Becky Portman: Call me by my name

Monday, April 15, 2019 - 3:56pm

Becky Portman

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I’ve always been Becky. I think it’s because my parents felt weird calling an infant such a large and syllable-filled name like Rebecca. First I was Baby Becky then Becky Boo then Miss Becky then just Becky. I liked being Becky, mostly because it wasn’t basic like Rachel or Sarah or Leah. Becky was also temporary, a name that I would outgrow like my Velcro light-up sketchers or my cheetah print Limited Too camisole.

I thought one day, I would wake up and know today was the day I would become Rebecca. I would develop a slight affectation and go to an Ivy League school and marry a man named James or Henry or William. When college rolled around, I tried Rebecca on for a while. I let her come with me to parties and dates and even The Daily’s mass meeting. My first article was published under the name “Rebecca,” but I could never fully take ownership of it because it didn’t feel like me. I wasn’t Rebecca, I was Becky.

But Becky has not been an easy name to bear. Every Starbucks order, every job application, they wonder. Becky, really? Yeah, the name’s Becky, what’s it to you, Denise? From Sir Mix-a-Lot’s butt-gazing Becky to Beyoncé’s “Becky with the good hair” to the criminal behavior of our once beloved Aunt Becky, my name has become one heavy with cultural significance. When I was in middle school, the hottest thing to do was look words up on Urban Dictionary. People would look up everything from “hairbrush” to “flogging” and giggle to their dirty little prepubescent selves. One day, a boy in my class thought it would be “funny” to look up every single name in our class (easy coming from a dude named David). When he looked up my name he found that Becky is synonymous with oral sex or “a stereotypical, basic white girl; obsessed with Starbucks, Ugg boots and trying to have a bigger butt.” I think that was the first time I felt insecure about my name, anxious and eager for the time I would become Rebecca. For a few weeks, my name would provoke explicit gestures and catcalls, but like anything in middle school it went out of vogue almost as quickly as it entered it.

A few weeks ago, The Wall Street Journal Opinion section published an article with the title “Notable & Quotable: Beckys.” My mother sent me a picture of it because, obviously, she gets the Wall Street Journal (and what college student actually subscribes to the Wall Street Journal). The blurb highlighted a symposium at the American Education Research Association’s annual conference in Toronto. The symposium addressed fanfiction about “Beckys.” The panel on said “Beckys” was titled “Critical Becky Studies: Critical Exploration of Gender, Race and the Pedagogies of Whiteness” and included a variety of essays and discussions on the topic.

One paper titled “Becky Book Club: White Racial Bonding in the Living Room” considers book clubs in white, suburban living rooms and the underlying white supremacy and surveillance that lurk beneath the charcuterie board and chardonnay. Another paper titled “Border Becky: Exploring White Women’s Emotionality, Ignorance, Investment in Whiteness” explores white women who may be found on the edge, on the border of choosing to be a “race traitor” or “repledging their allegiance to white supremacy.”

OK, so I thought Critical Becky Studies would be more about uncovering the true identity of Jay-Z’s accomplice in his extramarital affair (Rachel Roy? Rita Ora? Me?) and less about white supremacy. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to see how far the concept of Becky has come. The Becky has surpassed tabloids and song lyrics and has now officially entered the point of no return: academia.

Say what you will about the stereotypical Becky; the bleach-blonde-haired Becky, the Juicy sweatsuit-wearing Becky, the Pinot in a Swell bottle Becky. But I am reclaiming Becky. I am my own Becky and my Becky is not those Beckys, she is her own goddamn Becky goddamnit.