Christian Marriage, Divorce, Marriage, Marriages Damaged-Destroyed by Sp. Ab.

What is in a Name: When Your Spouse Refuses to Call You By Name

What is in a name? What value is someone’s name? What does it mean when someone refuses to address his wife/husband by their name?

(For simplicity sake, I’m going to reference “husband” as the one who refuses to call his wife by name because that is the setting in which this topic came up for me. But certainly this could go the other way around – an emotionally abusive wife can choose to not call her husband by his name as well.

So . . we’ve addressed when a husband doesn’t call a wife by her name, but what about when he calls her something that she has explicitly asked not to call her. What do you call that? Is it just a minor relational issue? Is it an accident? I don’t think so.

I’m going to share some personal stories in this blog post. These stories are insightful, and I hope that in sharing them, people will understand the insidiousness of this type of emotional abuse. As always, it is also my hope that these stories will validate the pain that some of you are dealing with . . . even today. And . . . that this validation will give you a reality check about your relationship.

Yet into the third decade of our marriage, he chose to call me by a name I despised, yet forgot my given name. Or did he really forget?

I have thought about this topic and discussed it a number of times among emotionally abused wives. This topic came up recently in a private online group for emotionally abused wives. I received permission to share their stories and have added other personal stories I have collected. I think there will be many who will resonate with this topic. Some, for the first time, will be able to make sense with what is going on, and it will bring more clarity to the state of their marriage/relationship.

I’ve been married over three decades. I’ve always called my husband by his name in conversation, when I needed his attention for something, when I referred to him in conversation with other people. He has rarely called me by my name. The pet name that he did call me by, I detested. I gave him alternative suggestions (honey, babe, etc.) even before we married. He rejected those. Yet into the third decade of our marriage, he chose to call me by a name I despised, yet forgot my given name. Or did he really forget?

When I needed him for something, I always called him by his name. But when he needed me for something, he would walk into the room and address me, without saying my name. For 30 years, I thought he was the better person because he made the choice to physically walk into the room to address me. I assigned the “lazy” word to myself, because I could remain seated and call his name out and address him. I dismissed the obvious: I was nameless in his mind.

Read this personal story from an emotionally abused wife:

I just realized something today. My husband will hardly ever speak my name. He rarely speaks to me, period, but in the entirety of our marriage (8 years, 9 together) you know it might have been 20 times at MOST that he has actually said my name. I’m not counting, so 20 is just a guess.

My point being that it is so rare for me to hear him say my name, that when he does, it sounds all wrong to me. Someone once said she liked how he pronounced my name. I hadn’t noticed because it is so rare.

I don’t know what I’m getting at. It isn’t like I particularly like my name, but it’s just the fact that he hardly ever addresses me. And no, he doesn’t have a pet name for me or even a derogatory thing he calls me. He doesn’t really call me anything or anyone.

This isn’t typical is it? I mean, I say his name to him multiple times a day when I need to address him. I wonder if there is a reason or motive behind this.


Another emotionally abused wife addressed the woman above with her story:

I would have been thrilled with my husband calling my name even 20 times. I think I heard my name 5 times in 18 years of marriage and four years before that, and we worked together for five years before dating.

I don’t get it, it was a source of an argument occasionally when I would ask for an explanation, but I never got a reason really. Also, he did not call me by a sweetie name.

We are recently separated and I have been thinking about him, but your post reminds me of the pain. I’m sorry you are going through the same, hopefully someone may have some insight as to why a husband would not say his wife’s name.

And another:

I actually confronted him about this very thing and he said I was ridiculous, that of course he calls me by my name. #canyousaygaslighting

I remember once at church I heard someone call my name, and it sounded like my husband’s voice. Lo, and behold, it was. He was calling me over to talk to someone he had just met. I remember thinking at that point how foreign it was to hear my name from his voice.

Well, that’s because he never used it. He was between a rock in a hard place at church. I was 20 feet away and the only way I would have known he wanted my attention was for him to actually be forced to say my name out loud because of the crowd in the lobby.

