Population: Me


Atanasio, que significa ‘El inmortal’, murió en el año 373 d.C.

– Miguel Catalán, La nada griega

What’s in a name?

In the fifth grade, I told my Argentine friends that my name–Vance–meant “prince.” This was an honest mistake; I thought I was relaying what my parents had told me. As it turns out, the name actually means “marshland” (or, as a somewhat sarcastic friend once put it, “swamp”). This is odd enough, and might have led to nicknames of its own, but given my unintentional falsehood, everyone referred to me (when they weren’t just calling me “el norteamericano“) as el Príncipe Azul, the Argentine equivalent of Prince Charming. For three years…

So, what’s in a name?

Just the name itself, without all the princely complications, was headache enough. The rest of my family–Steve/Esteban, Pamela, Sara–enjoyed monikers that translated quite fluidly from English to Spanish. And then there was Vance. Or “Bouncy,” which is what you get when you pronounce it phonetically. Add to that the last name–Woods, also phonetically challenging to Spanish speakers–and you come out with, roughly, “Bouncy Boo.” Which is why, for the eight years I lived in Argentina, I was known by my middle name, Eduardo.

So, what’s in a name?

Some folks become very indignant when called by the wrong name, or by the right name poorly pronounced. I have spent my life dealing with this issue, and I’m over it. I’ve been Lance, Vince, Vincent, Van to some. I even spent a year in Costa Rica being addressed as “Max” (phonetics strikes again). So, I’ve gotten to telling people to call me anything they like, and I’ll adjust accordingly. Throw in an odd sort of auditory narcissism–from a distance, many monosyllabics sound like my name–and I will, quite literally, answer to anything.

So, what’s in a name?

“Athanasius, whose name means ‘the Immortal,’ died in 373 AD.” At the end of the day, none of us is a permanent fixture. Vance, charming prince of the marshy swamp, will one day be no more.

So, what’s in a name?

Nothing. And everything.