Gender Trouble

by Kieran Healy on June 30, 2006

Just before lunch, I had the following conversation on the phone:

[Phone rings]
KH: Kieran Healy.
Woman: Oh, so you are a man.
KH: Uh, yes, I am.
Woman: This is [someone] at the editorial desk of the _New York Times_. We referred to you as a woman yesterday in a post on our _Opinionator_ blog. We’ll change it now.
KH: Oh, OK.
Woman: Thank you. Goodbye.
KH: Goodbye.

The Opinionator is behind the Times Select Paywall, so I haven’t seen the original reference or the corrected one. Someone else told me yesterday is was a quote from the “Brights post”:



Cryptic Ned 06.30.06 at 3:01 pm

I haven’t seem this opinionator, but I wonder if they will change your name from “Kiera” to “Kieran” based on this new information.


abb1 06.30.06 at 3:05 pm

They need to know if you’re he-Keyboard-Kingpin commanding squadrons of rabid lambs to unleash their venom, or she-Keyboard-Kingpin commanding squadrons of rabid lambs.


Eszter 06.30.06 at 3:25 pm

So that was the whole conversation?

This reminds me – for no good reason, really – of a call I took when we shared an office in grad school and you were on the job market. Famous Person from Prestigious Soc Dept called looking for you. I told him you weren’t in (or perhaps not in town) and then he asked who I was in a bizarre way. You had to be there, which is why I’m not even attempting to type out a transcript. It was weird, because ultimately I really don’t think he could’ve cared less who I was, but he asked in a very aggressive manner nonetheless. Once I answered, he just hung up.

This experience gave me a not-so-inviting taste of what it would be like to be on the job market a couple of years later. Then again, if you’re the one they’re calling, supposedly they’ll be a bit more friendly.


jr 06.30.06 at 3:28 pm

funny convo


Delaney J. Kirk 06.30.06 at 3:43 pm

My name is Delaney Kirk (an old family name…middle name Jackson…my family believed in giving their female children surnames of past male relatives). Most people who have not met me assume I am either a male (1) named Delaney or a male (2) named Kirk. I even had an older gentleman argue with me in person one day…that he wanted to speak to Professor Delaney Kirk…with the assumption that I could NOT be “him.” So I’m relating…


Aaron Swartz 06.30.06 at 4:35 pm

The relevant text is:

Crooked Timber blogger Kieran Healy, a sociologist at the University of Arizona, makes a play for Bartlett’s when he defines Mensa as “the organization for highly intelligent people who are nevertheless not quite intelligent enough not to belong to it.”



Kieran Healy 06.30.06 at 4:39 pm

My 15 bytes I guess.


alkali 06.30.06 at 4:58 pm

Related form of awkward conversation:

When you call some VIP to find out how their name is pronounced (e.g., so that you or your boss can say it correctly at a public event), hoping to get their assistant, and the person in question picks up and answers with “[name] speaking.”


Jacob T. Levy 06.30.06 at 5:01 pm

Ooh, that’s good. Really good.

I will say that I’ve had a few Mensa-belonging friends, always in similar circumstances. They were all intelligent enough to be at least faintly embarrassed about it– but were also all in professions and geographic locations that left them feeling badly intellectually isolated. Many of us follow elite educations with careers in academia or the professions in big cities, and so we get to continue certain aspects of college/ grad school life pretty effortlessly. These friends weren’t in circumstances like that– and so, embarrassmnet notwithstanding, they joined a club that would occasionally bring them into contact with people who had conversational or reading interests like their own.


Adam Kotsko 06.30.06 at 7:20 pm

Well, they should just start a blog instead, because it’s way better and cooler.

I thought Kieran was a woman at first, too. I think I was only disabused of this when John and Belle posted photos from Kieran’s visit to Singapore.


Simstim 06.30.06 at 8:20 pm

I find it difficult, although not impossible, to think of Kieran as a female name. On the other hand, at my primary school the only Terry I knew was female, so I kindof assumed for a long time afterward that it was a female name.


Kieran Healy 06.30.06 at 8:26 pm

I thought Kieran was a woman at first, too. I think I was only disabused of this when

In grad school I used to write a column for the student newspaper. An undergrad invited via email me to dinner at his eating club, saying he liked the columns, thought they were funny, and wanted to meet me. When I met him outside at the appointed time, it took me a moment to realise — rather too late — that he had thought I was a woman, and that the date he had thought he was about to go on had suddenly started to look bad from his point of view. His friends were highly amused.


