What’s in a name?

When I started at the La Crosse Tribune in 1977, there were five Geris. I was the only female among us, still it was confusing. On the copy desk alone, where I started out, I shared desk space with Jerry Frigo and Jerry Kahlert. In sports, there was Jerry Poehling, and Jerry Rosso lived in Features Land.

Because of that, and because it is a proud journalism tradition, we were all called by our last names — and I do mean called.

When deadline would approach and phones were ringing at a furious pace, I’d hear, “Parlin, I need that headline.”

Later, when I switched over to to reporting, it would be, “Give birth, Parlin. I need that story.”

This was a novelty to me. Having grown up as one of 10 kids, none of us was referred to by our last name because it would have been too confusing. And when I came into Journalism, in 1977, women were just breaking into the equality ranks so to be called by my last name made me feel like one of the guys.

That was a good thing.

At that time, we were still using courtesy titles at the Tribune. Courts reporter Terry Rindfleisch would have to chase down female defendants and ask them if they wanted to be referred to as “Miss,” “Ms.” or “Mrs.” You can imagine how uncooperative some of these women were. I’m sure they labeled him with many discourteous titles.

So I joined a team of style book reformers and we actually did away with courtesy titles. No more calling anybody a Doctor unless he was a medical doctor. So all you doctorate holders could just hang your diplomas on the wall and become regular citizens again.

The hardest part was the ruling we made for women. On second reference, all women — no matter their age or circumstance — would be referred to by their last names. This caused another problem as many long-married women were horrified to be referred to by only their last names.

Heck, many of these women didn’t even use their own first names. I remember my mom signing notes to school as Mrs. Leonard Parlin. I was horrified and told her that her name was not Mrs. Leonard. It was Rita.

Once, a woman called and gave her husband’s name.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“Mrs. John Smith,” she repeated.

“No,” I said. “When your husband John speaks to you, by what name does he call you? What name did your parents give you?”

Nowadays, that must seem a quaint story,  but it shows how far we’ve come in our fight for equality as women and citizens of the world.

You can call me Geri, or you can call me Parlin. But please don’t use a courtesy title when speaking to me as I don’t find it courteous at all. Until we return to the antiquated form of male address — master and mister to designate unmarried from married males — I don’t want that label applied to me, either.



4 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

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