Monday, 26 March 2007

Email from Michael Stacey: What's in a Name?

Mike Stacey sent me this rather brilliant email musing all about my name. I am publishing it here. I can't take credit for writing it. Mr. Stacey did all the blogging work on this one.

Subject Line: Too Mature?

I am on the fence about the full-name. Is it really mature? Wouldn't it be more mature to just grow up as Debbie and have no one question the fact that your name ends in a cutesy "ee" sound as you steadily climb the ranks of professional success? Or maybe, despite your best efforts, people really would get a bad first impression upon reading the name "Debbie." connotations of seventies soft-core pornography and sugary snack cakes would pop into their heads and they would wonder: "why on earth didn't she just switch to Deborah at some appropriate point?"

To that question I have no answer. But I don't think it's a big deal. I like names that end with 'ee' sounds. I think it is cutesy and good, and maybe treating everyone like they were a little bit younger might train us to take a more indulgent attitude towards other people. One of the big problems with a particular vision of adulthood that we seem to have is the idea that 'dults are finished products. The nicknames and "ee" endings of one's childhood and adolescence seem to carry a feeling of inchoate potentiality to them. A shifting liquid malleability---that "ee" could sneak its way through the tightest of keyholes, could escape from the most well built boxes. On the other hand, one's full name has such a feeling of ossification to it: Deborah can be stretched no further than it already goes. Sure that "ah" sound at the end leads one straight into the adult world of art, philosophy and politics---serious places where one is interested in things like the opera, cinema or the noumena, but the "ee" allowed access to things like candy, moveees, and maybe liberty!

wee, twee, glee, pee!

cholera, asthma, stigmata!

The "ah" words all have really old hebrew or greek or arabic roots and as such we've given them important places in the diagnosis of diseases and the more classically inclined corners of theory departments....but the "ee"'s are all happy bastardizations! They've been deliberately cutsee'd up so that someone can have a little bit of fun while they're speaking. Kept out of the academy, the hospital and the courts; they rule the roost in indie-rock band names, potato chip brands and children's books!

Not that I want to influence your decision too much...and I can always try and bring the old names back. But once it's out there that Deborah is a tough, trisyllabic name. Deborah--the Bee! A fastidious worker---the technical prowess of the engineer! An adversary to be feared--no accident that Mohammed Ali claimed he could sting like one---and what's more---backed by the authority of the Bible! One should also note that for the Greeks, the bee was associated with prophecy---the delphic oracle was sometimes called "the delphic Bee." Doesn't seem like little Debbie would be much likely to make an appearance in such company...but perhaps we count Debbie out too soon.

A wikipedia search for Debbie brings up Debbie Harry, a couple of Athletes, a U.S. Legislator and the following sentence: " However, it is often perceived negatively and associated with cheerleaders because of the famous pornographic movie Debbie Does Dallas."

Apparently the film focuses upon a group of friends who are trying to raise money in order that the titular "Debbie" might audition for the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders. I think perhaps in this brief synopsis we see a clue as to how to link this names in a non-dichotomous way, so as to make this chasm somewhat more cross-able...or the split between one's childhood and adult self less painful. The Debbie of the aforementioned porno has a dream to cheerlead professionally, a projection of her present self into the future. In her own way she attempts to transcend her Debbie-ness to arrive, at some futural, matured self---perhaps one who goes by Deborah. Dreaming and hoping of the future is always an attempt at bridging the unbridgeable---the distance from a evanescent now to an uncertain future. For the same reason that the Delphic oracle must speak in riddled form, Debbie can only project into a foggily grasped "sometime later". The chasm between now and the future--one's childhood self and one's adult self--is an unbridgeable one---and yet Debbies and Deborahs seem to be essentially drawn to the building of such bridges.

Perhaps the change in name is not such a great issue after all. Debbie/Deborah--one name, split-in-two, but again linked by the connotations of projection and prophecy. Debbie the promiscuous cheerleader is already Deborah...and Deborah--the bee-builder or the Oracle is always some future Deborah. Even "little Debbie," of the snack cake fame, is also a seer and oracle of sorts---for what is a sugary cake if not the promise of goodtimes and sweetness for many a future moment?

sent and received today, March 25th, 2007.

1 comment:

Andrew Field said...

A brutally honest list of the things I think about the first three things I can force into my head when I think of the names Deborah or Debbie that aren't you:


1) Debbie McGee - creepy assistant/wife to midgit magician Paul Daniels.
2) Debbie Does Dallas
3) Bees.

1) We were born within an hour of each other, our mothers said we could be sister and brother...
2) Someone akin to the hefty comic book whale girl in our Shakespeare class saying the name deborah in the dowdiest voice imaginable
3) Zebras.

This list is entirely truthful and demonstrates more than anything the absence of any decent referents (or deborahs)in my life. Proust is turning in his grave.