I realized something tonight–something very simple and straightforward, to such an extent that I’m amazed it eluded my perception previously. It has to do with terms of address. Now anyone reading this most likely knows that my name is Harding Brumby. It’s less guaranteed, but quite possible, for a reader to know that Harding isn’t my true first name. A lot of people, especially in the military, may be confused about my first name if they have never met me or not spent a lot of time around me. An example of this is when I first got to my current assignment, my academics binder was marked simply “H. Brumby” along with my rank and crew position. The instructor who created the binder was legitimately confused and didn’t want to put something blatantly incorrect, and I admire his one-size-fits-all solution.
Back to the point of the story, here’s what I concluded a short time ago. Anyone who calls me either “Harding” or one of my many nicknames (I honestly don’t care which one) is, most likely, either a friend or someone at least trying to establish a more personal connection to me. Conversely, anyone who calls me “Brumby” is no more than a professional acquaintance; he may be a commander or other superior, or he may just be someone with whom I am not exactly bros. At present I can think of four exceptions to this rule–actual friends who call me Brumby, that is. One of them I’ve known for 5+ years, and the other three I’ve known for 11+ years. It’s also, in my view, acceptable for superiors in my chain of command to call me Harding or a nickname, such as “Tiberius” (new one courtesy of my current unit commander). Such a practice seems to establish a less formal rapport, but there is no danger of me forgetting the superior-subordinate nature of the relationship. If one of my peers, either at work or otherwise, is calling me Brumby, that serves as a good cue as to the nature of my current relationship with that person.