Romance. Also, pretty kickass to know the subgenre is still on the rise.

Anyway, one of the first questions she asked me – before she started recording – was how to pronounce my name. This came as no surprise as it’s usually the first question anyone new asks me. For the record, it’s Jeff-ee, or Jeffy, whichever makes more sense in your head. (But not Jiffy like the peanut butter and not jefe, which is pronounced heff-AY and is Spanish for boss. Yes, I have a lot of these conversations.) It’s short for Jennifer, and is a nickname my dad made up when I was a baby. No, he didn’t want a boy and he liked the name Jennifer. He also died when I was three, so my nickname is a gift from him that I’ve carried all my life.

As you can see, I have a lot of conversations about my name – and I try to remind myself that though I’ve heard all these questions and jokes a hundred times, for the person I’m talking to, it’s brand new to them. Also, talking about my name is a good ice-breaker, so for the most part I don’t mind.

Still, it’s amazing to me how many people feel it’s fine to advise me about my name or make jokes about it. I avoid telling people it’s short for Jennifer, not because it’s a secret (obviously I’m talking publicly about it here), but because some people will insist on calling me Jennifer once they find out. Even after I tell them only the IRS and telemarketers call me that and if you yell it across a bar, I’ll assume you mean one of the ten-thousand OTHER Jennifers and I won’t respond. Some people have very seriously told me that I shouldn’t use a “made up” name. I remember my graduate adviser refusing to call me Jeffe, because he thought it sounded too much like Buffy and I needed to be more serious than that.

It occurred to me much later what a red flag that was of so many, many things.

What’s key here is, I identify with the name “Jeffe.” It’s been my byline all along (with the exception of those very serious scientific papers) and it’s what I respond to. I realize there’s a bit of a bump in people assimilating the unfamiliar, but I’m willing to work with people on that. I’ve come to realize that it’s not unreasonable to ask people to put that effort in also.

The other night we were having drinks with my folks and the topic of pronouns came up. They’re from an older generation, so they’re understandably taken aback by the “new” pronouns. “When did this become a thing?” they asked. I explained that I knew it seemed weird to them, but that I’d had to learn too. I wear a She/Her/Hers button on my conference lanyards to help normalize that pronouns shouldn’t be assumed. I’m fortunate to present as female and that the assumed pronouns match my appearance. But this isn’t true for everyone and it makes it harder for people who are exceptions if only they designate pronouns.

It comes down to that we all have this basic right of human dignity, which includes being called by the names and pronouns we choose for ourselves. Having these many conversations over the course of my life about my unusual nickname – and the occasional obstinate responses – is a minor irritation. But it makes me aware of how much more difficult it must be for someone with a greater stake in the issue, and perhaps less privilege and confidence.

I recall when Quvenzhané Wallis was up for an Academy Award, the press did not handle it well. From this terrific article on the topic:

They might have addressed her with a respectful ‘Miss. Wallis.’ Or politely asked how to pronounce her first name. Or best of all, they might have done the research ahead of time to learn how she preferred to be addressed. Instead she was called ‘Q,’ ‘little Q,’ ‘Miss Q.’ An AP reporter even decided “I’m just going to call you Annie,” to which Wallis replied “My name is not Annie. It’s Quvenzhane.”

I’m struck by this observation in the article:

Names given to some black children are mocked as being ‘made up’ or not ‘real’ names. White folks will substitute them for names that are more familiar to our own culture.

I understand this very well, having the “not real” accusation hurled at me about my name, along with the stubborn refusal to use it and the fall back to something more culturally familiar. And that’s being a white girl in a culture predominantly peopled by folks like me.

Then there’s this great talk by Uzo Aduba on wanting to change her name as a child because no one could pronounce Uzoamaka. (Shout out to and Chelsea Mueller for knowing exactly what I was trying to recall there!) Her mother told her if people could learn to pronounce Tchaikovsky, Michelangelo, and Dostoevsky, they could learn to pronounce Uzoamaka.

Her talk is especially stirring because she finishes with the advice, “So, do not ever erase those identifiers that are held in you… It is yours, and it was given to you at birth, and it is yours to own.”

I wish now that I’d insisted my graduate adviser use the name *I* wanted, not the one he approved of.