Mary Catherine Moran 06.30.06 at 8:45 pm

I guess I don’t quite get why anyone would expect a Kieran to be a woman.

Anyway, that really is a great quote. Nicely, and economically, sums up everything that’s wrong with the conceit of mensa.


Kieran Healy 06.30.06 at 9:06 pm

I guess I don’t quite get why anyone would expect a Kieran to be a woman.

It happens a lot in the United States. Less so elsewhere.


Kenny Easwaran 06.30.06 at 10:00 pm

Yeah, I had thought “Kieran” was a woman’s name too, until I noticed how often commenters were using male pronouns to refer to you. I suppose I had never known a Kieran before, and maybe wanted to believe that Crooked Timber was more gender-balanced?


Dan 06.30.06 at 10:53 pm

Would have been even better if you had turned out to be a woman, just one who answers the phone with an abnormally deep voice.


Baptiste 07.01.06 at 1:27 am

Because my first name is ending with a “-e”, and because some think that French names with “-e”-endings are female names (such as Celine, Marie, Michelle, Danielle…), I get more than a few “Mrs”. I think that this misunderstanding might have helped the translation and publication of this article (doi:10.1300/J155v09n01_17)


MaryKaye 07.01.06 at 8:02 am

I also didn’t know whether Kieran was a male or female name. And, couldn’t be sure of your academic discipline. So I Googled you. Problem solved. An even easier solution would have been to follow the links attached to this website. You’d have thought the NY Times… Oh, well. Maybe they need to hire a Mensa affiliate to figure stuff like that out. Although a Mensa candidate would likely find my solution a little pedestrian.


KCinDC 07.01.06 at 8:06 am

At least you’re not Ciaran. Then you’d add pronunciation confusion (though I imagine Kieran isn’t immune to that either).

Presumably some people think it’s a variation of Karen.

I briefly thought Gareth was a female name, for some reason — probably because of Elizabeth and Gwyneth.


Rob G 07.01.06 at 8:24 am

An Irish friend married a Chinese woman many years ago. Their first son was christened Liam, which a mutual Italian friend took to be a Chinese name “Lee Yum”.

But the best Irish name-play I’ve heard (probably old news to the folks here) was another Irish friend who referred to Sinead O’Connor as Shinehead.


tom s. 07.01.06 at 9:15 am

Kiera Nearly?


etat 07.01.06 at 11:39 am

I thought Vivian Bird was a woman – until I came across his photograph on a dust jacket this morning.

And the Singh family across the road have a done a bit of assimilation by calling one son Eamonn – which, when I first heard him say it, I took to be a conventional Indian name….


aaron 07.01.06 at 10:41 pm

Wow! I never once suspected you were a man.


aaron 07.01.06 at 10:48 pm

Didn’t mean for that to seem so insulting (to women or Kieren or his parents), but your writing in combination with feminate name have always led me to assume you were a woman. Comment was meant to be fun, highlighting how fully stereotypes can fail us.


Bill 07.02.06 at 3:10 am

I never had any idea what gender you subscribed to, and to my surprise now, I never cared or considered it up to this point. Do I get a cookie for not imposing my gender norms on the world of ideas?


Mrs Tilton 07.02.06 at 7:02 am

Yes well, Kieran, imagine the troubles you’d have had, had you been named ‘Enda’.


jet 07.02.06 at 10:23 am

I ran “Kieran” through several name gender recognition tools, and it isn’t even remotely female. More importantly, I ran it through a Bayes filter trained on the inflection of N. American names and Kieran even SOUNDS male.

New York Times, heh.


Paul 07.03.06 at 12:04 am

I went to a Sam Taylor Wood exhibition and asked the attendant a question about “his” photos. Embarassingly, the piece in question was a self portrait.


ajay 07.03.06 at 4:49 am

“I briefly thought Gareth was a female name, for some reason—probably because of Elizabeth and Gwyneth.”

It can be: Birmingham Six lawyer Gareth Peirce is a woman.
But then a lot of male names now seem to be female: Dana, Evelyn, Lindsay, Cameron…

“Andrea” in Italian is a man’s name. I embarrassed myself once by asking to speak to Signora Andrea X – the man on the end of the phone said “That’s me”.

Comments on this entry are closed.