Do We All Actually Just Name Ourselves?

In the 1946 film, “A Matter of Life and Death,” two newly dead WWII British pilots are on a tour guided by the admitting angel. They’re looking down from a balcony on the top floor of a huge building into a room in the courtyard below where the death records are filed. Pilot #1 says to the angel,  “If anyone told me that clarks are working here just like on earth, …” The angel interrupts, “Everyone here is allowed to start where they like.” Pilot #2 says, “Heaven, isn’t it?” Turning to Pilot #1, the angel says, “You see? there are millions of people on earth who’d think it heaven to be a clark.” [note: that’s British for “clerk”]

And that’s the problem. There are millions of Clarks. I was born a Clark and am very familiar with this. In fact, once when I was at a meeting where everyone wore name tags, I turned to my right to see that I was sitting right next to Debbie Clark. I cringed because I don’t let people call me Debbie and wanted to correct her name-tag, but quickly realized this was her name. (I’ve managed to train people to call me Deb — most have complied.)

 Then there was the time freshman year — I’d only been in Boston for a week when I answered the phone and a man said, “Is this Debbie Clark?” I knew it wasn’t really for me because he said Debbie but I didn’t want to be a jerk and said yes. Then he started saying sexually graphic things he’d like to do to me, so I screamed and hung up. Turns out that a Deborah Clark lived just a few doors down the street.

Because Deb Clark seemed such a dull name, after freshman year of college I decided to change the spelling. In French, words with “ai” in them like “fait” and “plait” sound much like the short e in Deb, and also a final “e” is silent. So I spelled my name Daibe. But when I worked as a waitress and wore a nametag proclaiming “Daibe”, people looked at me saying “dah-eeb” or “daisy.” I didn’t realize they meant me. Later when I first got on Facebook as Deb and started finding old friends, they’d write, “Is this Daibe?”

I’m pleased with my alternate spelling for Clark. In Greek, the letter combo ch sounds like K. A familiar example for a word beginning with the “ch” as K is “Christmas.” And a final k sound could be “q” as in Iraq. And to avoid the confusion that “Chl” might cause, I added a letter “a” and spelled Clark as Chalarcq. Not many folks know or remember that spelling.

When I got married, taking husbands’ names wasn’t cool and I had qualms about it, but I took my husband’s last name. Not once, not twice, but 3 times, partly because of the complexities of children’s last names. The first two name changes were the most fun. The third wasn’t exactly fun but Vance is much less common than Clark. My husband complains about this because Clark Counties, Clark bars, Clark gasoline, Clark Streets abound. I remind him of that half-block long Vance Alley in Pittsburgh, but this didn’t appease him. Debora Imparato (Italian doesn’t use h’s) was uncommon because Debora is. As Deborah Levine, I met a number of namesakes. This was different because everyone wrongly assumed I was Jewish.

When marrying Mr. Vance I balked about another name change, but then thought, what the hell? – I did it for those two exes, and he’s the best husband ever. But it turns out there are more Deborah Vances than Vance place names.

The name issue lives on. When my daughter was 8 she asked, “Why did you give us these stupid names?” My mother confessed that after I was born, she hadn’t a clue what to name me and the nurse said, “Deborah is a popular name now.” No kidding!

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