Even Stephen Asks: What's in a name?

Starting in September I will be working for ESET, which has it's North American headquarters in San Diego. But I'm sure I won't be the only Stephen Cobb in San Diego. So when my soon-to-be-employer asked how I wanted my name to appear on my business cards I took a moment to think about it. My equivocation brought to mind a recent blog post by my friend and fellow serial entrepreneur, Lucinda Bromwyn Duncalfe. Some people might know Lucinda as Lucinda Holt or Lucinda Duncalfe-Holt but in this blog post she explains why she recently decided to be Lucinda Bromwyn Duncalfe (which I think has a nice ring to it). I can relate to name changing, not because I'm a married woman and have wrestled with male surname adoption, but because I'm a guy who changed his name for a while, not legally, but in practice.

That's right, for nearly 20 years I liked to be called Steve, even though it clearly says Stephen on my birth certificate (FYI, I was not christened or baptized "Stephen" because I've never been subjected to those rituals, but that's another story).

In packing for the move to San Diego I came across my well-worn paperback copy of William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience which I received when I won the King Henry VIII School Prize for English in 1970. Inside was a label that I put in all the books that I took with me to university, first Leeds in England, then McMaster in Canada. The label said: Property of Steve T. Cobb.

I blame Steve McQueen and then my school friend Steve Richardson, my college roommate Steve Donnelly, plus Steve Martin and several other Steves who seemed cooler than Stephens. It was only in the 1980s, when I first moved to California, that I decided to go back to the original Stephen. And that's how my name got recorded as an author at the Library of Congress when I started writing books about computing. Since then I have noticed a proliferation of Stephen Cobbs which frankly surprises me. I grew up in a city of more than 250,000 people and my family were the only Cobbs. Until I was 11 years old there were no other Stephens in the schools I attended.

Another surprise in recent years has been the number of people who see my name written down as Stephen and pronounce it Steffen. This often happens when I check into a hotel. I say "I have a reservation, last name Cobb" and the receptionist says something like "Yes, for one night, Steffen Cobb." I started correcting people by pointing out "My name is Stephen, like in the Bible" assuming people would know the story of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, as described in the New Testament (Acts 6-7).

That strategy really didn't gain much traction and I decided that comparing myself to a saintly martyr seemed a bit presumptuous. So I developed what I thought would be a more amusing way for people to get it right, by referring to what I thought was a well-known Christmas carol: Good King Wenceslas. The opening verse of this carol, which was sung religiously, pun intended, every year in church and school when I was growing up in England, goes as follows:
Good King Wenceslas looked out,
On the feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about,
Deep and crisp and even.

I would then point out that if you pronounce Stephen as Steffen, then change "even" so that it rhymes with Steffen, then the outcome of this verse is quite different, and not very religious (the snow being deep and crisp and effin'). Sadly, this got just as many blank faces as the more direct reference to the martyr. I found myself explaining that the day after Christmas is the feast of Saint Stephen, also known as Boxing Day in England, and that King Wenceslas who was actually a Duke, would himself go on to be a saint, revered in both Bohemia, of which he was Duke, and England, which is where I, Stephen, learned to sing the words you see below. Altogether now, let's hear it G G G A G G D...

King Wenceslas, Duke of Bohemia, and Saint

The Apartment With Everything, Now Available Everywhere (Irony Included)

So here's something way more ironic than anything in the Alanis Morissette song of the same name. My wife found a gorgeous apartment to rent in San Diego, for only $1,000 a month (I will explain why she was looking in a moment). The place looked great in the photos and it sounded great in the description on Craigslist:
"2 Bedroom, 2 Bath, fully furnished, modern kitchen and bath, cable TV, Internet wi-fi, electricity, water, local phone included. Nestled in a quiet, almost suburban-like setting, you're just a few minutes away from world-class dining, shopping and the verve of theaters, clubs and nightlife. Great location, great features. All at a location that's exactly right, exactly where you want to be."

All that for $1,000 in San Diego, California? Sounds fantastic, but hardly ironic. So let me add the most interesting thing about this place, something not immediately apparent: it is also for rent in Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, and many other cities in America. But even that's not ironic, that's just another sick cyber-scam.

Apartment ScamLet me add some more data points. My wife and I have spent many years working in the field of information security--where uncovering online scams and other cyber-crime was part of the job--and we are planning to move to San Diego next month, for my new job as Security Evangelist for ESET, a software company dedicated to fighting cyber-crime. We don't need a furnished apartment, but this place looked inviting (and it could lead one to think rent in downtown San Diego is very affordable).

So here's the irony: The apartment that I wanted to rent in order to facilitate my move to a new job fighting cyber-crime turned out to be a cyber-scam!

I was going to provide links to the scam pages (they were mainly on Craigslist) so you could check them out--they were quite professional with fewer typos than your average scam --but after my wife sent Craigslist a description of the scam they pulled it from all the cities mentioned above.

Of course, there may have been other complaints but my wife actually got the scammer to send her an email, which provided further details of the scam that she passed along to Craigslist. Apparently the scammer claims to be out of the country and seeks to get the prospective renter to send her a deposit, presumably before they find out that the whole thing is a fraud.

Notes: I say "her" only because the name most often associated with these fake apartment listings is Amanda Dawson (although I'm pretty sure that is not the scammer's real name). Also note that I think Alanis Morissette is a very good actor and singer, I just don't like the song  "Ironic" because most of it isn't. I don't know why I have a problem with errors in works of art, but I do. For example, the great big hole in Lord of the Flies--you can't use a short-sighted person's glasses to make fire--spoils that book for me (maybe it's because I've been myopic since I was 11 and tried using my glasses to burn paper on several occasions until my father sat me down and told me the facts of light).