And a slight twist, an unwanted name:

Ex would call me by other names and rarely my own.
My bride
Bubble Munchkin
Terbear
These were the most common. People would have to ask him or me what my name was. Weird.

I think I had thought of it a LONG time ago but didn’t think to ask anyone else if they had this experience. It is really eye opening to see just how many of us have experienced it.

It isn’t one of the things at the forefront that stands out to you. It’s something so subtle we tend to not notice it at first until all the other things come to surface.



I actually did not realize how much it has hurt me. It really has, though. I noticed this when I have been interacting with a few people lately who are constantly using my name when addressing me and noticed how it made he feel valued. I actually felt like I want to give some of these people a big hug and never let go lol. I wouldn’t because most of them have been men like my chiropractor and doctor and such but I just noticed that odd effect it had on me that someone cared to address me by name and then I realized where it came from and it is from my husband avoiding addressing me by name.

Another part of the conversation:

Woman A: Names are sacred.
Names are spoken symbols for human spirits, created by God.
Refusing to speak someone’s name is also refusing to honor their value as a person, created in God’s image.

Original poster:

I have never looked at it this way! Makes me want to be more intentional about using people’s names in conversation even when I first meet them. I always struggle to remember names when first meeting people so that’s why I think of this. Very interesting take on it. I think you are correct!

Woman A: that is why I do work to learn people’s names and remember them… And to say their names in both spoken and written communication

Another survivor commenting to the original poster:

Not calling you by your name is denying you your personhood. You are an object not a person, therefore, he does not acknowledge who you are by not using your name. Just like he doesn’t call a chair a chair. He doesn’t have to acknowledge the chair as it is there for his benefit and use.

Original poster:

Wow, thank you for this insight. This helps put into perspective what is going on here. It’s really sick to be with someone for so many years and to be able to count the amount of times they even spoke your name.


A loved child has a thousand names: honey, baby, sweetie-pie, punkin’, love, angel. Their doting parents enjoy looking in their eyes and trying to elicit a smile. But an unloved spouse is the opposite. She (or he) is de-humanized. Their name is erased. ~Gretchen Baskerville

Gretchen Baskerville

Gretchen Baskerville is in that private group, and I asked if she could share her thoughts on this topic. Gretchen is the author of the Life-Saving Divorce: Hope for People Leaving Destructive Relationships. She’s been a Christian divorce recovery leader in churches since 1998. Here is her response:

***

A loved child has a thousand names: honey, baby, sweetie-pie, punkin’, love, angel. Their doting parents enjoy looking in their eyes and trying to elicit a smile. But an unloved spouse is the opposite. She (or he) is de-humanized. Their name is erased.

It is one step: It starts when someone sees you as an outsider: maybe due to your sex or political or religious belief. You’re ousted from their in-group. You are no longer deserving of their loyalty or protection. They prohibit you from being an equal partner with an equal voice in the marriage. Often they suggest you are lazy and you deserve their contempt. They mock your legitimate concerns about their behavior, and brush you off as being too sensitive or too demanding. Or they condemn your view of mutuality in marriage as the cause of moral decay (feminism) in society and imply that anyone who agrees with you is weak or stupid.  

They call you names, such as loser or quitter or Jezebel or rebellious because giving you a label, rather than calling you by name, dehumanizes you. Eventually they convince themselves that hurting you (and people who look or thing like you) or excommunicating you is their duty to society. You are subhuman to them. This is the pattern the people follow to absolve themselves of guilt for hurting you, ignoring you, and even killing you. I’ve just described the several of the stages of genocide. 


Our names are important. I remember how long it took for me to select names for our children. In fact, the “sound” of the name took back seat to meaningfulness in how our children’s names were selected. I think names are important to God, too.

