i hate HATE HATE when people emphasize the i in viola. it's super annoying. also, my own mom has called it a violin. oh well. we have a way better chance of getting in the new york philharmonic than the 40,000,000 violin performance majors out there.
Hey, I may have nothing to do with strings but I understand, because I'm an oboe player and I'm often called a clarinet. I know for me the difference is huge between oboe and clarinet (and the same for violin and viola), mainly because of the size (and for oboe the reed etc.). But if you think about it what about the people who haven't seen much of the instrument, or aren't musical at all. Sure an oboist won't think an oboe's a clarinet, but a trumpet player could get mixed up quite easily if he/she doesn't really know what to look for.
I think both violins and violas are great instrument (especially when played well ) and people calling you a violin isn't really that bad. Whenever someone asks me if I'm a clarinet I take a minute or two to explain to them the differences and then they know and never mistake one for the other again.
It's an inside joke on my bus to call my viola a tuba. My mom has also repeatedly called my sister's violin a viola.
I also get a bit frustrated when people call my viola a cello, a violin, or anything other than what it is, or when they call it a "v-eye-oh-lah" like a typical Yankee. But I just laugh at off and mentally deride them for their ignorance.
What really gets on my last nerve are violinists who think they are better than violists, just because they can go higher. There was this one girl in an ensomble of mine last year, who was an upperclassman and thought she was better because she was an older violinist. I could play her first violin solos on my viola better than her. Still, she insisted on putting me down every time she could. One day she went "are you deaf? your C is REALLY flat" (yes, i am partially deaf, but that's beside the point) so i got the electric tuner out to prove that my C was right in tune. Her D, A, and E, on the other hand were all give or take 50 cents off. She still didn't get the point, and i want to smack her over the head with my viola. I still have my trainer viola, and i think it would be put to good use connecting with the back of her head. I also don't like the violists in the back of the section who never practice and still think that they're better than you. After our top ensomble auditions, i made the top group, and another violist didn't, so she felt the need to put me down to the rest of the school. I know every violinist secretly wants to be a violist, but they should seriously get off my back.