Names Matter to the People Who Coin Them

A Response to Doreen St. Félix’s Black Teens Are Breaking The Internet And Seeing None Of The Profits

Back in the 1980s I was a 22-year-old-big-eyed-girl-from-the-suburbs-naive and-tentative-working-at-a-super-hip-art-school when I met badass-shaved-head-before-it-was-common-loud-really-cool-art-girl named Deborah.

She was a recent graduate and was really good friends with my boss, Joanne, an anachonistic 50-year old, chain smoking, power suit wearing bleach blonde. Joanne’s past job history included a stint as a Playboy “Bunny Mother,” who was like a resident assistant to the Playboy Bunnies that worked at Chicago’s Playboy Club.

This is what a 1960s Playboy Bunny looked like. Insert Feminist Rant HERE. Photo courtesy of The Chicago Tribune

Deborah’s colorful, explosive presence made me uncomfortable, and my discomfort was exacerbated when she decided to change her name to EORA (pronouned EE OR AH). Joanne continued to call her Deborah, some people called her Debbie, and as far as I could tell, her inner circle referred to her as EORA.

I had a plan.

I would avoid her. And under no circumstances would I say anything to her that required me to call her by a name.

That worked pretty well for a while.

But, you do know where this is going, right?

Debbie, Deborah, EORA was standing under a pile that, BECAUSE CLEARLY THE UNIVERSE WAS WREAKING REVENGE ON ME FOR SOMETHING, was about to fall on top of her.

One day, Debbie, Deborah, EORA, was in hanging out in the office, not working, and stressing me out…AS THOUGH A NAIVE GIRL FROM THE SUBURBS IN WAY OVER HER HEAD NEEDED TO BE STRESSED OUT ANY MORE THAN SHE ALREADY WAS…..

And, you’re welcome that I stopped you from getting hit by an office work missile that would likely result in you getting a concussion and not really caring what the fuck I called you.

Our office was kind of a mess. Joanne may have been a good Bunny Mother but her organizational skills were terrible, and all of our shelves were overflowing with boxes of paperwork and files precariously stacked on each other.

Debbie, Deborah, EORA was standing under a pile that, BECAUSE CLEARLY THE UNIVERSE WAS WREAKING REVENGE ON ME FOR SOMETHING, was about to fall on top of her.

“DEBORAH…WATCH OUT!” I shrieked.

In an extraordinary badass-art-girl-ninja move, Debbie, Deborah, EORA pivoted to avoid getting hit by a brick of paperwork while expertly positioning herself so that her eyes locked mine when she hissed, “MY NAME IS EORA!!!!”

While, yeah, of course it is.

And, by the way, you’re welcome that I stopped you from getting hit by an office work missile that would likely result in you getting a concussion and not really caring what the fuck I called you.

I’d like to say that I thought about this event and came to the conclusion that it would have never happened had I gotten over my intimidation and just asked her what she wanted to be called.

All the extremely important and influential people in the office (okay, a few super nice faculty members, Joanne, and a student worker or two), stopped, pointed at me, and called me names (not really).

I was humiliated (this part is true).

I’d like to say that I thought about this event and easily came to the conclusion that it would have never happened had I gotten over my intimidation and just asked her what she wanted to be called. I’d like to say that I learned a lesson about how intimately names and words are tied into an individual’s identity and how likely they are to be highly protective of them.

I sighed down the lump in my throat as the still-impressive-though-older badass-art-girl approached, put my arm around my 22-year old self, and said to my family, “Hey guys, I’d like you to meet EORA…”

But while I understood those things in theory, the 22-year old girl in me was stung hard and I couldn’t see EORA - and we have run into each other periodically over the years - without internally giving her the stink eye.

EORA ended being a close friend to a dear friend of mine and she stopped by my house a few years ago - nearly twenty-five years after “the incident.” My husband, the kids and the dogs and I were sitting in the front yard enjoying a gorgeous day in the Indiana Dunes where I live, when my friend’s car pulled up.

I sighed down the lump in my throat as the still-impressive-though-older badass-art-girl approached, put my arm around my 22-year old self, and said to my family, “Hey guys, I’d like you to meet EORA…”

Followed by internal stink eye and the unexpressed thought, “Who was really mean to me once. “