I want to know your name. I want to call you by your name. You are worthy of being called by your name. You are important, of worth and value. God knows your name! Check these out:

But now, this is what the LORD says– he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. Isaiah 43:1

And:

And the LORD said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.” Exodus 33:17

20 thoughts on “What is in a Name: When Your Spouse Refuses to Call You By Name”

  1. This is such a powerful post thank you for all of us that lost our name to a label. it began so long ago, in the garden as the accusations started “that WOMAN YOU gave me” both God and Even were blamed for Adam’s own choices, her name was lost. I often think narcissism was the original sin, the “I will exalt myself” that launched the fall of all of creation. The theme of so much soul destroying abuse is this ” I will dominate, I will make you my servant, I want worship from you, if I don’t get it I will destroy you”

    My primary care doctor told me 2 weeks ago about her life working with highly religious abused women. She said often the words mentally ill ended up in their charts, but I know the truth, what trauma does and how it serves abusers to label their victim with something that erases their credibility and gives them defective and dismissive medical care all their lives. She stated she survived a highly destructive and toxic marriage for 30 years. That moment of candid confession was life changing for me. The abuser could not stop her from fulfilling her destiny to be a healer. As her patient her survival story was one of the most amazing medical visits of my life. I think she told me this to confirm that my auto-immune disease and other health issues had their roots in trauma.

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  2. I honestly cannot recall what my exh did – call me by my name or avoid it altogether.
    However, my father-in-law avoided my name. I remember being pregnant with my son (his grandson) at one of their “famous” house parties. He introduced me to several people from the local university as “the bearer of his grandson.” I was reduced to nothing more than a surrogate regenerating his family line. A vessel. An object. More valued for that which I carried inside me…than for me, as an individual. I wasn’t a person to him.
    That was my first glimpse into how deeply embedded the abuse was within my exh’s family.

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  3. Celeste mistakenly posted her comment to this post onto the Sunday post: I’ve copied and pasted it here:

    CELESTEJuly 5, 2020 at 8:09 AM
    During long term marriage, my ex called me by another name. He said my given name was too hard to say, although he used it to speak to others with the same name. I need to tell you what he called me because it has dual significance. I am not concerned about identification.

    The name he gave me was “Nome”. Two syllables. It was sort of a take off from another name of someone we liked and so it seemed special. Reading George Simon’s book, In Sheep’s Clothing, I am able to identify him as Covert Aggressive. He was stripping me of my personhood until I was nearly physically dead.

    The enlightenment came slowly to finally hear that every time he said the name he gave me, he was reinforcing his brainwashing. “No, Me!”
    It was as if he had his finger pointing at himself, reminding me that it is all about him, all day, every day, “No, me! It’s all about me (him), you (the writer) don’t matter.” His selfish actions reinforced that he was the only one that mattered in our marriage.

    Being given a special name was comfortably familiar because my childhood perpetrator called me by a special name during grooming and afterwords, for years.

    This is a very difficult topic to address, but very important. I feel the humiliation, deeply.

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  4. I grew up in a family with domestic violence. When I was younger, it seems like my dad used my mom’s name, or her nickname (the one all the family and friends used), but by the time I was in my teens, and the violence was just about daily (either physical, verbal, or a combination), my dad always called my mom “woman.”, in an angry, frightful, demanding way. It was awful and very dehumanizing. I’ve always been proud of my mom for making the decision to leave the marriage as that was harder to do 50 years ago.

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  5. My ex had a pet name for me for 30 years. But he only called me by my real name when I did something he looked on as being wrong. It got to the stage that I dreaded being addressed by my real name as I knew I would be in trouble.

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  6. I have a narcissistic brother who has always postured his position in the family. I don’t remember whether he calls me by my name much or not, but I do remember many times that he has loudly called me by my childhood nickname. It’s the nickname my parents used and I think it’s very deliberately about reminding everyone within earshot that he is the “superior”. Everyone else calls me by my given name.

