On Being Called Stewart

RBM has a funny am-I-losing-it? post (not that losing it is funny; well, I guess it's kind of funny), and one of the things she mentions as evidence is having accidentally called me Stewart on her blog. The deal, however, is that she's not losing it, or at least having called me Stewart instead of Spencer is no sign of it, because people call me Stewart all of the time. I'm not joking: all. of. the. time.

(I know, I know: I should have written "people call me metastewart instead of metaspencer all of the time," but that has yet to happen.)

There are currently, for instance, two senior colleagues who I work with who refer to me as Stewart on a regular basis. "Hi Stewart," they say as they pass me in the hallways. And it's not one of those things that just happened once, say right when I started the job. Two years into the job and just a couple of weeks ago one of these fine folks called me Stewart right in front of the main department office. I start to wonder if, when tenure-time come around, if they'll know to discuss the right case?

But this is nothing new. When I worked at Portland State University, back in the '90s, a person I worked very closely with also called me Stewart. She'd say "Hey Stewart" and then, after the first year or so, catch herself and feel horrible about it. Every now and then she'd come down to my office and ask "Did I call you Stewart again earlier? Why do I keep doing that!?!"

Which is a very good question. Stewart and Spencer kind of sound alike, they kind of look alike, and they're both generally British-sounding, but why is it that no one every calls me Stanley or Sydney or Stephen? I have never once been called Simon. It's always Stewart, and I've come to the conclusion that it's not any of these Stewart-callers' faults for calling me Stewart, but instead that my name just happens to exist at some kind of (warning: highly technical term approaching) glitch.point in our software.

Knowing next to nothing about cognitive linguistics and the mechanics of recall, I still want to say that at least some portion of us seem to misfile Spencer and, as a result, consistently end up pulling up Stewart when we go looking for Spencer. Isn't this weird? Does this happen to anyone else with such regularity?

Heading off to register metastewart.com ...


  1. I have an answer to that last question: nobody calls you those other names because they don't have the same number of letters as "Spencer." I am completely serious; I have a terrible time confusing names that begin with the same letter and have the same number of letters. I call Dianes Donna, and what not.

  2. OMG, and did you deliberately miscall me "RBM"? I'm dyin laffin here.

  3. Dear Senioritish,

    I like the number-of-letters theory.

    An aside: When I was in elementary school I learned to spell by shape, so "dog" and "bip" would be the same shape, as would "wood" and "emit". Well, I say "learned" even though the method never really stuck. In fact, I'm not sure how the shape recognition was supposed to help.

    I guess Stephen would be a likely dopplenamer, given the number of letters, but maybe that's thought of by people as "Steven"?

    Still surprised by how much this happens to me; and LOL!


  4. for some reason I just amused myself for about 10 minutes enumerating the folks who might be calling you Stewart. This is a very bizarre phenomenon. Though "Stew" would be a pretty funny nickname.

  5. For the record, no one I work with has called me Stew just yet; they're still keeping it formal with Stewart. :)

  6. Not sure if this fits the pattern or not, but I routinely find that some non-trivial segment of the population calls me Joe. I'll introduce myself as Gil, but they'll hear absolutely none of those letters. It's happened often enough -- and in sufficiently disparate contexts -- that there's clearly something more complicated afoot than a single hard-of-hearing friend...

  7. Awesome to know I'm not alone, Joe. :) Name storage issues.

  8. Oh boy, tell me about it! For years and years people have called me Jennifer (it's Jessica). And as recently as yesterday. And it ranges from people who don't remember my name to people I haven't seen in a long time, but interestingly, more often than not it's people that I know and see regularly (professors that I TA'd for, colleagues, etc.)

    And to make everything more complicated, a great friend of mine named Jennifer is in the same program as me so on at least a dozen occasions a professor has referred another grad student to come talk to one of us when s/he means the other one. So like you, I sometimes wonder about whether or not some colleagues think that I have done some things (or haven't) when I haven't (or have) and whether this effects anything larger.

    Interestingly though, the only name that I've ever been called by multiple people if it wasn't Jennifer is Rebecca, which is the same number of letters as Jessica.

    So, question: do you find yourself correcting everyone or only certain people? I usually don't correct the person if it's someone that has alternatively called me Jessica and Jennifer, though obviously if it's someone I don't know very well or have just met I do correct them. Curious.

    And I might as well just say this too: depending on the particular power dynamic of my situation I don't correct certain others...

  9. Jennifer/Jessica!

    Okay, so this just happens to be another slip I was thinking of, since two of my sisters' names are Jennifer and Jessica. But Rebecca ... that surprises me.

    Re: correction, I've given up on saying anything. I mean, to tell someone I've worked with for two years that my name is in fact Spencer and not Stewart would make me more uncomfortable than being called Stewart for another year or two until they figure it out. But that's just me.

    When I call students by the wrong name I feel soooooo lousy, though, so I guess it's cruel of me to not remind them.

    Maybe I need a T-shirt that reads: "Spencer, Dammit!" :)

  10. I have to break my silence and out myself as a reader because recently, while staying at your house, I had to catch myself repeatedly from calling you...Stephen. Go figure why not Stewart. I kinda wish now that it would have been Stewart.

  11. Thank god it wasn't Stewart! :)

  12. I don't think I've called you Stewart, but now I might--you've created the synaptic link even where it didn't previously exist.

  13. Anonymous2:18 PM

    I get:

    Janice(?) (pronounced "Ja-niece")

    Janie is probably most common these days, though Janell was the more common choice when I was a kid.


  14. Janie is my favorite of these; maybe it would be good for us to simply adopt second names. :)