Why “Laurel”

When I was a hippie teenager growing up in Sonoma County, I was reading lots of Starhawk books and exploring my spirituality. One of the things that happens in Wicca/paganism is that folks often choose a “magical name,” something that tells the rational brain to step aside so this magic-working personality can step in. That’s how you wind up with folks named Silver Ravenwolf and Bunny Fluffernutter and what have you. Those kinds of names never appealed to me. I wanted something simple — magical, separate from my day-to-day name and identity, but something that could pass for a real name. I chose Laurel, in part from the California Bay Laurels that are common in the North Bay.

Except, I never went anywhere with those explorations and hence never used the name.

When I was 19 I convinced my dad to buy a modem for our computer and I began exploring the world of BBSes. The first time I logged into one, I realized I was going to have to pick a “handle,” an identity I’d use online. Hey, I’d already picked a name before, and never got to use it. Laurel it was.

My insertion into the Sonoma County BBS scene happened really rapidly. Within three weeks I was a Co-SysOp on the Clam Chowder Hut, a board run by a 13-year-old Santa Rosa kid who went by Derf (Fred backwards) and soon had my own advice board, called “Ask Laurel” (which was a counterpart to the much more crass and comedic Ask Homey Da Clown). I loved the freedom I had online to communicate with people — at that age I was still so painfully shy that I didn’t talk much except with close friends, but online I found that I felt free to write out my thoughts in detail, and that people were interested in hearing them. BBSes were a place where many of us learned to be less socially awkward, at least among folks who were as socially awkward as we were. This path of self-discovery allowed me to shift into a place of relative social self-confidence, an aspect of myself I still rely upon daily.

Many people thought “Laurel” was my real name, because it is a name that sounds like it could be on someone’s birth certificate (unlike, say, Flourescent Floral Flouride or Tristessa or Thunderbolt or Swamp Gas). In some ways, “Laurel” was a new identity for me, a name for the self that was emerging.

Devin was also running a BBS at that time — Atlantica, named after a tropical-fish store where he’d worked. I remember meeting him at a MORE (Modemers of the Redwood Empire) meeting when he was 15 and still very small physically — made all the more dramatic by his close friendship with Chris Church, who was more than 6 feet tall and quite heavy then.

Devin and I were friendly acquaintances for a long time, but when I closed down my BBS and moved away to Berkeley to go to Cal, we struck up an email correspondence. He came to visit me often, looked after me during some rough patches, and in June of 1995, when he was just about to turn 18 and I was 22, our friendship turned romantic — and has remained so since. What started as an intimacy between good friends has turned into what we hope will be a life-long romance and commitment to each other. I’ve always felt that I chose well when I fell in love with him, and the experiences of our attempts to get pregnant and the experiences of our pregnancy and first week of parenting have only proven that more.

I wouldn’t have found him without the modem, and my being “Laurel” feels like a huge part of it, too.

When we were making our baby-names list, he had suggested Laura and I had suggested Lorelei, the name for a woman who became a siren, one of those water-nymphs who lure sailors to their deaths. (What can I say? I’m a sucker for sea mythology, especially when we’re talking about a Piscean baby.) Somewhere in there one of us suggested Laurel, and when we did the scoring, it rose to the top of the list.

But what cemented it was the day I spent at UCSF while Devin hung out with our new baby girl at home. He says he noticed that she would make little movements that reminded him of me. Since then, we’ve noticed that she and I like to sleep in the exact same pose. So it made sense to name our daughter for an aspect of myself, one that had been deeply involved in us coming together to produce her in the first place.

That said, if we ever have a second child and it turns out to be a boy, I don’t think we’ll be naming him after Devin’s BBS handle. It was Aquamaestro.

— Beth