My Turn: Don’t Just Call Me Jane

I am so accustomed to people's getting my name wrong that I will answer to almost anything. I have been called practically every name that begins with J, from Joanne, to Jana, to Juana, and even many names that do not, like Shauna and Yohanna. Sometimes, though I am most certainly not male, I am called men's names, like Jonah or John. For everyone who reacts to my name with pleasant confusion, there is someone else who furrows her brows and exclaims, incredulously, "What did you say?!"

As names go, mine is phonetic and really quite simple. But I know that each time a Starbucks barista picks up that pen and points it at that plastic cup, there's going to be trouble. I suppose I really should invent myself a "Starbucks name," something easy that everyone can pronounce and spell, to avoid the lengthy conversation that always stands between me and my iced grande nonfat mocha. But I can't do it. I guess I feel as if some tiny but important part of my identity would be lost if I stood at a counter and cheerfully said my name was Jane.

When your name is even slightly out of the ordinary, people think they can talk down to you about it. I have been asked, with a sneer, "What kind of name is that?" I have had people correct me, as if they know my name better than I do. I have had people assume my name must be a typo, even when I wrote it myself. I have been asked more times than I can count, by people who think it is the most original thing anyone ever came up with in the annals of comedy, if my parents really wanted a boy.

I had one boss who simply could not comprehend that my name was not Johanna. After a few months she managed to get the pronunciation down, but the spelling continued to elude her. I worked for her for almost a year. I e-mailed her probably 20 times a day, and each time deliberately designed my e-mail signature so that my name appeared in a distinctive font and a pretty shade of blue. Still, she always replied to Johanna. When I quit I stifled the impulse to tell her that Johanna would have to do her bidding now, because I was leaving.

And that's just my first name. My last name, being common and rather boring, should provide a respite from the confusion. It doesn't. My last name graces the façades of law firms and delis nationwide, as well as one of the major college test- prep centers. And yet my last name is almost as much of a stumbling block as my first. When asked to provide it on the phone, I quickly add "with a K." Despite the fact that I see the name Kaplan everywhere and have seen the name Caplan precisely twice, the person on the other end invariably spells it with a C. It's not only the K but the a's that throw them. They want to spell it Kaplin, or Kaplon. To my knowledge no one has ever used either of those spellings, but that doesn't stop strangers from trying.

Recently it took me months to get the result of a routine medical test because somewhere between the doctor's office and the lab, my last name got so mangled that my medical history essentially belonged to someone else. On more than a few occasions I have received bills addressed to Ms. Kalpan and wondered if I was legally obligated to pay them. I was once handed a plane ticket on which the misspelling of my last name was so spectacular that I wondered if I was really taking off and crossing time zones, or if the true me was stuck abroad and this "me" returning home was another person entirely.

I sometimes think I would have a different personality if I hadn't grown up knowing that each introduction might demand a lengthy apologia of my name, and by extension, myself. Despite all the hassle, though, I would not want an ordinary name. I know of one other person in the world who shares my name, first and last. I know nothing about her except that she lived in New York at the same time I did, and that she and I subscribed to a few of the same publications. I found myself in the surreal position of having to explain to circulation departments that I was, in fact, me, and not that other version of me on the West Side. I can only imagine how many times that would happen to someone named Jennifer Smith. I would rather keep spelling my name and repeating that my parents did not really want a boy. Even if they'd had one, I doubt they'd have named him something normal. Which reminds me, my middle name is a little unusual, too. But I won't go into that.