Hello, Mike

There’s an interesting thing when people think I’m Mike. Or perhaps it’s interesting when people think my name is Mike.

My name is four letters. Three are the same as Mike. The last is an A, however. The best guess I’ve ever been able to make has been that people read ‘MIK…’ and their brains absolutely stop. This has been a problem my entire life, in and out of tech support, from school to work to everything in between. I was called ‘Mike’ at my SATs, much to the hilarity of my classmates.

But I rarely correct people these days, certainly not when I’m online, because it’s one of those things that really only matters if we meet in person. In person, I will correct you. “Actually it’s Mika. With an A.” I’ll always be polite when you ask me how to pronounce it. The first time. The second and third time get you teased. At four or five, there will be serious remarks. At seven, I start intentionally mispronouncing your name.

Since most of my communication, even with my own coworkers, is online, and since there’s a fellow named Micah (pronounced the other way), I really give people a pass with mucking up my name. It happens and if it’s not intentional or obstinance, I don’t mind.

At the same time, I like to keep track of places where I’m more often called Mike. I try to make sense of the madness just to understand the world a little more. While all of this is anecdotal, and while I did make a scratch sheet where I tallied these things over the course of 4 months, this is not some government funded study. The numbers are also off if I’ve been talking to people from countries where Mika is a normal name, and moreso in Japan, where it’s a girl’s name.

When am I Mika or Mike?

So here’s the non-scientific notes I’ve boiled things down to:

I’m Mike…

  • If I do technical things really, really well
  • When I talk code/development
  • When I talk about my wife
  • When someone is incredibly upset for whatever reason

I have no name…

  • When I do technical things really wrong
  • When I disagree with developers
  • When I apologize to people

I’m Mika …

  • When someone realizes they’ve been wildly out of line and apologizes to me
  • When someone has been really personable and polite the whole time
  • When I talk to someone who consistently uses proper grammar and punctuation

What Does This Tell Me?

It’s important to note that the ‘technical’ things I do well or not don’t actually have to be correct. Many times I do the code things really well and they just disagree. But if I’m perceived to be correct, I’m generally a Mike.

When people are angry they tend to stop reading well, the comprehension goes out the door. That lends some credence to my theory that people’s brains stop. Strangely, though, when I get things really, really, wrong (or am perceived to do so), the use of any name in their replies plummets. Like I found three in a year. It’s possible that those people, still being angry, are reading my name as ‘Mike’ but cannot find it in themselves to be angry at a male name in the manner they’re about to be.

As for me talking about my wife, that’s just heteronormativity in action, and for the matter of this study I ignored it. It skewed results. It’s the same with folks who are from Scandinavia, where Mika is a boy’s name.

My Conclusion?

People still often default to thinking everyone’s male.

I too have this flaw, I admit. But seeing it in others and how it impacts me certainly makes me think about it more.


12 responses to “Hello, Mike”

  1. Thanks for this. It’s important to give these things some thought and to remind others – who may not have to think about it as much as we do – that it is worth pondering.

  2. This part made me giggle.

    At seven, I start intentionally mispronouncing your name.

    I don’t always mispronounce as much as I assign the person a brand new name. 😈

    I don’t think I’ve ever had someone online or in email mix up my gender though. Even in email at work the assumption seems to default to male.

  3. Floutsch Avatar

    Well – how do I pronounce Mika, then? πŸ™‚ I’m from Germany and I always thought of Mika HΓ€kkinen, hence put you as male. I stood corrected some time ago and never gave a second thought to the fact, that this name can be female, too. But I still pronounce it “Mee-Kah”. This is also how I’d pronounce Micah. So at least one of those names I’m pronouncing incorrectly πŸ™‚

    1. @Floutsch: β€œMee-Kah”

      In the US, generally Micah is pronounced ‘My-kah’ – Like ‘Mike’ with an ‘ah’ at the end.

      FWIW, it’s not a female name in my case (thanks Dad). In Japan it’s female though, and rather popular.

    2. Floutsch Avatar

      @Ipstenu (Mika Epstein): @Ipstenu (Mika Epstein): Hooray, at least with your name I wasn’t wrong πŸ™‚

      I just looked up how the “My-Kah” sounding agent from Warehouse 13 is spellt. There it’s actually Myka o.O

      Just for fun I dare you to try to pronounce my name (which btw. is a nickname). I’m curious – I never had anyone, not even Germans, pronounce that correctly when they’ve only seen that written πŸ™‚

    3. @Floutsch: I’d probably try ‘floush’ ?

    4. Floutsch Avatar

      @Ipstenu (Mika Epstein): The thing is, that to German eyes it looks like it needs to be pronounced as an English word. But this is from prior to me learning English. So: “flow chart” without “art” πŸ˜‰ But your try was closer to correct than my fellow Germans’ πŸ™‚

  4. I immediately thought of Mika Hakkinen when I first saw your name. If my memory serves me correctly, I was surprised to find out you were male since I always thought Ipstenu was female. Then I found out later that you were female after all.

    Ryan can be female, but I don’t think anyone has confused that before.

  5. You are Mika, of course you aren’t me πŸ˜€ . Great meeting you, by the way.

  6. I think people are too lazy to read names, they pronounce the first part of it in their mind and make up the rest with whatever they’re comfortable with.

    Numerous times people have emailed “Hi Justin…” to my email at jesin.in 😑

    And then there was this person at the bank who emailed me “Dear Madam…”, maybe they were too lazy to check my gender in their records πŸ˜•

  7. Vajrasar Goswami Avatar
    Vajrasar Goswami

    When I was new in WP forums I too took your name as Mike and a male (You had a display picture where you were wearing a hat, if I remember correct). Sorry for that πŸ™‚

    Living with an unusual name myself, I can understand the frustration when the name is misspelt or constantly pronounced in a wrong way. Heck I even have to pause for a second before pronouncing my own name, because all day I hear people pronouncing it in their own way :p

    1. @Vajrasar Goswami: That would be why I copy/paste people’s names πŸ˜€ I can’t spell well in general, and there’s no auto-correct for names!