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Brother refuses to call her by her preferred name

Carolyn Hax

Dear Carolyn:

My younger brother — we are both adults — calls me by an old name — one I was given at birth, and have loathed since age 3, and have not willingly used since I was 10.

The name I use — on my passport, paychecks, everything — is a shortened version of the given one. My other five siblings call me by the name I prefer.

Brother does this with the sole aim of irking me. He won’t stop. He interrupts me when I’m introducing myself to people, to say, “She’s really [old name],” which I grit my teeth and smilingly correct for the new (confused) friend.

I have asked him politely to stop; he laughs and says, “OK, [old name].” I have addressed him by distortions of his own name, awfully childish and doesn’t work anyway. I have laughed it off; this makes him laugh and continue to misname me. I’ve snapped, “Grow up already.” I’ve deleted Facebook posts where he calls me by this name.

I have a lot of built-up, unwanted anger at this; I feel like I’m being bullied and disrespected. My objections are “overruled” as “oversensitive.” I believe I am entitled to the basic respect of being called by my own name. I know it’s a tiny problem in this big world of racism, sexual harassment, war and pestilence, and maybe it “shouldn’t” bother me, but it does.

How do I get him to just stop it, without causing some kind of rift? We get along well except for this.

— Not in Fourth Grade Anymore

This is not a tiny problem!


It is a tiny expression of a serious problem, the same problem behind every serious sub-problem you list: abuse of power. Racism and sexual harassment are abuses of power. War, an abuse of power and/or an effort to stop some other entity’s abuse of power. Pestilence? Longer story, but worsened by abuses of power.

Your brother sees power in your discomfort, and seizes it whenever he can. Thus your anger: It’s a natural response to a sense of powerlessness, especially when it involves your very identity. You feel unable to define yourself on your terms because your brother uses his leverage to grab that power from you. I felt rage on your behalf just reading your letter today.

Often methods like yours suffice to thwart bullies — yes, your brother is one — or a bully just gets bored and moves on. But since your brother apparently retains his full appetite for putting you down, you’ll need to work the levers to reclaim your authority.

First, remain calm. He feeds off your distress.

Second, be plainly truthful, without emotion, to people who witness your brother’s embarrassing act. You already have the words: “I believe I’m entitled to the basic respect of being called by my own name. My brother thinks otherwise.” Facts only, to fill in the salient blank: Is this warmhearted sib-roasting? No. It is not. “I apologize for my brother” is fine shorthand, calm as a pond on a windless day.

Third, trust that good people will make the connection, especially if he “overrules” you as “oversensitive” — as in, gaslights you — and don’t engage your brother on this one bit beyond your stated position. Pointedly, let him make a name for himself.

Email Carolyn at [email protected], follow her on Facebook at or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at

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