I go by a lot of different names: I’m mommy and mama and maman and sometimes ‘mapu’ to my daughter; to some of my friends from high school I’m Aim or Cuppy; to my biological dad I was Hopey (while my sister called me Hopeless or Hopey-dopey); my dad and (rarely) my mom call me Hopers; I have a whole set of friends who know me only as Mimi (a different childhood nickname from my elementary years); my university friends from my days at York (and a lot of digital humanists, for historical reasons) call me aimeefreak; my parents sometimes distinguish me (sarcastically) from my sister with the appellation “The Good One”; at my daughter’s school and on parent council I’m Madame Morrison; to some francophones I’m Aimée (pr. “emmm-AY); my husband calls me shmoopah or my love or (exasperatedly) A-i-m-e-e-e-e-e-e when I’ve forgotten to bring his computer in to the shop. On Twitter I’m digiwonk (people call me this when I meet them).
I have nearly as many names as I have roles–even within individual relationships my name shifts from context to context: from breakfast table to date night, from pet name to introduction, from speaking in English to speaking in French, from feeling friendly to feeling angry.
And so at work I have different names, too.
I prefer my undergraduates to call me Dr. Morrison, or Prof. Morrison. I explain that we are in a professional relationship in a particular context that makes this name appropriate. I also explain to them how doctorates and job titles work, and about who is who and what is what in this setting. For me, it comes down to this: my doctorate is what authorizes me to be at the front of the classroom, to push them so hard with reading and testing and talking, to correct their work. My doctorate and my job title indicate what it is I do with my time: the kinds of research, the depth of teaching, the commitment to service to the department, university, profession, and the public.
It marks, also, my expertise, and I believe in expertise and its recognition: this is perhaps where I become activist, but for me the idea that everyone’s ‘opinion’ is, because authentically representing its author’s intent, valuable or right. It’s not. I have worked hard to know a lot of about digital media, literature, literary methods, and such: my credentials indicate this hard work, and this achievement. It means my opinions on materials in my field are not just ‘opinions’ but scholarly judgments. That’s important for me, sure, but it’s a teaching goal of mine to have my students learn to value expertise–the effort and time and care it takes to really master something. It’s not easy to be an expert. Being an expert, or becoming one, is valuable.
(I have to add, too, that my classroom persona is generally very, very silly and from-the-hip; the more formal name counterbalances my levity with some gravitas.)
My graduate students largely seem to have this under control: so I leave it to them what to call me. Some opt for Prof. Morrison (I like that) and some opt for Aimée. I’m fine with that too.
To my direct colleagues, I’m Aimée. From the dean, I sometimes get letters addressed to “Dr. Morrison” with that name crossed out in pen, and “Aimée” written in above by hand–that’s a great compromise between the formality of a letter marking a tenure process milestone, and friendly relationship between colleagues: this salutation has its cake and eats it too. It’s a target I’m forever trying to hit.
To colleagues I don’t know? Well, I mostly interact with them over email: article submissions, queries about conferences, requests for supervision, administrative stuff like grant proposals. Who am I in those intereactions? I’ve spent a truly ridiculous amount of time obsessing over how to sign off my emails. Here’s what I’ve come up with.
AM [more familiar] / Aimée Morrison [less familiar]
Dept. of English Language and Literature
University of Waterloo
Generally, I’m aiming for friendly, but with a context for you to know who I am and where I’m coming from. If I know my correspondent *at all* I’m usually AM in early writings, and very soon thereafter Aimée. That’s when I omit the sig file stuff about my rank and institution.
But when I email students, I’m always “Best wishes, AM”: it seems like such a great way to be both human and a little removed; friendly, but with critical distance. Again, the balance.
I’m not too fussed about being ‘inconsistent’ in what kinds of name options I offer to the different people in my life: so long as there is a reason for a preference, I’m happy to hew to everyone’s desired practice. My identity is mutable and context-sensitive; my relationships with others are marked by differing degrees of formality, closeness, power imbalance. I try to find a way for people to address me–and me them–that meets all of our needs for clarity and ease and comfort. It seems reasonable to me that, with respect to what we ask our student to call us, we might easily develop very different practices from one another, that are each valuable and appropriate.
You can call me Aimée, btw–just don’t call me late for cocktails.