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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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