You might say that Ian Spiegelman is a funny man with a funny name. The novelist and former Gawker editor has made a career lampooning politicians, bankers, and anyone else with a target on their back. Now Spiegelman sits down with me to talk about something more personal- himself. And as I found out, he keeps it weird regardless of whether he’s talking about his own origins or the origins of the rich and famous.
Racket Jack: What does your name mean to you?
Ian Spiegelman: My whole identity is wrapped up in it, for better or worse. I can’t separate it from my body or my mind. My name contains my identity; it holds everything anyone knows about me. Especially in the world of Googling.
RJ:Do you have any nicknames in addition to your formal, Christian name?
IS: I don’t have a Christian name, since I’m Jewish. Ian is a Christian name, a Scottish name, but it means “Yaweh is gracious.” Yaweh is the name of the Hebrew God. Spiegelman is German, but also Jewish, and refers to one who works with stained glass or mirrors. As for nicknames, since my first name is pronounced Ee-en, as a kid I was called “Ee-bee.” A lot of my friends just call me “E,” or “Spiegs.” Some people on the net call me “Spiegelbunny.” And for some reason, some of my friends in the last few years have started calling me by my last name only, but giving it the full-on German pronunciation of “Shhpeegalmahn!” They always include the explanation point. German can’t be spoken without exclamation points.
RJ: Do you have any pet peeves or things that annoy you about your name or how it is pronounced?
IS: I hate that people think it’s “I-an,” or “Aye-an.” It’s “Ee-en.” And no one on earth can spell my last name. They can’t deal with the “I before E” thing. They get confused. And I have a problem saying my own last name out loud because I lisp slightly when I try to make the “S” sound. That’s seriously annoying, to kind of whistle and have to monitor your speech when saying your own last name.
RJ: Have you experienced any harassment or discrimination because of your name?
IS: Only because it reveals me as being a Jew. I look as Italian as I do Jewish, but the name gives me away. So the people with ideas about Jews- and they are everywhere, even in NYC- always twitch an eyebrow.
RJ: What about your friends or family members? Have they experienced any problems because of their names?
IS: My best friend since I was 5 is named Miguel, but once he grew up and started working he called himself “Michael” for many years because he thought it would make life easier for him. To be fair, I called him “Nick” since the day I met him because his grandma called “Mickey” and I misheard it as “Nicky.” But I still call him Nick 30 years later.It’s cool, though, because no one else does.
RJ: According to Stephen Leavitt in his book Freakonomics several of the most common “white boy” names in the 00’s have been either Hebraic or Irish [Author’s note: It’s found on page. 197]. What do you make of this trend?
IS: The name Colin probably accounts for the Irish half of that alone. It’s a handsome, action-packed name these days. And perfect for poor white people who watch Extra all day. They name their daughters Ashlee and Britney too. As for the Hebraic claim, what does that even mean? Most names in the English language come from the Old Testament, since everyone in the New Testament was a Jew and had Jewish names. There’s nothing new there.
RJ: Some in academic and media circles have noted a correlations between a person’s “given” name or surname and their economic or educational status. In your experience, is it true that one’s name predicts or “equals” their destiny?
IS: No. You could only even study that with very unusual names. While I have not met any unsuccessful Ians, I haven’t met any Ians at all. But I have encountered thousands of Michaels, Johns, Muhammeds, Joes, Richards, Melissas, Jennifers… And they are from all over the money scale. And one might be tempted to say that people with money are smarter and therefore give more unusual names to babies, my folks lived in a two-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn when they named me. This does not apply to people who wholly invent names for their kids. No one can even study that.
RJ: How do you feel about the rise of so-called “celebrity” baby names [e.g. Rumer, Bronx Mogli, Apple]? Could these names be considered to be an advantage? Disadvantage?
IS: It’s an ugly thing that people with no foothold in reality do. It’s a punishment upon an innocent kid to make the parents feels special. There’s no advantage to having a silly name. It doesn’t make you a special snow flake, it makes you a victim. People like Bruce Willis might get away with it because they are truly cultural forces. Pete Wentz, on the other hand, is a no one who is just going to make trouble for his kids. As are most people who invent “fun” names for humans.
RJ: In your opinion, what is the most interesting baby name? The most annoying?
IS: I have no idea. I think Victoria is a wonderful name for a girl, and Jake is great for a boy. Annoying is any hip-hop name like Anferny, or any white trash name, like any two-word combo ending in “Lynn.”
RJ: If you had to choose by lot the name of your son, daughter, niece, nephew etc would you? Why? Why not?
IS:I would not. I would not roll the dice with my family’s names.
RJ: What is the most unusual name you have encountered on the street?
IS: I dated a girl named Charade in college.
RJ: Do you believe it is appropriate to name someone after an alpha numeric or Roman numeral (e.g. “1” or “XVII”)?
IS: It was, a few hundred years ago. But the very idea of monarchy is insulting in the world today. Whether it’s a true monarchy or a business or political monarchy, that idea is foul and has been rejected. The Clintons, Bushes, and, finally, the Kennedys have been told to suck it. In a world where the pissy kids of the rich are told to STFU and get work, there is no reason to mark which kid came when- no one cares. No one cares about those families and no one should. They should no longer mark their kids with numbers because it just does not matter anymore.
RJ: By the same token, is it okay to name someone after a letter of the Greek or Roman alphabet, like Delta, Alpha, Omega or Epsilon?
IS: No, never. God, that is awful!
RJ: If you could change your legal name to anything in the world, what would it be and why?
IS: Brick Chesticoff. Just kidding. My name is who I am.
RJ: Do names have power?
IS:Of course! Trump, Gates, Jobs, Bush… One syllable names are always for the bullies. To have more than bully power, to be smart, you need a really big brain.
RJ: If you could fast forward fifty years from now, what do you think the top then baby names will be?
IS: I have no idea.