BY STEPHANIE VALENTE
"But she's not afraid to die, the people all call her Alaska"
Names are funny enterprises unto themselves. In my brief stint on this planet, I've vacillated between adoring my name and treating it with childish contempt. Why? Stephanie is a perfectly fine, stately, and regal name – it means crown, after all. As a Leo sun and a Leo moon, it's also a completely perfect for a Leo child.
The thing is with names, is that sometimes you choose a name and sometimes a name chooses you. And the very act of naming a child in heteronormative Western culture removes a big sense of connection or meaning for the actual recipient. The name is chosen for you, at your birth, and that's that.
I always had a problem with that, but I was never quite sure how to articulate it. I may not be entirely sure at this point in time either, which is why I'm ruminating on names and meaning and how I've carved out of a chunk of meaning and connection for myself.
Like most suburban kids, I dotted my I's and crossed my T's alongside the classic, safe, and plentiful 80s and 90s kids: Jennifer, Jessica, Amanda, Tiffany, John, Michael, you get my drift. Enter Stephanie, a usual and unusual name at the same time. Like most kids, I wanted my name to enter the room all by itself. I wanted it to be tough, punchy, and full of character. Stephanie was long, lonely, and paired all by itself. Or, so I thought.
One day, I was fifteen years old. One day, I bought a copy of the Velvet Underground's VU. My life changed forever. At the time, I was fueling an obsession with Andy Warhol, and then the Velvet Underground, and then it would spark something whimsical and astounding in myself. A piece of me was in these things that I loved. When the stereo hit the track, "Stephanie Says," a spell was cast.
The song wasn't originally released on any Velvet Underground albums until 1985's VU. The year I was born. Later on, the track famously appeared in The Royal Tenenbaums which also affected teenage me in multitudes.
I was instantly hooked. The dreamy, airy quality of the song was equally drowsy and exhilarating. But the lyrics bemused me and puzzled me, just like my own self. The protagonist – Stephanie – seemed so curious, questioning, and restricted. And yet, the protagonist's moody and mysterious declarations ("She's not afraid to die") were so certain, elusive, and aloof. I was captivated. And, I felt a little more seen: my name, shades of my personality, or the personality I wanted to try on in this chaotic thing called teenhood. I felt something. To be connected to such a poignant, tugging piece of music caught me by surprise.
And something unexpected happened: I liked my name. No matter how small, silly, or frivolous it felt, this small revelation to me felt right and tangible. Feeling connected to myself and to a piece of art with my name was otherworldly. Enchanting, even. Like having goose bumps forever. It was like spinning and laughing and never getting dizzy. It was writing your name with the ink of stars on a black sky. As for the song, I'm still enthralled.
Stephanie Valente lives in Brooklyn, NY. She has published Hotel Ghost (Bottlecap Press, 2015) and waiting for the end of the world (Bottlecap Press, 2017) and has work included in Susan, TL;DR, and Cosmonauts Avenue. Sometimes, she feels human. http://stephanievalente.com