I’ll be honest with you, I don’t read the Nassau Weekly that often—maybe once a week if I’m lucky. But this past weekend I found myself alone at Forbes Brunch (that doesn’t happen a lot, I promise) and saw the paper out of the corner of my eye on a table next to me. I skimmed Verbatim briefly and giggled to myself about Professor Russ Leo’s quote about Rom-Coms from my Shakespeare class. Then I stumbled across Nick Sexton’s article, “Tons-of-Sex,” on Page 7. I was not actually all that captivated by the raunchy title. It was the subtitle that came just after that drew me in: “The struggles of a complicated surname.”
My name is Austin deButts, and although my surname is not all that complicated, living with it for the past 20 years has been. It is pronounced just as it is spelled and not as confused telemarketers often try like “debut” or “Dubois.” For my younger cousins, their friends in elementary school were not allowed to use the word “butt” so instead they were called the “deBottoms” for about five years until they were able to reassume their true last name.
Of course, the jokes throughout my youth about my odd last name were rampant, but by 5th grade or so I had heard just about all of them: “What are you gonna name your son/daughter? Harry? Seymour? Justin?” Then of course there is: “Will you be offended when your wife chooses to hyphenate your last name, or not take it at all, or not marry you because of it?” But I took part in the humor myself. Every year on the first day of classes since about the 4th grade, I would proudly stand up in my seat and introduce my self to the class and explain, much to the chagrin of my teachers, how my last name was spelled “little ‘d-e,’ big ‘Butts!’”
Perhaps, the most memorable assault on our family moniker came in 2005 while at the Tour de France with our family friends, the Coxes. By chance, we ended up being invited to the birthday dinner of actor/comedian Robin Williams, who is apparently a major cycling fanatic. He spent the entire evening entertaining his VIP friend group with his sharp wit. As you can imagine, he had a field day with the “Coxes and deButts.” His tirade, much to the delight of my parents and the other guests, included everything from, “Sounds like the name of a gay law firm,” to a visual display of what a gay crew team with that name might look like, to many other jokes that were fortunately over my 11 year-old head.
Overall, however, I really did not have much of a traumatic experience growing up with my name. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I was the youngest of three children and that my older siblings, Lindsey and Hunter, had to bear the brunt of our shared surname. Maybe I haven’t been the one to receive as much torment because my father already goes by “Boota,” a nickname given to him in high school that has stuck with him for almost 40 years. Maybe I was just lucky enough never to meet notorious NFL-bully, Richie Incognito.
My first name, Austin, is somewhat less romantic. It comes from my great uncle on my mom’s side, and according to my parents my name was going to be Austin whether I was a boy or a girl. While some would think that might lead to some issues with my masculinity, I think that it could always be worse. I could have gotten my older brother’s name that translates in Spanish literally to “Hunter of Butts.” Fortunately, the name Austin does not lend itself to being easily made into a clever nickname, which, combined with my surname, could be potentially devastating.
The history behind my last name is much more unclear for obvious reasons. I have heard that it is originally a Dutch or possibly Welsh name but my dad often tells the story that our ancestors were originally horse thieves in France who were exiled to Ireland and given the name as punishment. However, this story must be taken with a grain of salt as my dad also claims that his unusual nickname “Boota” comes from his friends’ recognition of him as the “enlightened one.” In actuality, it probably has more to do with his bald head and round belly than his oneness with all things.
Over time, my last name has come to be something that I embrace—a badge of honor rather than a cross of shame. As a wise man once said and Miley Cyrus recently affirmed, “any press is good press.” Now, whenever I introduce myself to someone, they immediately remember my name for better or worse—just like when Robin Williams, refusing to give autographs while walking through the streets of Paris at the end of the Tour de France and avoiding paparazzi, turned around and signed one just for us when my sister yelled, “It’s for deButts!”
In William Pinke’s article about his own unique name, he cited another equally famous William who once wrote, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would as sweet.” I cannot imagine though that a “deButts flower” would get many voluntary smellers. In the end, my last name is something that is unique to me and unlike anyone else’s (except for everyone in my family), and nowadays I value my individuality, even if that means being the butt of a few jokes.