I consider myself a champion of the downtrodden, a latter-day Tom Joad, and in the role of social crusader I'd like to stick up for a group of people very close to my heart: the Stephens.
Not "Stevens" but "Stephens." The PH-ers, the afflicted and maltreated of the singular diagraph that forms a "V" sound.
In fact, you may not be aware, but there is an unceasing blood feud between us and the Stevens—mostly because they are spelling their names wrong. This feud is fiercer than Catholics and Protestants, more intractable than Israelis and Palestinians, featuring more vicious carnage than vampires and lycans (see "Underworld: Evolution" for examples of how much carnage that is).
Whenever I meet another person with my name, we eye each other suspiciously until one of us reveals his spelling. If it's a "Stephen," then we do the secret handshake. If it's a "Steven" I immediately narrow my eyes and attempt to find his girlfriend so that I may cuckold him.
In the best-selling book "Freakonomics," the authors explain that the PH spelling usually comes from more educated, socioeconomically advantaged parents, but one has to wonder why that is considered so smart when their children must spend their entire childhoods trying to avoid getting called "Stefen."
For some reason, substitute teachers simply cannot wrap their minds around the idea of a PH exiting the mouth as a "V" sound even though history, literature and pop culture are practically teeming with examples of this very common name. And as soon as it comes out of your stupid mouth, you stupid substitute teacher, all the kids laugh and call me "Stefen" the entire time before lunch!
You see, Stephens have chips on our shoulders because we've had to go around our entire lives correcting people when they "stefenize" our names. Stevens don't have to deal with that. They just sit back and throw touchdown passes and invent iPods and drink Cristal out of supermodels' navels. Meanwhile, we Stephens are out there working for respect any way we can (like documenting our grade-school angst for newspaper columns).
Personally, the worst part is that when I have to explain where the name comes from, I have to put aside my hyper-irreligiosity to explain the story of Saint Stephen from—sigh—the Bible.
"Because in the New Testament's Acts of the Apostles, Stephen got martyred by being stoned to death. So that's where the name Stephen comes from and that's why it's spelled with a PH, and that's why the Roman Catholic Church has a whole day set aside for my name. Where's the holiday for your name, Pat? Don't have one, huh? Oooh, my big-shot roommate doesn't have a holiday! Yeah, that's what I thought, you stupid idio--oh. Right."
So I say to my brothers: Stand firm, Stephens. Wherever there's a substitute teacher using the "F" sound, I'll be there. Wherever there's one of those awful Stevens wearing a sport coat over a T-shirt with his hair slicked back, I'll be there. Wherever there's another smarmy amateur linguist asking where else the PH-as-V diagraph appears in the English language, I'll be there.
But ask for "Steve" Markley. That's mostly what I go by.
RedEye special contributor Stephen Markley is the author of "The Great Dysmorphia" and "Publish This Book."
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