Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Behind the Name

This is a long story. I've been putting this off for roughly three years. Well, since when it first began in July 2009. July 2009 was a big month for me. It was the month before my senior year in college. I spent the majority of the summer at home doing a lot of nothing, reading, writing, and exchanging poetry through text messages with someone I really liked.

I really liked him, but it was one of those textbook bad relationships that doesn't do good for anyone. I had repeatedly attempted at ending our relationship, managed for two weeks the winter before, and yeah we still hung around each other. But then, I finally saw a for-sure way out that month. He would be leaving to chase his dream at the end of the summer and after that we'd both be free from each other. That was a good thing.

That month I finally tried the blogging thing. I launched Sopphey Says to a crowd of 20 people who I considered a part of my life. The first plan consisted of writing about poetry and poets/people I admired. I started out with Ad Lucium a post for Aleister Crowley. Crowley led me to grow into my pagan feet. I read a lot of his work, about his life, and in general didn't really agree with his witchcraft, but I became hooked on esoteric teachings.

Crowley's real name is Edward Alexander Crowley. He reached a point in his life when his name wasn't living up to his expectations. An excerpt from The Confessions of Aleister Crowley: An Autohagiography leads to the following:
"For many years I had loathed being called Alick, partly because of the unpleasant sound and sight of the word, partly because it was the name by which my mother called me. Edward did not seem to suit me and the diminutives Ted or Ned were even less appropriate. Alexander was too long and Sandy suggested tow hair and freckles. I had read in some book or other that the most favourable name for becoming famous was one consisting of a dactyl followed by a spondee, as at the end of a hexameter: like Jeremy Taylor. Aleister Crowley fulfilled these conditions and Aleister is the Gaelic form of Alexander. To adopt it would satisfy my romantic ideals."
So, in part because of the fascination for Crowley, I too decided it was time to change my name. I was tired of people mispronouncing it. Yes, the guy I liked could say my name and that mattered a whole bunch when we were gazing at each other's eyes. But, I was ready to be a professional. I had a goal for my senior year to rock on a hundred levels of awesome (for the record it rocked on two hundred levels of awesome) and I couldn't walk around having people mispronounce my name.

I mean, logistically, how hard was it for someone who could never pronounce Spanish to say:

"Hi, this is Sarai Oviedo. She designs our award winning magazine."

It always turned into:

"Hi," awkward pause and shake of head, "this is Sau390ur49efuefj. She designs our award winning magazine."

I just hated it. One of the things about me being Mexican, was me being against nonMexicans butchering my name. I felt wronged. It felt wrong. So, I took Crowley's courage and narcissism to give my name its Mexican honor back. I took a long hard look at my life and the poets I was reading at the time. I looked through my favorite Greek poets, Sappho and Ovid and things just clicked.

I had no clue about dactyls or spondees, but I did know I wanted two syllables. Because, two syllables is easy. I would keep my name intact, by starting my new name with my initials:


then I would take Sappho's middle pronunciation:


then I scrambled for a name that sounded similar, I chose Sophie. I had developed an online personality that always used the combination "ey" at the end of a name, so I decided to stick it to my name:


aka Sopphey.

I started my senior year meeting new people with:

"Hi, my name is Sarai but you can call me Sopphey."

Of course, my old friends insisted on continuing the "Hey Sau390ur49efuefj." Some accused me of changing my name to be American, others just preferred the ‘old me,’ but Sopphey caught on.

Taking control of my name made me realize that I had it in me to start the publishing company I always wanted. So I started calculations for a print size for my printed books. Then, in the middle of all that I became ordained because it felt right. Knowing that awful relationship would end and knowing I had the rest of my life to do whatever I wanted made things awesome. In May of my senior year I had one of the last conversations with my father*.

I came out to him that day and he supported me. I told him how I changed my name so that people would stop mispronouncing the awesome real name he and my mom gave me. He completely supported the idea. We talked about how Sopphey was a very feminine name and all I needed to really fit into my shoes was a guy name. We bounced around some ideas, his first choice was Bruno, but my first choice was Vance. He thought about the name while he told me a joke then reassured me that any name I pick would be the perfect name.

Thus, I became Sopphey Vance. Looking back at this story, you could almost say that a lot of good things happened out of this name change. In a way, a lot of things did happen. But, I didn't fully step into my new name until last year when I walked into a bar, already drunk, ordered a shot of vodka and a Smirnoff Ice. I sat on the stool thinking, "she's such a cute bartender." For a drunken moment I realized that changing my name had nothing to do with being more American. It wasn't a way to hide my crazy side from my "real identity." It was a change in presentation to the maze that I am. Sopphey Vance means that I rock on over 200 levels of awesome and I'm doing it on my terms.