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  7. Names are very important and this is sad. I thought from the title it was going to be something about calling parents ‘mom’ or sad (by spouse) as I think some parents adopt that to teach children and it sticks…

    This Is different, but I was sort of given a ‘grandma’ (after rejecting grandma) substitute type name by someone in my bfs family and I was sort of telling the kids to call me by my actual name but she seems persistent in making it stick which is something I’m not used to and find sort of odd.

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  8. Julie Anne,
    Levity aside, Mrs. Muff is my Ezer, and in many ways far smarter than I.
    Last month we celebrated 40 years, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
    We learned long ago that marriage is a series of carefully considered trade-offs and that perfectionism is a fool’s errand.

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  9. Muff’s comments remind me of David Alan Coe’s song “You never even call me by my name”, which is also not a terribly bad picture of the difference between using affectionate (and mutual) pet names and refusing to use a spouse’s given name out of contempt for that person and disdain for the relationship.

    (and of course the song also has the four greatest lines in country music, but I digress)

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  10. “Well, I was drunk the day my mom got out of prison
    And I went to pick her up in the rain
    But before I could get to the station in my pickup truck
    She got run over by a d**ned old train”

    (when he told the song’s author that it wasn’t the greatest C&W song ever because it didn’t have anything about mom, or prison, truck, or trains)

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  11. I remember hearing that on Dr Demento!
    Positive ID on the additional lyric to make it a TRUE C&W song!

    “We play both kinds of music here. Country AND Western!”
    — The Blues Brothers

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  12. I thought you might find this interesting. At the 3:00 mark he talks about abusers not willing to call their partners by their given name because they don’t think their partner is entitled to that respect.
    *Note: strong name calling language in video

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  13. Rachel Louise Snyder’s book, “No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us,” also discusses how domestic violence perpetrator programs address the problem of perpetrators dehumanizing their victims when they refuse to use their names.

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  14. Julie,

    Emotional abuse has many forms doesn’t it?

    Using certain buzz words (whether or not) a spouse is purposely being antagonistic in a hurtful way, is abusive.

    Not knowing the marriage is in trouble and blindly using an unwanted buzz word in a teasing way, is Ignorance by the person. Ignorance can be a form of abuse, because the spouse isn’t paying attention.

    Generally a buzz word can’t destroy a marriage that is already broken, Using a buzz word in a strong marriage, might be stupid, but it won’t break it up,

    Abuses such as inflicting physical pain, cheating, substance addictions, legalism, being a lousy communicator dishing out verbal put-downs and criticism are easy to identify.

    The harder form of emotional abuse to identify are when spouses are mentally apart. For whatever reason they end up living an exhaustive (separate) lifestyle of putting outside interests’, career goals and crusades ahead of the marriage.

    it is hard for any spouse to deal being with an emotionally AWOL spouse, I think in most cases the man is the one that is emotionally AWOL, but that trend isn’t exclusive to just the husband, but either way it’s abusive.

    If neither of them are home or if one is constantly tucked away in a secluded home office and wanting constant un-disturbed peace and quiet, then the office wall is like a fortress that is keeping them separate within the confines of their own home.

    A man does that with his “man cave” with the big-screen, eating 2 bags of potato chips and sucking down a couple of 12 packs and then passing out in his messy “man cave” is emotionally abusive.

    I’ve seen both spouses never pursue or discover emotional connection and later wanting out of a marriage, while discovering new ways to point the finger at the other and ignore that the real cause of the break-up was one (or both spouses) had been emotionally going in a different direction for a very long time.

    Both the husband and wife need to get real and acknowledge they were emotionally abusive to each other because their minds were mentally separate and that their lifestyle, their ideologies and goals didn’t jive, with each other.

    Even if the marriage is over, individually they may find emotional peace when one accepts their own personal role in the break-up, then apologize and forgive one another and amicably move on.

    That is when a person has a better chance on not allowing history to repeat itself, if they happen to begin a new chapter with another partner in life.

    I’m related to a divorce lawyer who has seen it all, from toxic endings to amicable ones with less finger pointing and everything in-between and the one constant with his clients, was spouses didn’t have a strong enough mutual love, to hold it together.

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