Lethonomia: My Name is Not Christine

One letter, one syllable, nothing important. Except it is.

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Wierd Words and Why They Matter

Having grown up with brothers named Alex and Zach, I’ve been called Alzach more times than I can count, but my parents aren’t alone in their lethonomia. With a name like Christina, you learn to respond everything or nothing. Either you respond to Chris, Christine, Crystal, Christa, Kristin, etc., or you assume no one is ever talking to you. Part of my motivation to return to my childhood nickname C.C. is to spare people from having to remember whether I’m Christina or Christine. As a conflict-avoidant introvert, it’s hard for me to correct people.

One letter, one syllable, nothing important. Except it is.

Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare

The Word

Lethonomia is the inability to recall the right name [1]. It comes from the Latin letho meaning “lie hidden/forget,” and nominee meaning “name” [2]. The word relates to the river Lethe in Greek mythology. Lethe wound through Hades and was thought to cause forgetfulness of the past [3].

Lethologica, a cousin of lethonomia, means the inability to recall the right word. As a speech pathologist, I’ve worked with plenty of clients with lethonomia and lethologica, but I can assure you, names are the worst.

Why It Matters

Photo by Irina on Unsplash

Ever been introduced to someone, and ten minutes later forget their name? I’ve spent many a cocktail party praying someone would say the name again. We don’t use names that often, but that doesn’t mean they’re not important. When does a chicken turn from dinner to a pet? When someone names it.

There is a student whose name I will never forget. She was never on my caseload, but I came to her class for another student who was. She always said hi to me. One day, I greeted her back, but I got her name wrong by one letter. Imagine a puppy who’s been kicked, and you’ll understand the look on her face. I knew how she felt.

In high school, I sold my soul to volleyball. I competed year-round all over the country, even took private lessons. During my junior year, the varsity team got a new coach. I sat on the bench for most of that year. The coach called me “Christine” for all of it. The next season I joined marching band instead.

Just one letter, one syllable, but it hurt so much.

Ever since my blunder, I have greeted that student by name. Every time, she returns my greeting with a smile.

What’s in a name? Everything.

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[1] [3] “What’s The Word For When You Can’t Remember A Word?” Everything After Z by Dictionary.Com (blog), January 7, 2019. https://www.dictionary.com/e/tip-of-the-tongue/.

[2] “Wacky Word Wednesday: Lethonomia.” Simply CSOFT, April 22, 2014. https://blog.csoftintl.com/lethonomia-wacky-word-wednesday/.