By Elizabeth Anne Hull
Today I’m thinking about names. Fred’s was one he generally enjoyed, uncommon enough to be distinctive but not so rare as to be a unique identifier. He was no Beyonce or Liberace or Oprah. Though a lifelong anglophile, Fred liked the spelling of his name — the way the Danish kings did, with no C, rather than the most common English and Continental way — even though throughout his life he suffered from the indignities of having people, and later spellcheck programs, hypercorrect it for him.
What he didn’t like was the middle name on his birth certificate, George, but when he joined the U.S. military in World War II, he allowed the officials to give him the name Fred G. Pohl, Jr. He especially despised “Junior.” Fred was quite thoroughly estranged from his father, since his teenage years, and he always tried to be his own version of what he thought a man should be. He published consistently (when he didn’t use a pseudonym) as Frederik Pohl.
My own name, the one my mother, obsessed with the British royal family, gave me, combines two English queens. So I spell my middle name with an E, as did Queen Anne.
Fred and I had trouble from the day we ordered our wedding invitations, which we insisted be reprinted twice, once when the printer stole my E, and then when they dropped a C into Fred’s name.
Not too surprisingly I dropped my troublesome middle name when I went to college. At home, I had always been Betty Anne, to distinguish me from my mother Betty and my aunt Betty. But I thought the compound name sounded too childish and precious, and kept Betty as the name people who met me after high school would use.
Betty Anne was reserved for my family and childhood friends — there are too few of them left, alas. (We generally assume that callers who ask to speak to Elizabeth are those who never met me and are probably trying to sell me something. On the other hand, old friend Larry Niven always calls me Elizabeth.)
Although my family name is patronymic, I’ve consistently used the full name Elizabeth Anne Hull whenever I publish anything, and for people who don’t know me. I never took Fred’s name, so I assume callers who ask for “Mrs. Pohl” are probably people I don’t really want to talk to anyway.
BTW, Fred found out what it felt like to have someone use a spouse’s name instead of one’s own when I ran for Congress in 1996. Since my father’s name was Frederick Hull, Fred would feel especially uncomfortable.
I likewise always feel odd when people make me seem married off to my father by calling me Mrs. Hull. Most people didn’t feel right calling me “Miss,” especially those who realized I had children. (For a while in the sixties, when I managed group tours for a travel agency, I learned from bitter experience that I had to use my first initials to book overseas reservations for my clients, otherwise the responses were usually addressed to “The Manager,” assuming that a woman couldn’t be writing for rooms for dozens or hundreds of clients, and the envelope then would be passed from desk to desk, delaying me from finalizing itineraries.)
Getting my doctorate in 1975 solved those problems to some extent, and my students were generally pleased to call me Dr. Hull.
To most friends, though, I am Betty, and I hope you reading this will feel friendly enough to call me Betty, too.
I’m sure that, like Fred and I, most people prefer to have their names spelled correctly. It shows respect. The use of computers has seemed to bring more inadvertent errors by writers who ought to know better, through a combination of haste, hypercorrection and spellcheck programs that think they know what you want better than you do.
My spellcheck used to regularly offer to correct Newt Gingrich’s name to “gibberish.” Who says programmers have no sense of humor?