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...