February 22, 2024
I'm a woman named for a Hemingway character. No, not the Old Man.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a 54-year-old woman whose given name is Brett (a name typically given to boys).

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My mother loved the name after reading Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises,” and decided, long before I was born, to give that name to her child. I believe she was ahead of her time, and I admire her for that.

To be honest, I did not enjoy having this name while growing up; I wanted a flowery, feminine name like my sister’s. But once I became an adult, I loved its uniqueness.

Throughout my life, I have had many responses to my name. The one that I continue to find tactless at best and offensive at worst is, “Did your parents want a boy?”

I’ve varied my answer over the years, depending on my maturity and mood. Throwing back the literary origin of Brett is generally my favorite tactic.

I wonder what Miss Manners would advise as a response?

GENTLE READER: This is shocking! Not the casual rudeness you have endured; that is unfortunately so commonplace as to be unsurprising.

Miss Manners is shocked that not everyone has read “The Sun Also Rises.” So yes, perhaps you could deliver a brief literary tutorial: “Surely you remember Brett, Lady Ashley? Jake Barnes’ friend? That summer in Pamplona? The unfortunate episode with Romero?”

Perhaps that will encourage these people to look her up and be led to an influential work of American literature. Isn’t it pretty to think so?

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I often entertain friends in a very informal manner. However, I always have the menu planned, and I very strongly discourage people from bringing food. When people ask, “What can I bring?” I say, “Just yourself,” and I mean it.

For Halloween, I always host a trick-or-treating party with a Thanksgiving menu. Last year, a guest showed up with an unsolicited pumpkin soup. It was a large party and I was not prepared with bowls, so the soup was placed on the stove. Some guests mistook it for gravy and poured it on their food!

This year, I really tried to get guests not to bring anything, but I still ended up with a spinach dip, a cake, cookies and muffins. When I hosted a ladies’ coffee, I ended up with an extra banana bread, which I enjoyed guiltily after the event. Usually the food goes to waste.

If they are going to bring something anyway, is it better to ask for something I could use at a later date (wine, beer, soda, etc.)? Or should I keep trying to impress upon them that they can just relax, show up and I will be happy to have their company?

I need a polite, funny response as the holidays approach.

GENTLE READER: Good luck in getting them to understand that not every party is a cooperative effort, or even that a hostess’s preferences should be respected.

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Flowers and chocolates are the traditional hostess presents. Then wine — which had previously been considered insulting, as if decent wine would not be provided — was added.

But assigning your guests other things to bring creates different problems. Miss Manners suggests you replace that clear “Just yourself” with an even clearer, “Please don’t bring food. I won’t have room for it.”

Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, [email protected]; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.

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