Tuesday, June 7, 2011

what's in a name?

              My parents are interesting. If you've ever met me, you would know that I had to be raised by lunatics. They aren't conventionally crazy, but more like black sitcom crazy. When I was born my mother wanted to name me Stephanie (among other things, don't even get me started on my middle name) but my father refused. He didn't want people calling me Fanny or some other hideous nickname. So they settled on Stephane. It's of French origin and is the equivalent of Steven in the states.  Apparently the name comes from the Bible. Stephane was a believer that got stoned to death for proclaiming his beliefs. Again, my parents are crazy.
      Growing up, no one in my family ever called me Stephane; they all called me by my nickname (which I won't disclose here). But when school started and  my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Weitz, pronounced my name Stephanie, I had no idea how to correct her. By that point, I had barely heard my government name said aloud and because my parents were immigrants, I assumed that that's how you say Stephane in English. So from kindergarten to high school, I was always known as Stephanie. It never really bothered me and most people called me Steph anyways.
    But the summer before college, I decided I wasn't going to let other people dictate my identity. A name is an important characteristic of one's self. A Veronica will never act like an Annie. A Cynthia is treated differently than a Melissa. People act like their names. Think about it. If someone behaves differently than their name, they always develop a nickname that suits them better. I always knew that I was living a lie as a Stephanie because deep down I was definitely a Stephane.
     Unfortunately New York University didn't feel the same way and changed my name on the school roster to Stephanie. Now maybe they assumed I made a spelling mistake on my application, but then why would you accept a student that couldn't even spell their own name? One word: Diversity. Even the SATs give you 200 bonus points just for getting your alias correct.
     So throughout college, I had to correct every professor who pronounced my name Stephanie, further simplifying the stereotype of the "black girl with an attitude". You should have seen it. I would go "Actually it's pronounced Stephane". The professor would reply "Oh it's spelled Stephanie on the roster" and I would have to say "Yeah well NYU spelled my name wrong. I know how my name is pronounced". Usually I would add a head roll and finger snaps just for emphasis sake. Classy.
       Usually I never had a problem with my name, but having a boy's name can be tricky at times. I get a lot of call backs for interviews because people assume I'm a guy. Plus it's a good icebreaker when meeting someone new for the first time. Yet there have also been times when it's done more harm than good. Like when I studied abroad in Paris. When I met with my homestay family for the first time and she asked my name. After I said "Stephane" in my faux-Parisian accent, she turned to her daughter in horror and I realized I committed a faux-pas. She begged me to tell her that my name was actually Stephanie, but after I spelled it out for her, she resigned to accept her fate. Turns out her ex-boyfriend's name was also Stephane and he was a complete and utter douchebag. So having me in the house everyday became a constant reminder of her heart being ripped out. Don't worry, me and my surrogate mother are besties now, but that first week was a little rough.
      Another strange example of how my name has affected people happened just last week. I was in the laundromat with my mother at the buttcrack of dawn and this man came up to me to tell me how beautiful I am. I don't want you to think I'm being cocky. People that roam the laundromat and have no laundry are clinically insane. Especially the ones that do it before 9am. He kept pestering me for my name and I wouldn't tell him. After five minutes of this and realizing he was one of those persistent types (my least favorite of the male hookup species. After that is the guys who compliment you and then after recognizing your dismissal proceed to let you know they weren't interested in you. "You wuz mad ugly anywayz" Really? Then why are you hitting on me? But I digress) I let him know my moniker. You should have seen his reaction. His body got tense and one of his eyes started to bulge. It was like he was turning into the Incredible Hulk, but the hood version. I asked him if he was okay and he started to stammer out nonsensical garbage. "Are you....I can't believe this...I can't...there's no real nice way...Oh my gosh...Really though?..." I couldn't make out what he was trying to ask me and I asked him if he needed help.
         Finally he blurts out in a quiet whisper "Are you a woman?"
"What do you mean?"
Clearly frustrated he responds "Were you born a woman?"
"ARE YOU A TRANNY?" He yelled.
Seeing that I was trying his patience, I finally let him know that I was indeed born a woman and that there was no sausage in my pants. He seemed relieved and let me know that he "had been caught before" and that the "prettiest ones be the trannies". The most incredible part of this story is that after my admission, he proceeded to still get my number. After I laughed him off and told him I'm not interested, he informed me that I shouldn't be offended by his comments because I'm not a tranny. Good to know. Ladies if a man suggests that you're a transgender and you actually aren't, then you shouldn't be appalled. He's just investigating before he ends up on a Maury episode. I should inform you that during this whole ordeal, my mother was standing right next to me, laughing hysterically and looking like a crazy person. Only I know that she named me Stephane so she could enjoy moments like that.


  1. dont even get me started on name-related nightmare episodes

  2. i believe that it's moniker related nightmares that made us friends ladies...

  3. props to momdukes