“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

I don’t know about you, but nowadays I am rubbish at remembering names. My neurosis reaches a critical point when at social gatherings I am expected to remember everyone I am introduced to, my poker face cannot disguise my waning smile and feverish brow as a seemingly never ending line of people warmly and individually introduce themselves.  I feel the urge to reach (conference style) for a set of white stickers and marker pen to apply to pectorals in order to ‘identify’ everyone so as not to appear rude or dismissive.

My normally forensic brain cannot cope with the influx and overload of information, as it pulls on every neural strategy it’s as if some cerebral menopausal kryptonite is draining my name recall function and laughing at my social awkwardness.

It’s not always been this way. In the late 80’s as a newly qualified staff nurse on a surgical ward I memorised the patient’s names, diagnosis and location with Olympic gold medal recall capability. I always introduced myself as Nurse G- not by my first name, it felt more respectful. I also addressed them as the same, (Miss, MsMrs, Mr, Captain, Doctor) the selection of titles and pronouns was relatively limited and easy to recall. 

The hierarchy of the surgical ward at the time resembled a Tudor court; the consultant surgeon was the king, the ward sister the queen. I was very much one of the ladies in waiting, with an appraisal objective of reaching courtier status within the year.

When the consultant called me by a first name, I was grateful (one step towards courtier). The fact he got my name wrong didn’t faze me, the fact that he had noticed and addressed me made me feel like a fledgling favourite (and I quite liked the name Stella after all). After two years of working together and on my leaving day, I told him my name wasn’t Stella- he laughed and told me he knew all along, he was just testing me to see if I would correct him. In very simple terms he taught me a valuable lesson about challenge and hierarchy. 

Over the years I have never underestimated the power of names, individual, personal, human.  Think how long we ponder over choosing a baby’s name; think how we make a judgment on age or social class when we hear a name. Think how a nickname can be familiar and humorous but also cause humiliation or pain.

Nurse Joy became one of my favourite pseudonyms. I was introduced to Nurse Joy by my children: (Nurse Joy(s) are kind nurses who take care of Pokémon[1]. In the Japanese folklore Joy is not the first name of these women, but actually the family name.

In the early 2000’s in the paediatric A&E, I introduced myself as Nurse Joy. The children (and siblings and parents) knew exactly who I meant and related immediately. The relationship was established, the seed of trust sown. I memorised every single Pokémon character, nurse to patient we debated and contemplated the Pokémon battles, generations and categories as I looked after some of the sickest children I can remember, and in turn they remember their Nurse Joy.

Why is this so important? As I reflect on my career I have been known by a number of names, identities and roles. The introduction of the “Hello my name is” campaign by Dr Kate Grainger has been instrumental in how we personalise both ourselves and how we provide care for our patients. In addition, flattening the hierarchy with improvement and safety initiatives such as the “Theatre Cap Challenge” (names and roles are displayed on the surgical hats) allows human personalisation to ensure we work well as teams. Respecting equality, diversity and the LGBTQ community, has also raised awareness of individual pronoun choice. Asking and correctly using someone’s pronouns is one of the most basic ways to show your respect for their gender identity.

In addition, we know that a personalised experience, by its very nature, is in some way different from the status quo. As both clinicians and patients, we are not just getting what everyone else is getting with personalisation. Instead, we are getting something tailored to us. And because of that, it makes us feel both more confident and in control in the care we enact and the care we receive.  

That said- for so many reasons I still love being called Nurse Joy… 

And actually (if the truth be known) – I always liked the name Stella.

[1] Pokémon are creatures of all shapes and sizes who live in the wild or alongside humans. For the most part, Pokémon do not speak except to utter their names.