Pronoun Use Cases

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I have found pronouns to be useful when people list them in their email signature or bio, or business card, especially if I don’t know the person. It is a quick and easy way to avoid making a mistake when referring to the person. I know how frustrating those mistakes can sometimes be. “Jamie” is an epicene name (my name is Jamie, not James) and as a kid growing up in the 1970s, I as well aware of the fictional Jaime Sommers (played by Lindsay Wagner) in the spinoff show The Bionic Women. Friends would occasionally tease me about having a girl’s name. (We were all young, not more than 6 or 7, and I knew no other boys named Jamie.)

Later, in college, I remember gathering the courage to send Piers Anthony a letter. He was a favorite of mine at the time, and not long after I sent the letter, I received a reply from him. It began, “Dear Ms. Rubin (I assume you are a girl)…”

The “pronoun” section of signature files and bios have been helpful because if you’ve never met the person with whom you are communicating, it can be hard to tell what their pronoun might be, especially for names that are uncommon, or unfamiliar to me. As this has become more and more the norm, I have relied on it in many situations.

The problem arises when commnicating about someone I have never met, whose name does not seem gender-specific, and for whom no pronouns have been identified. This happened recently and I was at a loss. How to refer to them? I opted to refer to them as they/them, which seemed reasonable, and no one complained. Later, when I finally met him, I had additional clarification.

I mention this because I find it pretty remarkable how seamlessly (it seems to me) the “my pronouns” concept has slipped into everyday use, and how convenient it is. It made me wonder how I would have handled this situation, say, ten years ago. I suppose I would have simply guessed, or asked someone.

After that letter from Piers Anthony addressed to “Ms. Rubin” sometime in 1993, I took to adding my middle name in formal correspondence, and in my byline. “Todd” is generally considered a male name. Thus, I have Piers Anthony to thank for my name appearing in places like Analog Science Fiction, and The Daily Beast as “Jamie Todd Rubin.”

I only wish that it were as easy to make clear how my name is spelled. J-A-M-I-E. It’s right there on my bylines and in my email signature and social media profiles. And yet, I get replies from various people multiple times a week with my name spelled J-A-I-M-E. I’ve complained about this before, but it does no good. This misspellings keep coming.

Written on February 3, 2022.

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  1. I have a friend (guy) with the name Kim. He has faced much the same thing. I never asked him if this was shortened from a longer name. He often adds his middle name as well.

  2. Ah, the plight of the Jamie’s 🙂 It’s “James” on my birth certificate, but I was “Jamie” all through childhood in the 60s and 70s. Sadly, while you might get away with “Moon Unit” and “Dweezil” back then, I got a lot of razzing for being a male Jamie. Didn’t help that the only Jamie’s most people were familiar with were Jamie Farr, the cross-dressing Corporal Klinger from MASH, and Jaime Sommers, the star of the Bionic Woman. As soon as I hit high school, I demanded everyone call me “James” — just in time for people to associate me with a particularly cheesy family drama called “James at 15.” Sigh. Now that I’m a relatively boring “Jim,” I look back with a lot of fondness at the Jamie moniker. Wear it with pride 🙂
    PS. Even then people people were rethinking how to address each other. I think 1971 is when Ms. Magazine launched, reinforcing the new honorific for women that wasn’t tied to marital status. I read somewhere that the New York Times didn’t support the use of Ms. until 1986.

    1. Jim, how could I forget Jamie Farr! Especially since MAS*H is one of my favorite shows (and one from which I can quote most episodes from memory). And of course now there is also Jamie Foxx.


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