Vanessa goes by Van, even though her parents never liked shortening names. And when she tells people it’s short for Vanessa, they’re often disappointed. 

This episode was recorded and produced by Camilla Hannan, who is a consummate rule breaker and thus produced a piece on a given name rather than surname.  


I use Vanessa kind of legally, so at the doctor, you know, where it’s not friends and people I don’t know. I definitely use Vanessa. I also use Vanessa for like takeaway coffee or phone food orders again cos Van, people don’t understand it, it’s just easier to say Vanessa.

My parents were really big on not shortening names. My mum in particular, always had a thing that she was like: “In Australia, everyone shortens names!” And there was definitely an implication this was not a good thing. And thinking about it actually, in France, there’s a bit of shortening but really not that much. Maybe more. Now, but definitely 30 or 40 years ago, that didn’t really occurs so much. So me and my sister Vanessa and Samantha, and Vanessa was okay because it’s not that common a name and doesn’t get shortened that much, so I never really had my name shortened. But of course, Samantha is ripe for Sam. And you know, my parents always hated it and always kind of disliked it. So they always were like Samantha, you know, they never liked to shorten Sammy’s name, that’s my sister. But of course, from a young age, she was always called Sam. I don’t think she was called Sammy. I think that’s what I called her. But yeah, um, so she always had a nickname, but I never did. I was always Vanessa and I never liked it. I always wanted a nickname. I desperately wanted a nickname, but you can’t just give yourself a nickname really. (laughs)

But then, I became the editor of the student newspaper at the uni where I was studying. And I kind of just decided, I guess I was rebelling against some other things and I was like, You know what, I’m just going to claim Van, I’m just going to call myself Van in my editorial and kind of public in this paper And so as a result of that, I guess that kind of… my identity develops more as Van and that kind of, yeah, became my name. And then I, you know, went to art school and studied art. And actually, I can see in that first year at art school, some of my very early projects I had the credit Vanessa Sauerwine, but then I quickly changed it to Van Sauerwine. So yeah, so now I’m pretty much known everywhere as Van like even in my work.

There’s a few things that happen that I guess I hadn’t thought through, which is firstly, that people don’t realise that van is short for Vanessa. So they always assume that there’s an exotic backstory. That’s perhaps Dutch or Vietnamese or something, especially if they haven’t met me. And then there’s an inevitable kind of let down when I go it’s short for Vanessa, they’re like, Ah, oh, is that I didn’t realize like, it’s kind of a funny thing that people don’t associate Van and Vanessa at all and every time it’s a kind of a realization, I’d say, it’s not every time but a lot of the times. 

It’s interesting on a gender level because I think if people don’t know me, they don’t.. they probably assume I’m a man not a woman. And I had a really interesting Facebook discussion the other day where someone was commenting on having trouble with their Wi Fi network and I suggested using an ethernet cable and a few other things. And then I noticed that all the comments on this Facebook post were all by men. And a few people had kind of mentioned me and like beem, as Van says, which was quite respectful and lovely, but I did have that moment of life. I don’t know if I would get that if people had realized as a woman. 

The last thing I want to say about being Van is that it’s funny because my parents who initially were very anti shortening of names, my parents now call me that a lot of the time particularly my dad, and I don’t know how I feel about it. And there’s a small part of me that kind of, I don’t know, it’s that funny thing that after having wanted a nickname for so long. it doesn’t quite feel the same when my parents call me that. I mean, I don’t dislike it and I certainly wouldn’t tell them to not call me that but i do probably prefer it if my parents call me Vanessa or I guess it brings up a bit more childhood nostalgia or that’s that’s my relationship with them. So it’s sort of interesting that they do now call me that too. Yeah, a lot of the time.