*I don't know where my father is. He could be dead (but I really know he's not), or he could be in Mexico. Wherever he is, I miss him.


  1. To me names, nicknames and otherwise, are not a way to obliterate your identity. They are a way to accentuate a facet of who you are within a context. Loved your story. Fathers are prickly beasts, and I mean that will love. Because love is a complicated thing, especially for fathers. Keep on rocking your 200 levels of awesome!

    1. Thank you. Names sometimes feel like labels, and deciding on new labels is scary sometimes.

  2. though my sepia-toned memories still crystallize the name of Sarai Oviedo for me without delay, this explanation enthralls me. I feel as though I've been temporarily enveloped in the cocoon you have long ago shed. Even though our communication is minimal at best,you remain on my mind on a steady basis. which is why i'm so grateful for this more intimate look into a piece of you that helps to hold an ever evolving foundation. Thanks a lot Sopphey!

    1. You're welcome. I like that your sepia-toned memories still have little bits of me. ;) You're commenting as anonymous, but I can assure you that I think of you too.

  3. hey, Sopphey, this is a curious story. I never thought people would mispronounce such an easy name as yours, but, then... Imagine, here we have girls called Stanislava, or Tsetomira... I have been there. Thank God my name is simply Mariya :-D. yet, I've been considering writing and popularising myself under a less-treacherous East European/Slavonic/Ex-Communist surname, for I dislike being exotic.
    Yet, you know, I'm not ready for that step.
    Uh, what's senior year at college? Second or last?

    1. I don't know why you dislike being exotic, but I respect that... *scratches off exotic from adjectives representing you in my brain..* just kidding.

  4. Fascinating story. As someone who protects the sanctity and privacy of my Mexican name by using this nom de plume, I know what you mean.

    Forgive the presumption:

    How Moskowitz was Born

    When I picked up
    the writer’s pencil at 16
    it was really the birth
    of something new in

    so I’d picture
    the eventual credits
    flashing on the screen
    “Teleplay by …”
    “Written by…”
    with my given name
    and after a while
    I realized how my name
    looked so incongruous
    against the backdrop of
    Mary Richard’s Minneapolis
    or the exterior bar shot that
    preceded every episode of

    When I was 19
    I wrote a play and
    my theatre instructor –
    an aging actor who chain smoked
    and had flakes
    of dried Brylcreem in his hair-
    told me that if I was going
    to write a play called
    “Illegal Alien” and
    use my given surname
    that it was going to
    prejudice people.

    Seems like he made that
    decision without even reading
    the play.

    The name I was born with
    so beautiful
    so ill-fitting
    and unglamorous and real

    would condemn me to writing
    about bilingualism
    affirmative action
    the barrio

    and I figured that
    was just about as much
    as I could stomach

    and I took a good hard
    look at myself

    I saw a fat belly
    attached to dancing eyes and a
    darting mind still
    wrapped in guilt and obligation
    and ethnic sounds like
    “kh” and
    “oy” and

    and I knew of the nirvana
    the logic of law
    the comfort of
    one God
    with one entity

    and I liked the name
    because it embodied East
    and West and Middle East

    and it wasn’t clear if it
    was male or female
    and it was such a strange

    that no one could dare
    to presume correctly
    to guess my

    all the categories
    that put us apart
    from one another
    were laid to rest
    when I anointed myself

    in mechanical pencil and
    ink as

    Buddah Moskowitz

    - thanks for sharing - el Mosk

    1. Thank you for sharing this poem. I love it and might have to rewrite my post as a poem too! I'm very honored to have met you via the poetry challenges.

  5. Sopphey, I love this story. Maybe because it's so open, honest, & courageous, or maybe because I share a similar name experience (, but regardless, this story moved me.

    For that and for all you do here, I have nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award! Read more about it here:

    1. Thank you for the nomination! Also, you're absolutely right, we share a similar name experience, and that's too cool.

  6. Dear Sopphey,

    I loved reading this post. I hope you are able to reconnect with your dad soon. I miss my dad too!

    I love your name. It sounds very Sopphesticated and Stylish. I feel really lucky to have met you at RIT.

    Best of luck with everything! I feel so proud of you and myself to have a friend like you.

  7. Dear Sopphey,

    Reading your posts makes me happy :)