What’s in a Name? A few months ago, my colleagues and I reviewed an “In-Touch” question during a presidential team conference call. A former ASHA president indicated that colleagues accompanying him on a congressional visit to lobby for issues pertaining to speech-language pathology all introduced themselves with a different title. One described herself as ... From the President
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From the President  |   November 2010
What’s in a Name?
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  • © 2010 American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
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Professional Issues & Training / From the President
From the President   |   November 2010
What’s in a Name?
The ASHA Leader, November 2010, Vol. 15, 23. doi:10.1044/leader.FTP.15142010.23
The ASHA Leader, November 2010, Vol. 15, 23. doi:10.1044/leader.FTP.15142010.23
A few months ago, my colleagues and I reviewed an “In-Touch” question during a presidential team conference call. A former ASHA president indicated that colleagues accompanying him on a congressional visit to lobby for issues pertaining to speech-language pathology all introduced themselves with a different title. One described herself as a speech-language pathologist, another as a speech therapist, and a third as a communication specialist.
I was curious about this discrepancy, so I asked my graduate class at Howard University, “What’s in a name?” Their responses were instructive—they said, “everything,” “who you are,” “respect,” “identity,” “heritage,” “roots,” and “pride.” My students said that although one’s personal name is individualized, the surname indicates that one is a part of a family. I was struck by their responses because their comments also reflect their views of who they are as professionals.
Sometimes the SLP can fall into the habit of losing his or her professional identity. Some will say that in the medical/rehab settings there are the PT (physical therapist), OT (occupational therapist) and the “ST” (“speech therapist”). One hears the same thing in the educational setting. So the question becomes, “Who are you and what is your name?”
Audiologists also are not immune to this loss of identity. Although there is no abbreviation of the audiologist’s professional title, I have witnessed what my students would call disrespect. In the early 1990s there was much passion in confirming the doctorate as the entry-level degree for audiology practice. When I hear my colleagues introduce themselves by their first names to their patients and patients’ parents I want to say, “Do you have any idea how much work went into establishing the doctoral degree?” The former Legislative Council engaged in a heated debate on the degree that lasted for years, and the former Standards Council also spent years honing the definition and criteria. Programs closed. Professors’ families were uprooted and moved to other universities—all to assure that audiology certification requirements kept pace with the demands of clinical knowledge and practice.
It’s time to take a leadership role on this issue. We need to understand the impact of the use of our professional names on our practice and on the professions as a whole. Leadership in this arena would involve changing the culture. When was the last time you walked into your doctor’s, dentist’s, or optometrist’s office and your provider abbreviated his or her professional title or used a first name in an introduction? When was the last time you were introduced to a “T” or a “P” instead of to a teacher or principal? Other professional cultures do not accept the diminishment of their providers. We need to create a similar culture, and make a paradigm shift to embrace our professional identities fully.
The simplest and most direct way to do this is through education and advocacy. For example, my first name is Tommie. It is not Tommy nor is it Thomas. Yet many people want to make it what they think it should be. Well, if you know my personality, you know that I do not allow it. I use it as an educational moment to let them know that my name came from a family patriarch who passed it on to my father, who then gave it to me. I was taught that it is not what people call you, but rather what you answer to that matters. When we answer to names like “speech therapist,” “speech teacher,” “speechee,” and so forth, we legitimize terms that diminish our profession. If we don’t advocate for ourselves, who will? Famous basketball coach John Wooden states, “Knowledge alone is not enough to get desired results. You must have the more elusive ability to teach and to motivate. This defines a leader.” We must teach and motivate.
The bottom line is this—we should not allow people to tell us who we are. We need to start by naming ourselves in a clear and consistent way. It goes something like this, “Good morning. I am Dr. Robinson, the speech-language pathologist. I will be seeing you today.” Shakespeare was definitely correct! A name is the immediate jewel of our souls—and of our professional identities.
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November 2010
Volume 15, Issue 14