Wednesday, October 15, 2008

What’s The Story With That Name, Anyway?

Even friends who have known me for many years are confused by my name and ask about it. For some reason, it’s coming up a lot recently, so here’s the full story.

My parents both had Ph.Ds and enough sense to come in out of the rain. Smart people, with broad interests and strong values, well-educated, travelled, etc. So why this predictable name conundrum exists is a mystery.

My full name is Carolyn Kristina Gunsalus. I’ve been called Tina since birth. My mother’s name was Carolyn, and she went by Carol. The story I’ve been told is that my father proposed my name, perceiving Kristina as a kind of linguistic diminutive of Carolyn. As you will quickly detect, this means that what I am called comes from the end of my middle name. This would have been fine, except my younger sister’s name (still all perceived to be linguistic diminutives, I’m told) is Kristin Carla Gunsalus. This means my initials are C. K. and hers are K. C. Cute. She’s been called Kris since birth. The combination of my mother’s use of Carol and my sister’s use of Kris rules out the use of either Carolyn or Kristina by me, the confusion factor being high with either. For informal purposes, of course, there isn’t any difficulty: Tina is fine.

The situation changed when I got to be a grown-up lawyer. Tina is not a good lawyer name. (In those days, it still evoked memories of Tina Louise, among others.) For business cards, even though I’m not big on the first-initial-then-name construct (pretentious), the best option seemed to be C. Kristina, so as to provide a clue as about the source for Tina. Life got a little more complicated when I started publishing: my mother had a full set of publications out there in the world under Carolyn Gunsalus. My sister was publishing as Kristin C. Gunsalus. Mulling it over, and finding remarkably few options or degrees of freedom, other than renouncing my name altogether and starting from scratch, I opted for C. K. Gunsalus.

One interesting side-effect of this choice has been the number of people who have assumed this must be a man. There have been a number of interesting and usually beneficial aspects to that assumption. Some are just amusing: Someone once forwarded a string of speculation from a blog that my press must have forced me into the use of initials to make me sound more authoritative, until eventually someone googled and found that ALL my publications, dating from the 70s, use that name. That ended the discussion. Other interesting effects have been the decisions of some editors about how I should be cited when quoted. Nature, for example, for quite some time insisted that my name was and must be Kristina Gunsalus, which caused quite a bit of confusion for a while. Eventually, they relented and will now quote me as C. K. On election ballots and in the local newspaper, the choice was usually C. K. (Tina), because so many people in town know me as Tina… it’s not the name I would have chosen, given the choice, but it is what I got, and I’ve never thought seriously about becoming someone else, although a remarkable number of people, after meeting me once, throughout my life, have thereafter called me “Lisa.” I’ve never understood that, nor the number of people who don’t listen and misspell my last name, even as it’s being spelled out loud for them, in chunks. I say G-U-N and pause, and they write down Gonz. Oh well.

Anyway, that’s the story of the name.

Yesterday’s MRI adventure brought back the headaches, so I’ve taken more vicodin in the last two days than in the last week. That’s likely a minor setback and now, in full tortoise mode, we’re just concentrating on more rest. It’s still warm here, though we’re expecting a cold front by Saturday, including a frost. There’s not much sunshine, especially this afternoon, but the warmth is lovely and we’re appreciating it before the cold arrives. We send you warm greetings and hopes that your weeks are going well.


  1. The remarkable value of this blog continues to emerge in unexpected ways. You say, 'A travel guide would have been helpful' This blog is an exemplar of the kind of data from which such a guide could be constructed. I have already remarked to Michael that I think a recommendation to make to the hospital could be to have them encourage as many 'major' patients as possible to keep blogs. --JBG

  2. Tina, I wanted to let you know that you and the family are in our toughts. It occured to me yesterday when chatting with Paul Menshea that I had never replied here or elswhere to your notice and holiday greeting. Thak you for including us among your friends. -Hobe and Amanda