Writers are by definition concerned with words. And when it comes down to it, unless you’re really plucky, there are two or three words you’re stuck with for life: your name. Every other week we’ll ask a different writer five questions on the subject.

Steve Almond is our guest this week. He’s the author of ten books of fiction and nonfiction, most recently God Bless America and Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life.

MB: You’ve got a very memorable name. What’s your relationship to it?

SA: I didn’t like it much growing up, for obvious reasons. Now, though, I’m incredibly grateful to my great grandfather, the Rabbi David Almond, who ditched Pruzhinski. He changed the name to assimilate. So “Almond” bears no relation to my actual genetic stock (Jewish, shtetlish). It’s more like a vanity plate. Though actually the family lore is that this nutso rabbi choose the name because of its biblical roots. (In Jeremiah and elsewhere the Almond tree is known as the “waking tree” because it’s the first to blossom.) So: biblical roots, a yummy connotation, a chance to jump the line—it all kind of rules.

 

How about your first name? Any other Steves you identify with or are jealous of?

Yeah, Steve is pretty generic. Not a lot of history or vibe on that name. My parents named us all pretty straight (Dave, Michael, Steve). But our middle names are much earthier: Emmanuel, Isaac, and Benjamin. I’ve always felt like a Benjamin at heart.

 

Do you know what your name means biblically/traditionally?

I know there’s a Saint Stephen, who lobbied for Christ after his death and got stoned to death for his trouble. But that’s the “ph” spelling. I prefer the story of Saint Steve, the Irish monk who died after smoking way too much pot.

 

Did you have a foreign language name in school?

I took French, and my teacher called me Etienne, which is so totally macho that no one teased me. Ever.

 

What was it like to have your name as a kid? Any particular bothersome nicknames?

My brothers called me Stinkpot, or Stench. Sometimes Stenchpot. My mom calls me Stush, which I suspect means “Stinkpot” in Yiddish. So there’s that.

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MATTHEW BATT is the author of Sugarhouse, a memoir about renovating a Salt Lake City crack house and his life along with it. It comes out this June with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. His fiction and nonfiction has appeared in Tin House, Mid-American Review, The Huffington Post, and elsewhere. He's the recipient of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and he teaches English and creative writing at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. And yes, that's his real name.

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