Listing the names of my relatives who died in Auschwitz brought home to me [thanks to Jerry Fresia’s perceptive comment] the importance of acknowledging people by their names. Here is another tiny example. I am undergoing a year-long course of treatment with a drug called Prednisone for an ailment called Polymyalgia Rheumatica that I thought was obscure until I started mentioning that I had it and discovered all sorts of people who also suffer from it [including my own sister!] Once I began the medication, all pain disappeared, but I must reduce the dosage monthly by very small increments until I am down to one milligram a day. Last Thursday, I saw my rheumatologist specialist for a routine follow-up [her first name, I kid you not, is Reummy!]. When I checked in at the front desk I was handed several sheets of boilerplate information they are required to give me, both about the clinic and about me. I read them idly while I waited to be called, and noticed a curious fact. In the literature, all the doctors are listed by both first and last name, but everyone else – the Physician’s Assistants, Nurses, front desk secretaries, etc. – are listed only by their first names. I checked, and that is the way their name tags are printed as well.
This is a clear, and I suspect more or less universal, marker of class distinction. Needless to say, the nurses and physician’s assistants often know more about the diseases being treated at the clinic than newly minted Doctors who get to be known on their first day by both their first and last names. To be known by your first and last names is in America today a marker of respect and importance, a fact that is of course quite apparent in the Academy.
I am old fashioned enough not to be comfortable with being known solely by my first name, but I am also rebellious enough to insist that everyone else should receive the same courtesy. When I got home, I found an email message from the clinic asking me to rate the service I had received. I gave everyone and everything a top ranking [I mean, so far as I can tell, they are taking good care of me], but at the end of the questionnaire, in the space for “comments,” I recommended that all the people working at the clinic should wear name tags giving their first and last names.
I put down my email address again, but I have not heard from them.