The hellomynameis campaign makes sense. It was started by Dr Kate Granger, who, as a patient, noticed that not all members of staff introduced themselves. And so she suggested that health professionals pledge to introduce themselves to every patient they meet by saying “Hello, my name is….” This post is a linguist’s take on #hellomynameis. I want to explore Dr Granger’s intuition to use a particular kind of phrase as a means of starting a conversation with a patient.
Before I start, I want to tell a story (as usual). Quite a few years ago, a good friend of mine, a social psychologist, told me about an experiment of his. For the life of me I can’t remember the details, yet, it was something about students going into a newsagent’s and saying something which was to influence what would happen. The experiment was a failure, the results didn’t make sense. During the experiment’s ‘autopsy’, it turned out that while all students did observe the protocols, some said ‘hello’ on entering the shop, and some didn’t. It also turned out that the little ‘hello’ turned the experiment upside down.
I remembered the story when I saw Dr Granger’s suggested way of introducing oneself. Because “Hello, my name is…”, which was thought as a means of self-introduction, is, in fact, first and foremost a greeting. Basically, when we say ‘hello’, we greet people.
When you stop to think about it, the seemingly simple question what we do, when we greet people, is quite complex. A greeting, yes, the little “Hello!”, is an act of creation (Edda Weigand). It creates a relationship. Similarly, Alessandro Duranti adds that greeting initiates togetherness, it is an act of recognising an Other.
And this is, I think, why the #hellomynameis is so wonderful. In a nutshell, Dr Granger simply (yes, simply!) asked her colleagues to greet their patients. To recognise them and set up a relationship with them. The self-introduction reinforces this act of recognition, at the same time inviting the patient’s recognition of the medic. In other words, the greeting together with the self-introduction also introduce reciprocity into the relationship.
No, of course, it does not get rid of the power dynamics (imbalance, if you wish), but perhaps it blunts it a little. The “Hello, my name is..” introduces a different kind of conversation. It’s a conversation between people who, shall I say, recognised each other. And yes, it’s also a conversation in which basic courtesy was offered.
And that’s my take on the campaign. It makes sense, a lot of sense. But the issue does not end here for a linguist. The question that I must pose is how you actually introduce yourself. Let’s have a look at my (basic) options in English. I can introduce myself as:
- Prof (or Dr) Dariusz Galasiński
- Dariusz Galasiński
- Darek Galasiński
A digression. I know that for English speakers the difference between ‘Dariusz’ and ‘Darek’ is not so important, yet, in Polish it is. The latter is a diminutive of the former and is more informal and as Polish offers much more variety in nuancing levels of formality, it is actually quite important. Polish also offers a significant number of system-based diminutives of my name. I can be Darek, Daruś, Dareczek, Dariuszek, or, we’re getting somewhat intimate here, Darunia. End of digression.
The options of my self-introductions are on a scale from formal to informal and each carries different connotations, introducing different relationships and power dynamics. Obviously, there is no answer to the question of how to introduce yourself. It depends on the context, who you are, who your patient is and what kind of relationship you would like to have with them. In other words, your introduction is never just an introduction. It offers opportunities to nuance your relationship, in which you balance your own identity with the respect for the person you talk to. And I used ‘the person you talk to’ quite advisedly, because as much as I am your patient, I am also a person you are talking to. How you actually address me is one final thing, but that’s for another blog.
For some years I have tried to persuade doctors (mostly psychiatrists) to reflect on how they communicate and what kind of language they use. With, shall I say, varying results. Dr Kate Granger (whom I wish I had known) did it through one simple sentence. “Hello, my name is…”. Every time a patient hears it, medical care will be more human, person-centred, empathic. That’s a huge legacy!
I’m not a medic. Still, let me say: “Hello, my name is Darek Galasiński.”