My name is Kirsten and that seems to be a difficult thing for many people. It’s not an incredibly common name, except maybe in some Scandinavian countries, but also it sounds similar to a very common name, Kristen, often adding to the confusion. I cannot tell you what a huge part of my life has been spent correcting people pronouncing and spelling my name. If I had a nickel for every time… I would have retired a multi-millionaire at age thirteen happy that nobody can ever get it right.
There are a lot of unique names out there, and going to public school in Brooklyn I was exposed to names from all sorts of cultures. So my name was just one of few that every year on the first day of school had to be corrected for the teacher and any new students. As I grew older, I went through this every single year.
I became exhausted as an adult still finding this so hard for people. It’s an easy mistake so at first I am happy to pleasantly correct people. The second time I almost apologize, as if I had done something wrong having this be my name… “I’m so sorry, it’s actually KIRSTEN. Pronounced K-EAR-STEN”. By the third mis-pronunciation I typically gauge whether this person even needs to know my name. If it’s a person I may never meet again, I tend let it slide. If it’s someone I know I will be with again I typically begin telling stories and start name dropping myself till they get the picture. “So my husband and I were camping and he says “K-I-R-S-T-E-N (enunciating slowly) , where is the bug spray”.
It doesn’t just effect having people forget your name when they meet you. When I was around 7 years old I remember saving my allowance for several weeks because I wanted to buy a tin piggy bank. My brother had a red one and basically it was a metal box that you opened with a secret combination lock, and a slit to put money in the top. I thought it was pretty cool and was ecstatic to order one in pink from a catalogue. My mother helped me fill out the order form and we realized you could get it monogrammed. We put my name down and mailed out the order form with the check the next day. I probably waited a month or two for this to come in the mail (as was the world of the 80s before Amazon Prime), so this entailed me running through the door every day after school yelling, “did it come?!” I am sure you can guess what happened next. When it finally did arrive my heart was pretty crushed when I opened the box and saw the shiny engraved name: KRISTEN on the top. Now today, one would just go online, fill out a form, and have a new one sent within days. Not back then. Although my mother was pushing for it, super annoyed herself, returning it would have entailed sending back the box first, and waiting possibly another month or two (which is an eternity in 7 year old time). I was so frustrated but I decided to keep the box and put a sticker over the name.
Flash forward to my name being announced as Kristen at my college graduation and confusing every Starbuck’s cashier who wants to write my name on a cup. I now have a Starbucks alias, ‘Megan’, which is my middle name and makes the process of getting my coffee a lot quicker. Next came working in the film business as a Production Assistant (PA). In my early years, people on set would call for ‘Kristen’ on the walkie talkie and I would get yelled at for not responding. And then getting excited to see my name come up in the credits of a movie I had worked on, only to realize Kristen had taken my place. Flash forward again to the world of Facebook. All Facebook does is let me know how many of my “friends” don’t really know my name. Now in some instances if you write a post from your phone, an autocorrect can occur changing a Kirsten to Kristen. But I get so many “Happy Birthday Kristen!” posts every year I doubt this is all due to an autocorrect conspiracy.
Here are a few things that you may not realize about Kirstens. First, everyone always immediately lets you know if they know another Kirsten, typically followed by a brief one line description of them.
“Oh, I went to highschool with a Kirsten. She was the class president.” Neat!
“I dated a Kirsten once… She was crazy.” Uh okay.
“My cousin is married to a Kirsten. But it’s pronounced KERSTEN.” So your cousin is married to a Kersten, it’s actually not the same name.
Second, we always get excited when we come across another. It’s like you are meeting part of your tribe. Thank goodness for Kirsten Dunst and Kirsten Gillibrand… As part of my tribe, they understand what it’s like. Well done Senator Gillibrand!