What’s In a Name?

Despite Andrea Kail’s contention that I don’t know how to pronounce my last name, I’m pretty sure I’ve got a hold of how to say (and more importantly spell) my given name.

See, I was thinking about the news posts yesterday about the WOTF Award Ceremony in which my name was spelled ‘Steven’ rather than my (I was going say ‘preferred’, but what I really mean is ‘correct’) spelling ‘Stephen’. It’s a minor thing, really, but I was struck that I was still thinking about it hours later.

Now, I’m used to the butchery of my last name. When people see a non-Anglo-Irish name of any kind they seem to freak out, and ‘Kotowych’ has been the recipient of many a creative misspelling and mispronunciation. (My favorite was when I was interviewed for the Perth Courier a number of years ago and the summer intern interviewing me, despite having gone to high school with me, and despite asking me at least four times to spell my scary last name for her, spelled my last name in the photo caption ‘Kotowolowolowich’).

But the whole Steven/Stephen thing goes back to Junior Kindergarten for me. I was one of five (count ’em–5) Steves in the class–Steve being a very popular name in 1978, apparently–but I was the only one to spell it Stephen (thank you, Mom and Dad). I always spelled out my full name, even though everyone called me Steve along with the rest of them, because it was easier for the teacher to tell whose work was whose.

So from that time onward, even though I’m perfectly happy to answer to ‘Steve’ in conversation, I’ve always spelled my full name when I write or type it down, and always hate seeing it with a ‘V’.

“Why?” you may well ask.

If I can employ a sci-fi reference here (and believe me I can), at one point in the mostly terrible Season 2 of ST:TNG the ill-fated Dr. Pulaski and Data have a discussion after Data insists she call him “Day-tuh” rather than “Da-tuh”.

“What the difference?” Pulaski asks the android.
“One is my name,” says Data, as if surprised at the need to clarify. “The other is not.”

It’s like that with me and Stephen vs. Steven. Now, I have nothing against Stevens–some of my best friends are Stevens–but I’m just not one of them, that’s all.

And calling or writing my name ‘Stephan’ or ‘Stephane’ or any other vaguely French version of Stephen will illicit an even more visceral reaction. I noticed this happened routinely when I was in the States the last few weeks. Despite having any number of perfectly good, famous examples of Stephens–King, Colbert, Baldwin–any time I went to a restaurant, etc. and my name was called out for an order or a reserved table it was always “Stephan!” (This confusion rarely happens in Canada, I think because of the Quebecois influence).

Given American hatred of the French I was surprised by this persistent Francophilia.

You’re welcome to call me Steve or Stephen at all times, but never ‘Stephan’, and if you’re going to write my name down then, please, write it “Stephen”.

– S.

2 thoughts on “What’s In a Name?

  1. Stephen, my friend, don’t be discouraged by your Southern neighbors seeming indifference to your plight. I noticed I was developing a European accent as my speech went on and I started pronouncing things as if I were Danish expatriate. Good luck with the Star Trek venture. I should have given you a print of mine called “Final Frontier.”
    Did you receive the illustration from Galaxy yet?
    See you,

  2. Hey!

    I’m a “ph” and proud . . . it’s one letter away from a post-doc degree, after all . . . I’ve always found the “v” version so vulgar . . .

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